R&D in the UK will lag without 3% of GDP, says select committee chair

12 Mar 16

The chair of the House of Commons’ science and technology select committee has called on the government to set out a road map to increase public spending on research and development to boost future growth.

In a letter to chancellor George Osborne ahead the Budget, Conservative MP Nicola Blackwood said a target for the public and private sectors to jointly spend 3% of gross domestic product on R&D was needed to keep up with countries like Germany, Korea and the US.

Her letter said that the UK was a “bona fide science powerhouse” but both spending and structural decisions must do more “than merely maintain the status quo”.

“If we get our spending priorities, our regulatory frameworks, our immigration policy wrong, we will be on the wrong side of history,” she told the chancellor.

The UK’s investment in R&D is low by international standards, she highlighted, at 1.7% of GDP.

“Germany is spending around 3%, China 2% and Israel and South Korea around 4%. Our competitors are increasing their R&D because it is proven to increase productivity and innovation growth.”

She called for the Budget to set out the path to increase public spending on R&D as part of a 3% target.

“If the UK were to invest 3% of GDP in R&D, one would expect, based on international analysis, that a third of this would be publicly funded. In the context of the current Spending Review and deficit reduction commitments, such a commitment might need to be phased beyond the life of this parliament. A roadmap will need to stretch to 2025 to achieve its desired effect of sending a signal of much needed stability and a commitment to our long term potential,” Blackwood concluded.

“Policies in the roadmap we advocate would need to be a combination of increasing government R&D spending and measures to stimulate private sector investment. While continuing to ringfence and to protect the science budget is a good start, we believe that polices to protect [Whitehall] departmental R&D and make it more transparent are necessary. R&D has plummeted in some departments in the last decade and reversing this trend will not only lead to better government policymaking but also bring the wider beneficial knock-on effects we have identified for the science budget itself.”

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