Just a Flesh Wound? U.K. Science Budget Spared Deep Cuts

Today, many U.K. scientists will likely see the glass as half-full. The U.K. government's long-awaited Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) was released today, and it calls for a flat science budget over the next 4 years. While inflationary costs mean that the budget will likely see a cut of about 10% in real terms over that period, this scenario is far less dramatic than rumored cuts of 20% to 30% in real cash. In fact, the flat budget scenario was the best of three options recently considered by the Royal Society in an analysis given to the government as it was producing the CSR. In that analysis, the society labeled its flat budget proposal scenario as "Weathering the Storm"—versus "Slash and Burn" and "Game Over" for scenarios representing cash cuts of 10% and 20% respectively—and concluded: "A flat cash settlement would be painful but manageable, and could only be delivered through substantial efficiency savings, and some rebalancing of investment priorities." The society's analysis, however, was done before the coalition government indicated significant cuts to the block grants given to universities, some of which goes to cover research costs.

U.K. science bodies and prominent researchers have already issued a wide range of reactions to the CSR, many expressing relief but others continued concern. Colin Blakemore, former head of the Medical Research Council, saw the budget as a victory for the vigorous lobbying done recently by scientists: "It is wonderful to learn that Government has listened to the scientific community. Collectively we have made the case that funding science is not a cost but a way to invest in creating a stronger economy, which is the best way to guarantee the recovery that will benefit everyone. It will now be important to maintain the dialogue with government as it reviews budgetary commitments for the future."

Others are less satisfied. "A 10% cut over four years is a significant blow to the UK's competitiveness. The Government has failed to recognise what all Charities know, an economic downturn is the time to invest in fundraising to ensure future prosperity. It is Research and Development, coupled with skilled people that will deliver growth. Our international competitors have recognised that: the coalition Government has yet to fully accept that reality," Mark Downs, CEO of the Society of Biology, said in a statement.

David Willetts, the U.K. science minister, will be holding a briefing later today, and ScienceInsider and Science magazine will provide further reaction and analysis.