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Britain finds extra money for science in austere times
December 5, 2012 / 4:51 PM / 5 years ago

Britain finds extra money for science in austere times

* George Osborne announced extra 600 mln pounds for science

* Campaigners say money mostly reverses previous cuts

* Welcome from leaders in British science

By Chris Wickham

LONDON, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Intense lobbying by Britain’s science community seems to be paying off as finance minister George Osborne announced an extra 600 million pounds ($966 million) for capital investment in science over the next three years.

The new money follows a string of recent decisions to spend more on science, including 50 million pounds for a graphene research centre in Manchester and a 30 percent increase in Britain’s contribution to the European Space Agency.

Osborne’s announcement in an Autumn budget update to parliament on Wednesday goes some way to reversing previous cuts and was welcomed by campaigners and leaders of British science.

“The announcement today of an additional 600 million pounds of capital investment will hopefully help ensure that our world leading scientists have world leading facilities with which to work,” said Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, Britain’s national science academy.

Mark Walport, head of the Wellcome Trust medical research charity, said Osborne was “right to recognise that investment in world-class science and the world-class infrastructure it requires must be integral to any strategy for driving growth, even in times of austerity.”

The latest investment is in stark contrast to the cuts in other areas of government spending aimed at paying down the debts from the financial crisis.

The new funds will be used to back what the government sees as areas of scientific research that offer the best economic return.

Priority areas like advanced materials research, energy efficient computing and energy storage were outlined by Osborne in a speech at the Royal Society last month.

After that speech, Paul Nurse told Osborne: “Please remember to put your money where your mouth is.”

Nurse welcomed Wednesday’s announcement, saying innovation is key to economic growth and science is the raw material for that innovation.

“The Chancellor clearly understands this and his ongoing commitment to investing in science, despite the difficult financial circumstances, is very welcome.”

In the wake of Osborne’s November speech some critics warned of the danger of government trying to pick scientific “winners” and argued that focusing on particular areas could backfire.

Nurse echoed those fears on Wednesday, warning: “We must also make sure that we maintain capital and other support across a broad range of science.”

Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering and a strong critic of the government’s previous cuts to the science capital budget, welcomed the new money and told Reuters it means previous cuts have “mostly” been reversed.

“In the coming decades we won’t be able to compete internationally on natural resources or cheap labour, so the government’s plan to build British excellence in areas like synthetic biology and energy-efficient computing instead is absolutely critical,” said Khan.

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