Stephen Metcalfe, chairman of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, has reiterated calls for UK science funding to move up a gear as Brexit approaches.
In a statement, published on 21 March, Metcalfe says that it is important for there to be no decline in public funding for UK science and innovation, across all disciplines. He said that UK policymakers should be ambitious and set an R&D spending target (from public and private sources) of 3 per cent of GDP. He also called for a review of current public funding of R&D to be commissioned.
Metcalfe’s statement echoes calls made by his committee under previous governments. It appeared a day after the employers’ lobby group the CBI issued a call for the UK to aim for a spending target of 3 per cent of GDP.
Metcalfe outlined four priority areas that he said needed speedy action from the UK government as Brexit approaches. These are: attracting the best people; investing in research and innovation; making collaboration and networks easier; and easing regulations and boosting trade.
If this prescription is followed, the strength of UK research and innovation can be maintained, he said.
Metcalfe said that his statement was informed by advice from those on the ground, including institutions such as the Royal Society, the British Academy, Innovate UK, the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Campaign for Science and Engineering.
The government needs to identify opportunities to develop and host “strategically valuable” international research facilities in the UK, he said. Contingency planning to ensure there is no gap in funding for people and projects as the UK leaves the EU is also important.
The UK’s funding streams should be expanded to attract and retain talented UK and international researchers and he reiterated the demand for reassurances and certainty for researchers and innovators who are European Economic Area nationals working in the UK.
The UK also will need to have an immigration system in place that ensures universities and businesses “continue to thrive and can recruit and retain people with the skills that they need, wherever they are from”, Metcalfe said.
Metcalfe also said that action on regulation was required to support science and trade, while keeping people and the environment safe and maintaining public confidence. To do this, maintaining a close relationship with international regulators and agencies would be important, he said.
Ensuring that there is no “legislative limbo”, where pending EU regulations not currently on the statute in the UK would be lost as the UK leaves the EU, must be part of the Brexit negotiations priorities.
The statement also called for a chief scientific adviser in every government department, including the Department for Exiting the European Union.
Robert Lechler, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said that the letter conveys the right concerns ahead of Brexit. As the UK leaves Europe moving to a target of 3 per GDP is “essential”, he said.
The Campaign for Social Science also welcomed the statement. It said that funding “across all disciplines” was important in the years ahead.
“Like the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines, the social sciences contribute greatly to UK growth and prosperity, and understanding how societies and markets change and grow will arguably be more important than ever in the future,” the campaign said in a statement.