Now that the Scottish people have had their say on independence, much of Westminster’s attention will return to next May and the general election.
In an environment where difference is more debated than similarity, I suspect that research will not be an issue that is hotly discussed on doorsteps. That is not to say that it is not recognised as an important issue – it is perhaps more a recognition of how important an issue investment in this area is for our long term economic health.
That recognition has led to something of a consensus at Westminster, albeit an informal one, on the value of research and innovation. In the build up to the election the four national academies (Academy of Medical Sciences, British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society), who represent the UK’s research strength and expertise, will be working together to build a cross-party consensus that can safeguard policies that stretch beyond the political cycle.
During the recent economic troubles science and the other areas of research have fared reasonably well. The science budget, for example, has maintained a flat cash level. This has meant a contraction in investment reflecting inflation but other areas of government investment and other spending have suffered cuts of far greater scale.
However, as we see the first glimmers of recovery it is now time to see whether the commitment to innovation based growth is real or just fluff. We still lag behind most of our competitors in terms of the percentage of GDP that we invest in research. If our politicians really want to stimulate long term sustainable economic growth based on innovation, that needs to be a priority for increased investment as the nation’s finances recover. The issue should be how we deliver this, not whether we do.
I am sure people will be interested to see who is innovating on innovation.
That is the case we will be making over the coming months and to whatever government is in power after the election. As part of that process we will be working with our fellowships to publish a joint statement ahead of the elections.
Our aim is to secure the UK as the best place in the world to explore, discover and innovate. For this to happen, the UK government must signal commitment to its research base through a long-term framework which provides stability and confidence. It must strengthen the knowledge economy by building and protecting the funding that fuels the research and innovation eco-system and by creating a stable and nurturing environment through tax and other policies.
It is also essential that we have the people to populate that eco-system. The government must also use research findings to help make better policy by embedding evidence into the policy process.
Our statement will present a vision for the future of UK research and innovation, the policy priorities to achieve these goals, and promote the importance of evidence within policymaking.