The House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology is conducting an enquiry into the Government’s science budget. This is the first enquiry by the Committee under its new Chair, Nicola Blackwood MP.
Professor Graeme Reid, NCUB’s Strategic Advisor gave evidence to the Committee on the afternoon of 15 September, alongside Nicola Dandridge from Universities UK and Naomi Weir from the Campaign for Science and Engineering. Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Mark Walport and physicist Professor Brian Cox gave evidence later that afternoon.
The Committee went back to first principles, asking Graeme to explain why taxpayers should invest in science and research and what benefits come from that investment. They went on to ask Graeme about the efficiency of the UK research base, the level of expenditure in the UK compared to other major nations and the balance of funding between different activities.
The purpose and scope of the science ring fence was an issue of particular interest to the Committee. They explored why science and research – as opposed to many other areas of public spending – should be ring-fenced. One consequence of ring fenced funding is that science has stable and predictable funding, allowing businesses to enter collaborations with universities and research institutes in the knowledge that predictable university funding is in place. The relationship between the ring-fenced science budget and the scientific work of other Government Departments was another topic of considerable interest.
The Committee wanted to know whether cuts in science spending in Government Departments would have an influence on universities: Graeme speculated that such cuts might cause Government to turn to Universities for scientific advice that had, at one time, been generated internally. He said that these new opportunities for collaboration between Government and universities would be welcomed warmly by the science community – but ultimately someone will need to pay for this new work.
The Committee also scrutinised the relationship between capital investment and recurrent expenditure in science, testing whether the relative levels of expenditure were optimal and whether the separation of the two forms of investment were problematic.
The questions were tough but the mood of the discussion was warm – Please see the video for this session above.