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Osborne throws science another £200m

The chancellor George Osborne has announced £200 million in new funding for science capital projects within the autumn statement.

Speaking in the House of Commons on 29 November, Osborne said that the government is investing an extra £500m in science—a figure which includes two previous announcements, together worth just under £300m since the 2010 spending review.

Investments will include £80m for the next phase of development at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s Institute of Animal Health laboratory at Pirbright.

The funding should allow the IAH to complete the remaining half of planned “Phase 3” upgrades, providing avian flu research facilities.

The research councils will be awarded an extra £62m to upgrade science laboratories and equipment. The statement also includes £25m for large-scale demonstration projects in fields such as smart energy grids and low-carbon vehicles.

Some £20m will also be invested in satellites that can “see through clouds”, in an attempt to attract further private investment. Another £13m will go towards the second phase of development of the supercomputer ARCHER.

Of the £200m, £100m is to be spent in 2012-13, £60m in 2013-14 and £40m in 2014-15. Investments announced in the statement were fiscally neutral, meaning they would come from savings made by cuts to other areas of government spending, said the chancellor.

The Campaign for Science and Engineering estimates that capital spending across the research base was cut by £1.7 billion in the 2010 spending review. Today’s announcements are the latest to reinstate some of this lost funding.

In the 2011 budget, the chancellor promised additional funding of £100m for projects including biotechnology research parks, as well as smaller investments in physical sciences laboratories and space technology.

In October, he announced £195m for graphene research and high-performance computing at the Conservative Party conference.

Alongside increases in capital spending, today’s statement also reveals a number of measures designed to stimulate industrial research, including plans to introduce an “above the line” R&D tax credit, which, by making the credit more visible in companies’ budgets is intended to boost its impact.

This will be used from 2013 to encourage larger companies to spend on R&D. However, the document states that the government will consult on the details of the policy to ensure that R&D incentives for small and medium-sized businesses are not lost as a result. Further detail on R&D tax credits is to be published on 6 December, alongside more news on the patent box scheme.

The statement also says the government also plans to invest an additional £75m in supporting technology-based small and medium-sized businesses to develop, demonstrate and commercialise new products and services, and will increase funding for the Regional Growth Fund by £1 billion.

The government also confirmed that next month will see the Prime Minister set out a strategy to “ensure that the UK is the best location for undertaking translational research in life science”.

In response to the autumn statement, Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society said: “This additional £200 million for research infrastructure is good news. We have world-class scientists and they need world-class places to do their work—you would not keep a Da Vinci in a garden shed… Today’s announcements must be the start of that additional investment rather than just a one off.”

Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, added: “It’s really encouraging for the UK economy that last year’s cuts are being slowly reversed.”