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Cable calls for increased spending on R & D

Business and Innovation Secretary Vince Cable has called for a significant increase in spending on Research and Development.

Speaking ahead of the long-awaited government science and innovation strategy, he said spending on R&D should be raised from 1.7% of GDP to 2.5%, and urged the research councils to tackle the “dreadful” regional imbalance in funding and find ways to reward universities that helped local economic growth.

Britain has a very good reputation for scientific research he said. “But, frankly, I doubt that we can sustain that with the level of investment going on now - so there has to be a step change and we have to make that case,” he told science and business leaders at a meeting in London.

R&D funding was so important to sustain that the Business Secretary said he was attracted to the idea that it should be taken out of government public spending targets.  Britain was lagging behind other countries in the amount it invested.

“I would like to see it raised to 2.5% of GDP from public and private funds and also think we need to double the £600 million innovation budget,” he said.

The Minister had been expected to reveal a new long-term strategy for investment in science and innovation, but the announcement has been put off – probably until next week. The strategy was originally expected to be announced earlier this week. Its postponement may add to fears over the government’s plans for future spending on science.

The minister added his voice to that of the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee that earlier this month reported that the UK was spending well below the OECD average on R&D, and called for it to be raised to 3%.  Earlier this week reports from Universities UK and the University Alliance both called for the Government to increase research funding.

Speaking in the run up to the results of the Research Excellence Framework next week Cable said the research councils needed to consider the long term future of UK plc and how to encourage the growth of new research centres rather than taking a “default position of reinforcing existing centres of excellence”.

Very good work going on in universities to support business and enterprise in their local communities – such as Plymouth, Wolverhampton and Teesside – was going unrecognised in research funding, he said. Plymouth, for example, evaluated new local businesses and then linked them up with experts in the different departments. “That dimension is not covered in the decision making process for research funding at the moment,” he said.

He also thought the Research Councils had a role to play in trying to spread funds more evenly around the country.

 “I worry about the serious imbalance in the UK – the spacial geography is dreadful and this applies also to scientific research,” he said.  The triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London was doing well.  “And that’s great, but is it right or sensible or should we be making changes and trying to counter the flow?”

The Business Secretary said he felt for the academics he met at outstanding northern research universities such as Newcastle, Liverpool, Birmingham and Leeds who were finding it difficult to build up the size of teams that would attract research funding under the present system of allocation.