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Stay of Execution for British Science Funding
24 May 2010 10:54 am
The United Kingdom's new ruling coalition government fulfilled a pledge today by announcing about £6 billion in cuts to this year's budget—and British science has seemingly survived the day. Beyond some broad university budget cuts, the only obvious science-focused savings come from changing the funding timetable for the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI), a biology superlab planned for London. The government plans to spend about £230 million on the project over the next few years, but this spring then–Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the whole sum would come from the 2010–11 budget, an unexpected change that some saw as a move to reassure UKCMRI's partners, the Wellcome Trust, CancerResearch UK, and University College London.
UKCRMI has seemed confident of its future; none of the parties had spoken against the project, and it recently placed job ads seeking a director and a CEO. Still, there was some nervousness that the cost-conscious Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition could cancel UKCRMI. Instead, the new leaders have decided to spread out the cost as originally planned, creating a "savings" in this year's budget. "We're still totally committed to the project. ... There was no need to give all the money upfront," says a government spokesperson.
The Wellcome Trust today quickly released a statement by its director, Mark Walport, welcoming the government's continued support of UKCMRI. But Walport also sounded a note of caution: "It is essential that there are no delays to the programme introduced by this change to the funding plan. Lengthening the time for implementation of a capital programme is a guaranteed way to increase its costs. ... The ability of the Wellcome Trust to be a major funder of first class research in the UK depends on the stability and quality of this partnership."
British scientists will now look forward with trepidation to the 22 June "emergency budget" promised by the coalition government.