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Science Budget Frozen but Spared Cuts as UK Government Aims to Slash Costs

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK research community may have had cause to exhale today as the government of Prime Minister David Cameron released a deficit-slashing spending plan that will freeze, but not directly cut, science spending at this year's level over the next four years.

In detailing a government spending review plan that calls for £6 billion in cuts, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said today that due to its economic value science and research spending was spared direct cuts that hit other areas of government much harder. However, the four-year freeze will amount to a nearly 9 percent cut in real terms when inflation is considered.

Under the plan, total scientific research spending under the plan will remain at around £4.6 billion ($7.3 billion) per year through 2015.

The budget cuts offered in the review were expected to be deep, and last week the government said it would shut down the Human Genetics Commission and other biomedical research-related quasi-governmental organizations.

There is reason to believe that British scientists were bracing for worse news than what they heard today. Earlier this month, a scientist-run group called Science Is Vital protested the possibility of research funding cuts and demonstrated in favor of science funding outside of the Treasury Department.

"Britain is a world leader in scientific research," said Osborne. "And that is vital to our future economic success. That is why I am proposing that we do not cut the cash going to the science budget," he explained.

Osborne said that a separate review identified £324 million that could be saved in science spending through increasing efficiency, and that implementing those changes alone would enable the UK to keep from making other cuts.

He also said that the government plans to invest £220 million in the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation at St. Pancras, to fund development of a molecular biology lab in Cambridge, and to support an Animal Health Institute in Pilbright.

The Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council's budget for 2010-2011 is £471.1 million; the Medical Research Council's budget for the period is £707 million; and the Science and Technology Facilities Council budget for the year is £651.6 million. The Large Facilities Capital Funding budget over the same period is £265.3 million, and University Capital funding this year is set to be £214.9 million.

"The flat cash settlement for the core science budget is very welcome news in the context of this extremely tough spending review," Royal Society President Martin Rees, said in a statement today. "The government has recognized the importance of sustaining the international standing of UK science in a context where other nations are forging ahead."

"There remain areas of concern, especially with regard to capital spending, and the funding of universities. But this outcome enhances our optimism that such issues can be addressed on the basis of a genuine realization that it is in the UK's interests to remain among the world leaders in key areas of science and innovation," Rees continued.

"We understand that the spending review has seen unprecedented cuts to public spending. The allocation that the science and research budget has received will enable the UK research base to contribute positively to the future prosperity and wellbeing of the UK," Research Councils UK said in a statement.

Admitting that the flat budget could present challenges, RCUK said that for the time being "we cannot speculate on the allocation that will be made to individual councils or the impact upon scientific disciplines."

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