The official ‘Conservative Friends of Science’ group, announced with a fanfare by Adam Afriyie MP at last year’s Conservative Party Conference, was conspicuous by its absence this year. Fortunately, the Royal Society and the 1994 Group stepped into the gap, by ensuring that science had a voice on the conference fringe. On Tuesday evening, we hosted a well-attended event on the prospects for science in the Spending Review.
David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, was the keynote speaker, as part of a panel that was brimming with expertise (see list below). For one of our speakers, Professor Brian Cox, the timing of the event couldn’t have been better. That same morning, two of Brian’s colleagues at Manchester University had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. And as Brian pointed out, no one could have guessed a decade ago where their research would lead; no one could have picked these winners in advance.Sir Martin Taylor revisited the themes of ‘The Scientific Century’ report and warned that the UK could lose its position as a a world-leader in science, if we cut the science budget at a time when many other countries are announcing investments.
Richard Lambert, Director General of the CBI, spoke about the strong multiplier effect that comes from public investment. He also warned that researchers are highly mobile and will follow where the funding leads.
The line that the Minister seemed to latch onto most readily came from Brian Cox: “Everybody knows that we must reduce the financial deficit, so you have to act on evidence in cutting budgets. But do you act on evidence for growth? If you take away £1 billion from the science budget, you’ll save £1 billion, but you could do real damage to the science base. If you invested another £1 billion, you could make the UK the best place to do science in the world. And what could that do for our economy?”
Speakers at the The scientific century fringe event: Sir Martin Taylor FRS, Chair, The Scientific century; Professor Paul Wellings, Chair of the 1994 Group and Vice-Chancellor, Lancaster University; Richard Lambert, Director General, CBI; Professor Tim Besley FBA, Kuwait Professor of Economics and Political Science, London School of Economics; Professor Brian Cox, Royal Society University Research Fellow, Chair in Particle Physics, University of Manchester; Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills