Britain is becoming an ‘innovation follower’

New analysis by the House of Commons Library on data released by Eurostat has shown that the UK is falling behind in science investment and is isolated amongst EU member states in its decision to cut investment in response to the financial crisis. The UK joined Latvia, Romania and Sweden as one of a small minority of states to cut its science investment in response to the recession. It comes on the same day as separate research published by the library shows that the UK has since cut the science budget by 14% and is falling behind key European competitors.


When challenged in Parliament this morning [Thursday 15th March] over his 14% cut to the science base, Science Minister David Willetts for the first time acknowledged the real terms cut and said it was “evidence of this Government’s commitment to science”.


The analysis of Eurostat data on Government expenditure on research and development as a percentage of GDP (GERD) found that the only EU27 countries where GERD represented a smaller percentage of GDP in 2010 than in 2008 were the UK, Latvia, Romania and Sweden, who are already ahead of the Lisbon target of 3% of GDP being spent on science, nearly twice as much as the UK.


It found that “[EU] Member states with the highest R&D intensity are pulling further ahead.  These countries – Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany – comprise the innovation leaders.  France and the UK are in the next group: “innovation followers”.”


The analysis was commissioned by Chi Onwurah MP, Labour’s shadow Minister for Innovation, Science and Digital Infrastructure for Science and Engineering week. Commenting on the findings, Ms Onwurah, a former engineer, said:


“These figures show that this Government’s complacency is putting our world beating position in science and research at risk. David Willetts has signalled the intent of this government by cutting investment when other Government’s committed to science and building knowledge intensive economies are increasing their investment. The Government claims this is the best settlement possible given the economic environment but other member states with similar deficit reduction programmes understand the importance of science and research to economic growth.


“It’s a damning indictment of this Government’s economic and business policy that the only thing stopping the UK from falling further down the table into the medium-low intensity R&D bracket is a stagnating economy.”


A survey published alongside the figures show that none of the EU’s high or medium-intensity R&D nations cut their R&D expenditure last year except for the Netherlands and no member state currently has plans to cut their research budgets in 2012.


The Lisbon target was a commitment made by member states to spend 3% or more of GDP on research by 2020. The Government has backed away from any commitment to meeting the Lisbon 2020 target, having previously agreed to it. The Government also scrapped Labour’s long term investment framework, heightening uncertainty for businesses and researchers.


Last year the Royal Society’s report Knowledge, Network and Nations showed the UK falling behind other countries’ investment in science.

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