In a historic week in government, Chancellor Philip Hammond has presented his Spring Statement to government; and science plays a vital role.
Whilst a potential no-deal Brexit is causing uncertainty amongst government, industry and the public, the Chancellor attempted to keep his Spring Statement positive, highlighting the overall health of the economy as well as increased investment into research and infrastructure projects underpinned by UK science.
‘The economy […] is remarkably robust: It has grown for nine consecutive years with the longest unbroken quarterly growth run of any G7 economy and is forecast to continue growing in each of the next five years,’ Hammond said. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s data has found that since 2010, the UK economy has grown faster than in France, Italy and Japan.
Hammond also announced to the Commons funding to four major research projects the UK government has committed to:
- The UK will participate in the Joint European Torus programme for fusion energy research in Oxford, which will act as a wholly UK asset if the European Commissions does not renew its contract
- A ‘cutting-edge’ Extreme Photonics facility in Oxford will receive £81m
- A boost of £45m will go to bioinformatics research in Cambridge
- A new £79m supercomputer is to be built in Edinburgh that will be five times faster than any existing capabilities
And after months of campaigning from the scientific community, Hammond told MPs that to keep the UK open and competitive in science and innovation, ‘[the government] will completely exempt PhD-level roles from the visa caps’ from this Autumn.
Overseas research activity will now count as residence in the UK, so that scientists will not be penalised for doing fieldwork internationally.
A cleaner economy was a running theme throughout the Statement, with the Chancellor highlighting the following commitments from the Industrial Strategy, Clean Growth Strategy and the 25-Year Environment Plan:
- The government are advancing the decarbonisation of gas supplies to increase the proportion of green gas in the grid to help meet climate targets
- A new Future Homes Standard will be introduced by 2025 to keep consumer energy bills low and ensure new builds are better for the environment
- Calls for evidence for a ‘business energy efficiency scheme’ to help SMEs reduce their energy bills and carbon emissions, and ‘Offsetting Transport Emissions’ to give the public the option to travel ‘zero carbon’
Hammond welcomed the Furman review in Parliament – an independent review that concluded that innovation in technology will struggle in the future if more is not done to combat the little competition face by big tech companies. You can find more about the recommendations of the review here.
‘We are investing in our future tackling the productivity gap and embracing technological change, rising to its challenges and seizing its opportunities. Our potential is clear. Our advantages are manifest,’ he said.
‘We are the fifth largest economy in the world. A proud, successful, outward-looking nation with no limit to our ambition and no boundaries to what we can achieve. A brighter future is within our grasp.
‘Let’s take a decisive step towards seizing it and building a Britain fit for the future. A Britain the next generation will be proud to call their home.’