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Royal Society Treasurer backs return of R&D scoreboard

Peter Williams, treasurer of the Royal Society and chairman of the National Physical Laboratory, has backed calls to reinstate the research and development scoreboard.

Williams was speaking at a parliamentary session as part of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee’s inquiry into bridging the so-called valley of death between fundamental research and commercial development.

Last month, the Campaign for Science and Engineering announced that the government had rejected its calls to reinstate the scoreboard, which charted R&D spending in the private sector. After publishing a final version in 2010, science minister David Willetts said funding from the project would be pulled because of financial pressures.

Williams revealed his support for the publication while talking about R&D tax credits, which he argued seem to go more to large companies than to small ones. He also warned that it could be the case that a lot of the money actually goes towards research by big banks rather than to companies in the technology sector. The R&D scoreboard, he said, would be a crucial tool in finding the right solution to the problems.

“The first thing I’d do is to put in a pitch to reinstate R&D scoreboard—I believe in transparency openness and rich databases available to everybody,” he told the committee. “And just get the absolute facts on the table because if, as I believe is the case, the great majority goes to big businesses, frankly they do not need it as much.

“If you can work out a way of legislating to put it into technology sectors, which I believe you can define accurately enough, that would be even better.”

Williams also commented on the government’s recent commitment to graphene research, and warned against spreading the £50 million it has pledged too thinly across universities.

“The danger is because nobody quite knows what it is going to do, because we are risk averse, we’ll chop it into quarter-of-a-million-pound pieces and scatter one piece per university across the whole UK—and it’ll vanish without trace,” he argued.

“If you’re going to do a £50m graphene programme, then, I’m sorry government, you’re going to have to pick two or three winners and give them super-critical financing so you enable them to be a leader. You won’t get there if you scatter it.”