Four months into the coalition Government, over 6,500 party members and policy enthusiasts have gathered in Liverpool to debate with Liberal Democrat’s leader, Ministers and Members of Parliament. All present are keen to work out “what next?” for the party and the new Government.

On Monday evening, Business Secretary, Dr Vince Cable, spoke at a Royal Society fringe event to give his take on the role of research in securing our future prosperity.  Speaking alongside Sir Martin Taylor FRS, Professor Cary Cooper and Aileen Allsop, Cable distanced himself from the school of thought that pits basic research against applied research, saying that there is a “false debate between the common room and the board room” and that “the Government doesn’t buy it”.“Innovation based on science,” he said, “is the most powerful driver of growth”.

But his principal message was clear and unequivocal – tough choices must be made about government spending.  This makes him, in his own words, “the bad guy”.

He said that there is a “powerful, compelling case” for government support for science.  But he pleaded with the science community to give some indication as to what the priorities are – something he feels the government is not getting enough help with. (For more coverage of this point: Simon Denegri from the Association of Medical Research Charities | Tom Chivers in the Telegraph).

“For example, is it more useful to spend more money on PhDs in STEM subjects or to spend the money on an Antarctic base?” he asked. Nobody in the room offered an answer. The Society argued in its submission to Cable’s department that such decisions will be hard to make strategically because of the inflexibility of many scientific investments.

It’s now less than a month until we hear the outcomes of the spending review.  While many are still focused on securing the best overall settlement for science and universities, Government already appears to be thinking about how to slice up the budget.

The Royal Society will be hosting similar events at the Labour and Conservative Party conferences. More information is available here.

Sir Martin Taylor FRS is former Vice-President of the Royal Society and Chair of The Scientific Century advisory group.

Aileen Allsop is Vice President for Science Policy, Research and Development, AstraZeneca

Professor Cary Cooper is Chair of the Academy of Social Sciences

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