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Autumn Statement: Science, Engineering and Technology Round-up 05.12.14

By Vernon Hunte, Public Affairs Consultant

“Britain is raising its ambition… and nowhere is that clearer than in our commitment to science. It is a personal priority of mine. It is crucial to our economic future.” – Rt Hon George Osborne MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Autumn Statement Speech 2014

The Chancellor has always had time, and more importantly money, for investment in British science and research. It’s been a tough Parliament term in which to be a Chancellor – as a previous Treasury Minister famously wrote in his letter there was “no money left” – so unlike previous incumbents this Chancellor cannot offer exciting tax cuts in the year before the General Election.

But investment in science is almost the next best thing. For a (relatively) small amount of investment, Government Ministers can be photographed next to the exciting future technologies that promise to power UK plc through the 21st century and beyond.

That’s what we’ve seen again in Wednesday’s Autumn Statement with the Chancellor proudly declaring the “longest-term commitment to investment in science facilities in any Parliament” with an investment of £5.9 billion into the UK’s research infrastructure over 2016-21. Of this, £2.9 billion will establish a “Grand Challenges” fund to enable the UK to invest in major research facilities. From the same pot £800 million has been reserved for major new research facilities and projects including:

–  £235 million in the advanced materials Sir Henry Royce Institute (advanced materials research and innovation)

–  £113 million in big data at Hartree, Daresbury

–  £95 million to take the lead in the next European mission to Mars

–  £31 million in new energy security and innovation centres

–  £60 million to extend the capabilities of the National Nuclear Users Facility

–  £20 million for an innovation centre on ageing, in Newcastle

The Alan Turing Centre, which will undertake new research into ways of collecting, organising and analysing big data, is to be located in London and will receive £42 million. An additional £61 million has been allocated to the High Value Manufacturing Catapult centre to meet increasing demand and provide support to SMEs. A new Formulation Centre to design new products across numerous sectors by combining different gases, solids or liquids will see £28 million.

The Chancellor’s welcome £7 billion commitment to help create a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ to rival London could be said, cynically, to be recognition that Conservatives need to win back a crucial assortment of northern constituencies if they are ever to form a majority Government again. At the very least the Chancellor needs to show he cares about the economic future of the north of England.

And if you live in Coventry, Milton Keynes, Bristol or Greenwich then you’ll have the chance of seeing the latest in driverless car technology as the Government boosted the project with an extra £9 million.

Science is a personal priority for the Chancellor; he sees it as central for the UK’s economic future and a positive story for a country still not out of the economic woods. The years to come will be an exciting time across the country as far as our industry is concerned.

If you have any comments or questions please email me at Vernon@proofcommunication.com.

See my profile on our website here.