The United Kingdom's budget for 2011-12, announced today by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, has some good news for scientists with a £100 million boost in spending on capital projects as well as promised removal of red tape surrounding biomedical research and clinical trials. Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, welcomed the new money, "but labs across the country are going to be struggling to make ends meet following the budget cuts announced last year. We have to use the United Kingdom's high-tech base to help overturn our nearly trillion-pound debt. If the chancellor wants to make the most of his new £100 million investment, he should invest in science and engineering to the extent that our competitors, including China and Germany, are doing—or risk our economy lagging two steps behind."
Although research grant funding was more or less preserved in last year's comprehensive spending review, capital spending on research was hit hard. Today's extra funding softens that blow to an extent. Life sciences research did particularly well: £44 million will go to the Babraham Research Campus near Cambridge and £26 million to Norwich Research Park. "The chancellor's additional support for the life sciences provides a strong message around the value of biology and its contribution to health and the economy. The greatest challenges the world faces: food security, climate change, loss of biodiversity, the aging population and disease can all ultimately be addressed through biology based research," Mark Downs, head of the Society of Biology said in a statement.
In the physical sciences, £10 million will fund new instruments for the ISIS spallation neutron at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and a further £10 million will support the development of next-generation particle accelerators for medical and security scanning applications at the Daresbury Laboratory. Yet another £10 million will fund a new National Space Technology Program. "We welcome this investment in our scientific facilities and capabilities … which will help us promote blue-skies thinking and economic recovery," says Keith Mason, head of the Science and Technology Facilities Council.
Advice given earlier this year to government by the Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS), saying that medical research is being stifled by needless bureaucracy, appears to have been heeded. The key change is the creation of a new health research regulatory agency, known as the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), to streamline regulation and improve the cost effectiveness of clinical trials. It will make future NIHR funding to providers of services to the National Health Service conditional on meeting benchmarks, including a 70-day deadline to recruit first patients for trials.
Michael Rawlins, head of the AMS panel that drafted the report, says: "I am delighted to see that the government has acted quickly in announcing a package of measures that take forward recommendations from our report. The new [NIHR] must remove some of the current complexity and achieve greater efficiency by acting as a 'one-stop-shop' for regulatory approvals."