Measures to stimulate innovation and R&D are broadly welcomed by industry and science

The UK government has announced a raft of measures in its autumn statement to try to boost the flagging economy. There is some good news for the research community, as well as the chemical and life science industries. The move has been broadly welcomed by scientific societies and high tech and energy intensive industries. 

The Chancellor, George Osborne, blamed the deteriorating economic situation in the country on the Eurozone crisis and higher inflation as a result of rising commodity prices. As part of the government’s plan to improve the country’s finances, further savings will be made by cutting welfare programmes and raising the state pension age to 67. Meanwhile, in an effort to kick start the economy, there will be another round of credit easing to help small and medium sized businesses, infrastructure will receive a significant cash boost and certain key areas and industry will receive extra funding or tax breaks.

An additional ?200 million has been earmarked for science projects. This includes ?80 million for the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright, ?62 million for research capital investment and ?25m for demonstration projects such as smart energy grids and low-carbon vehicles. This comes after the announcement on 3 October of ?50 million to set up the National Graphene Institute.

Just the beginning?

’The repeated references to science and innovation in the chancellor’s speech show a commitment to science and engineering being the basis for a sustainable economic recovery, but it will only happen if we are willing to invest heavily, like many of our competitors,’ says Paul Nurse president of the Royal Society. ’Today’s announcements must be the start of that additional investment rather than just a one off.’

There is good news for high-tech businesses too. The government plans to invest ?75 million to help technology-based SMEs develop and commercialise their inventions. It also announced an ’above the line’ tax credit to encourage larger companies to invest in R&D, with more details to be announced in the 2012 budget. 

Meanwhile, the chemical industry will reap some respite from high electricity prices with measures to help energy intensive businesses. Up to ?250 million will be set aside to prevent the drive towards a low carbon economy leading to ’carbon leakage’, when energy intensive industries move to other jurisdictions with less restrictive CO2 emissions legislation. Of this money, ?110 million will compensate energy intensive users caught up in the EU’s emissions trading scheme, with the remaining money going to ease the pressure of domestic emissions legislation. The government has also said it will attempt to relieve the burden of some EU legislation, such as the Reach (registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals) regulations, the clinical trials directive and the national emissions ceilings.

Life sciences got a look in too, with a pledge to make the country the best location in the world to undertake translational research. Further details of the government’s strategy will be revealed in December. 

’Extending R&D tax credits to larger firms will encourage pharmaceutical companies to further invest in their own business and in new medicines,’ said Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the UK Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. However, Glyn Edwards, interim chief executive of the UK BioIndustries Association, said the measures announced were only a ’small step’ towards helping bioscience companies and more could have been done. 

Patrick Walter