Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has delivered the Treasury's Spending Review 2020 to parliament, setting out details of government spending plans for the next 12 months.
Sunak announced that UK government departmental budgets for 2021-22 and the devolved administrations’ block grants for the same period will grow at an average of 3.8% a year in real terms from 2019-20 to 2021-22 (before taking into account COVID-19 spending).
However, the Chancellor quickly turned to address the state of the nation’s finances, confirming that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) expects GDP to shrink by 11.3% in 2020. The UK’s deficit is also forecast to rise to £394 billion this year, or 19% of GDP, which is the highest level since the end of the second world war.
Key points from SR20 for the research community include:
- Almost £15 billion for R&D in 2020 to ‘boost the UK’s world-class research base and increase the productivity and international competitiveness of its innovative firms’, and a commitment to raising economy-wide investment in R&D to 2.4% by 2027.
- An ‘ambitious’ multi-year settlement for the National Academies and UK Research and Innovation’s core research budgets, which will grow by more than £400 million on average per year for the next three years. In 2021, UKRI will open its grant competitions to the dispersed network of outstanding public sector labs across the country.
- £450 million in 2021-22 to support government priorities, drive the development of innovative ways to build new science capability and support the whole research and innovation ecosystem. SR20 allocates £350 million of this investment to UKRI. This includes the first £50 million towards an £800 million investment by 2024-25 in high-risk, high-payoff research.
- £733 million in 2021-22 for the UK Vaccines Taskforce to purchase successful vaccines and £128 million for R&D and vaccines manufacturing.
- £1.3 billion for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and Genomics England (GEL) and their research into better patient outcomes (including COVID-19), as well as supporting the wider UK life sciences sector.
- £559 million to support the modernisation of technology across the health and care system, including the NHS’s Artificial Intelligence Lab.
- Up to £17 million in 2021-22 to establish a new unit and fund that will focus on the ‘last mile’ of innovation to help ensure that public sector knowledge assets (R&D, intellectual property and other intangible assets) translate into new high-tech jobs, businesses and economic growth.
- £525 million to bring forward large-scale nuclear and invest in the development of advanced nuclear R&D, including up to £385 million in an Advanced Nuclear Fund for small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors (alongside £220 million for nuclear fusion) as part of the new National Infrastructure Strategy.
- At least £6.6 billion to enable military research into artificial intelligence and other defence technologies.
Spending Review 2020 also acknowledges that negotiations over the UK’s future relationship with the European Union, including participation in Horizon Europe, are still ongoing. The Government insists that whatever the outcome of those negotiations, it remains committed to 'maintaining and enhancing' the UK’s position at the forefront of global science collaboration.
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