BECAUSE SCIENCE MATTERS
If Britain is to become a vibrant economy in the wake of the global recession, we have no option other than to invest heavily in research and in the creativity of our scientists and engineers.
We can’t compete in international markets with cheap labour – only with our brains, ingenuity and innovation.
Even though this link between science, engineering and economic recovery receives widespread lip service from politicians of all persuasions, Government funding on research has only recently recovered to what it was under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1986.
We now risk falling behind. There has been a recent EUR35 billion investment in the “knowledge economy” by France, a commitment from the German government to increase their federal budget for education and research by EUR12 billion by 2013, and the 20% year-on-year increase in China’s science spending over the last decade.
Last year, American science enjoyed a $21-billion boost, along with recent claims from American scientists that they will steal the UK’s finest minds if UK investment slips.
That decline looks inevitable, given the vague rhetoric from the three main parties which focuses on ring fencing the science budget rather than the size of the budget itself.
The good news is that Britain’s research is the most cost effective on the planet – it has more impact per pound spent than any other country and is second only to America in terms of overall impact.
We now need to commit to an increase in investment in science now, or risk devastating British science and the economy in years to come through ill-advised spending cuts. We need to raise Government spending on research as a proportion of national wealth to 2.5 per cent of GDP. We need a Chief Scientific Adviser in the Treasury to bring the thinking of that department into the 21st century.
We need to ensure that there is a steady supply of skilled scientists, engineers and mathematicians, the basis of a knowledge economy. That means school pupils need to be able to study biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics, taught by specialist teachers with a relevant degree.
Subjects such as chemistry and physics demand expensive laboratories in universities and these have to be adequately funded by the funding councils so that universities are not tempted to close science and engineering departments so they can pack more students into relatively cheap – and relatively worthless – degree courses.
British business invests too little in research. In 2007 British companies spent 1.14% of GDP on R&D, while in the US the figure was 1.9% and in Germany 1.8%. We should expand the R&D tax credit and adopt other incentives to grow and attract and secure high tech businesses.
Science and engineering are crucial for government – they are central to issues ranging from healthcare to global warming to energy generation. We need to enshrine a strong set of principles within the ministerial code that protect scientific advisers, academic freedom and independence. Otherwise the integrity of scientific advice cannot be guaranteed if ministers are able to summarily dismiss their independent scientific advisers.
To ensure that there is proper oversight of policies affecting and affected by science and engineering, the Minister for Science and Innovation would have to be in the Cabinet, not a second rate minister.
The Science Party will ensure that science, mathematics and engineering have sufficient funding, skills and political priority. If you want to revive Britain’s flagging economy, Vote Science!