PRESS RELEASE 13/8/2016
Scientists for EU respond to Government announcement: “Chancellor Philip Hammond guarantees EU funding beyond date UK leaves the EU”
The announcement by HM Treasury today that the UK government will underwrite Horizon 2020 projects continuing beyond the UK’s EU membership is a confirmation of the bare essentials, but nothing more.
Nevertheless, it is a useful statement for UK scientists, Commission officials and European governments to show to any European partners nervous about taking on UK scientists into their collaborative plans at this stage. The Commission also needs to do their part and outline mechanisms to guard against any discrimination, even unintended, on the part of grant proposal evaluators. Then the right reassurances will then be in place for current proposals.
After that, we must tackle the longer-term issues of immigration policies, shared infrastructure and regulations, national funding, and the future relationship of the UK with the EU science programmes.
Why nothing extra has been promised for science
The reason why the Chancellor’s announcement is decidedly underwhelming is that they represent no boost to science, but rather the most minimal assurances possible. While we are in the EU, the UK of course needs to contribute its agreed share to science. As we leave the EU, the UK of course needs to honour science contracts signed whilst the country was inside the team.
This is not a pledge of extra funds beyond that to which we’re already committed. Anything less than honouring contracts would disrupt countless projects and pull UK scientists from their international teams. The Government portrayal is too much fanfare over ticking a necessary administrative box.
An opportunity missed
The big opportunity missed here is for HM Government to confirm that, should we leave the EU science programme, the same amounts or more will be available directly from HM Treasury. Although we know international collaboration provides increased reputational value over national-only work, nevertheless, this would be a clear backstop at a time when many are concerned that the government has no Plan B for science. This is particularly worrisome when our nation sits at the bottom of the G8 for science investment per GDP. The government should be mindful that talented researchers currently contemplating positions in the UK will assess the long-term future of UK science.
Adding unnecessary bureaucracy
We are also concerned over the fate of the European Regional Development Funds. These can provide key support to science parks, innovative businesses and science-based initiatives. Some 3.6 billion EUR has been allocated to the UK for the period 2014-2020. Only a fraction of that has been spent.
HM Treasury informs that although current contracts will be honoured, future allocation of funding will be treated differently: “the Treasury will also put in place arrangements for assessing whether to guarantee funding for specific structural and investment fund projects that might be signed after the Autumn Statement, but while we remain a member of the EU.” Given that we are still in the EU and playing by EU rules for this period, it begs the question of why we would suddenly need this extra layer of national bureaucracy. Who will make these assessments and what will be the success rates? How long will approvals take? Is it worth developing ERDF proposals if this new layer of bureaucracy is particularly cumbersome?
Science investment needs an increase to underpin our future economy
Over half of America’s economic growth since WWII has been attributed to science and technology (US National Academies of Science and others, 2007). Science not only helps provide the health, technological and environmental solutions to problems that beset out economic and political decisions, but it also directly generates substantial growth. Science and technology attracts talent and grows a diversity of jobs right throughout the country, with the interplay between small fast-growth innovative businesses and universities being a key dynamic.
One positive outcome of the Chancellor’s statement and the rising media interest is that there appears to be a creeping recognition into the political sphere that sector is critical for the nation’s future economy. Science can no longer be side-lined by our politicians, economists and political journalists. If we want to make this country a success for the decades and more to come we must discuss science as part of our cultural, political and economic debate.
For further information, please contact Dr Mike Galsworthy, Programme Director of Scientists for EU on: firstname.lastname@example.org