We came. We chanted. We lobbied. We petitioned.
And in the end, thanks to the Science is Vital Campaign and the persuasive efforts of CaSE and the learned societies and captains of high-tech industry, the UK science budget was protected from deep cuts in the Governments Comprehensive Spending Review last autumn.
The settlement came as a huge relief to a community of scientists and engineers who had fought hard to make the case that science and technology are crucial engines of innovation and growth, one that the UK — facing growing competition from overseas — would neglect at its peril.
However, the four-year freeze in the recurrent budget for publicly funded research represents a steady decline in real terms of somewhere in the region of 10-15%, depending on the rate of inflation. This is exacerbated by the cuts of around 40% that were made in capital spending, money largely devoted to large-scale infrastructure.
There is little doubt in the scientific community that Science Minister David Willetts battled well with the Treasury on our behalf. But the harsh reality is that the reduced spend on science – coupled with the uncertainty imposed on the university sector by the ongoing overhaul of student funding – makes for extremely challenging times ahead.
To face that challenge as positively and as productively as we can, the fight needs to go on. As a community we need to keep reminding the government of the importance of investment in science, and to gather the evidence of its deep economic and cultural value.
We also have to maintain a close scrutiny of the Coalition’s science policy. The government is very keen on assessing the impact of the scientific research that it funds. So no doubt it will welcome a determination of the impact of its own spending decisions in this area. As I noted a few weeks ago, Parliament is now offering us an excellent opportunity to do just that.
The parliamentary Science and Technology committee has issued a call to the scientific community for submissions that will give a ground-level view of the effects of the spending decisions that were announced last year. The Science is Vital Campaign thinks that this is a very good thing — and we hope that you agree. These submissions will provide valuable insights to the committee and are, we hope, a useful way to harness some more of the tremendous passion and energy that flared up among scientists and engineers around the country in September and October last year.
Times are tough but we must not submit to resignation or defeatism.
Instead, please head over to the Science is Vital web-site where we have explained the background to the call for evidence and set out clearly how you can help by preparing a brief report of the impact of constrained spending on your research for the Science and Technology Committee.
This will allow you to submit in a very positive way.