Will Treasury cuts drive hi-tech entrepreneurs overseas?

The Government's proposed cuts to science funding could leave the UK up Silicon Creek without a motherboard...

by MT Staff
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
As part of its cost-cutting drive, the Coalition is apparently threatening to slash science funding by between 15% and 30% - and naturally, the scientific community is well and truly up in arms about it. They argue that this would have have a devastating impact on R&D - potentially forcing science-based and hi-tech companies to seek out a home more sympathetic to their needs. Since we're actually pretty good at science here in the UK, and since the Coalition supposedly wants private enterprise to step up and fill the gap left by the shrinking private sector, this could be rather a false economy...

According to the Daily Telegraph, Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the president of the Institute of Physics, has written a letter to George Osborne describing the plan as 'disastrously short-sighted'. We can't help feeling she has a point. Unlike the universe (well, according to Stephen Hawking), there's definitely a role here for a benevolent central body, who can provide the cash to keep our big-brained boffins in white coats and sellotaped glasses.

But if hi-tech companies start to worry about a potential lack of cash to support UK R&D, it stands to reason that they - not to mention Britain's top research talent - may well disappear to foreign shores, in search of somewhere a bit more generously endowed. 'Science and innovation have the potential to be one of the major drivers of growth in a rebalanced economy,' as Burnell puts it. 'But R&D is mobile; the best researchers will follow the funding, and high technology businesses will follow the researchers.'

The Government is clearly in a bit of a pickle here. On the one hand, it's desperate to save money, and budgets are being slashed across the board. On the other, maintaining genuine cutting-edge scientific innovation - with all the commercial opportunities this brings - surely has to be a priority. Funding cuts might save money in the short term, but there's a good chance they'll also limit economic output in the longer term.

In the circumstances, we doubt science will escape scot-free. But hopefully the cuts won't run too deep. As the Government is increasingly discovering, for all its focus on saving money, sometimes you need to speculate to accumulate.

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