For many research advocates, the news today was a huge relief: Funding for science in the United Kingdom will remain constant in real terms at £4.7 billion per year until 2021, according to a government spending review released today. “Hugely welcome news," says Imran Khan of the British Science Association in London. “Hugely encouraging,” adds Dominic Tildesley, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, also in London. Others, however, noted that many details remain unclear.
Scientists were bracing for cuts. In preparing for its 4-year spending plan, the government had asked its departments to suggest budgets cuts of 25% to 40%. The Department of Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), which funds the majority of U.K. science, will see its budget gouged by 17% to £11.5 billion in fiscal year 2020–21. But science funding will be protected, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said in a speech to the House of Commons today. Over the past 5 years science funding has been kept at the same cash level, so is worth 6% less today than in 2010 because of inflation, pointed out Nicola Blackwood, chair of the Science and Technology Committee in the House of Commons. During this parliament, the science budget will rise in step with inflation.
Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, a private medical foundation based in London, is “reassured” by the protection of science funding, but cautions that “policies that essentially amount to flat cash—even if protected in real terms—can only be absorbed for a limited time.”