Go back

Spending review 2020—as it happened

Image: HM Treasury [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0], via Flickr

Live blog: what chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled in today's spending review

This live blog is now finished.

15.00—Read our full coverage of the spending review:

UK government promises £15bn for R&D in 2020-21

14.40—And that brings our live blog to an end. Check in later for our full news coverage of the spending review…

14.34—UK news editor Mićo Tatalović gives his take on today’s announcement:

The top line announcement of almost £15b for R&D will be widely welcome and seen as going some way toward reaching government targets on boosting R&D. BEIS and UKRI are getting more money for science, but for UKRI this seems to come with even closer ties to government, now that it is being put in charge of spending £350m on government priorities, perhaps even UK Arpa. This might sit uneasy with UKRI leadership, who have called for less government control.

Also, the absence of specific budget line for associating with or replacing the EU Horizon programme funds will likely alarm many. As will the absence of detail and further delays on UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which is to replace EU structural funds and their significant contribution to R&D in the UK.

14.22—More delays and uncertainty on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund that is meant to replace EU structural funds. The Treasury documents say the fund will include “investment for local business including to support innovation, green and tech adoption, tailored to local needs” but that “its funding profile will be set out at the next Spending Review”.

14.18—Hopes of a bailout for research charities that have been hard hit by Covid-19 do not appear to have materialised. The spending review only notes a previously announced “£750 million of support to charities supporting those directly affected by Covid-19”.

And questioned by Clive Bates MP on a fall for cancer research charities, Sunak notes “record spending on R&D next year” but doesn’t respond to suggestion he should provide money to research charities.

14.01—The result of postponing a decision on student finance, means that tuition fees in England will be set at £9,250 until at least September 2022.

13.55—Martin McQuillan, our HE service news editor, has this to say about the spending review:

It was a case of the dog that did not bark for universities. The wait goes on for a government response to its own review of post-18 funding and the independent review of the Teaching Excellence Framework. There are bits and bobs of good news in there, such as £260m for Health Education England, but the skills agenda is notably neglected with only a retread of capital funding for FE colleges. There is a promise of funding for a domestic alternative to Erasmus+ but no detail. It will come “in due course”, say the Treasury. A familiar story for higher education watchers.

13.46—Research Professional News global funding correspondent Robin Bisson writes:

One of the aims for overseas aid spending by the foreign office is to support developing countries on clean energy R&D. This will be supported through the Ayrton Fund, a £1 billion fund announced in 2019 for climate investments in low- and middle-income countries.

But the Global Challenges Research Fund and the Newton Fund, both supported through overseas aid, could be under pressure with the cut in aid spending from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of GDP, compounded by a contraction in the economy. Neither funds get a mention but the government says overseas aid will continue to be spent on “tackling key global challenges” including Covid-19 and climate change.

13.40—Has the government given a clue too as to whether the ‘high risk/high reward’ funding agency UK Arpa will be part of UK Research and Innovation?

UK Arpa was widely expected to exist outside of UKRI, but it has been promised an £800 million  budget over five years, and the spending review says UKRI’s 2021-22 budget “includes the first £50 million towards an £800 million investment by 2024-25 in high risk, high-payoff research”.

13.34—It looks like there is a boost for BEIS R&D budget of around £740m: “BEIS has been allocated £11.1 billion R&D funding” which is up from around £10.36 billion in R&D funding last year. This includes a boost for UKRI of £400 million on average per year, the Treasury document say.

Here’s the chunk of the spending review document as it relates to research:

The government recognises the importance of long-term planning for research and has therefore provided an ambitious multi-year settlement for the National Academies and UK Research and Innovation’s core research budgets. These will grow at an unprecedented rate: by more than £400 million on average per year for the next three years. By 2023-24 the government will be investing £1.4 billion more per year in core funding for its world-leading research base. This will enable institutions across the UK to push the frontiers of knowledge in areas ranging from quantum technologies for cryptography to new imaging technologies for cancer treatment. To help deliver this ambition, UK Research and Innovation will next year open its grant competitions to the dispersed network of outstanding public sector labs across the country.

13.28—While many researchers worry about access to EU funds, there is little new on this topic in the spending review documents.

They say:

Negotiations over the UK’s future relationship with the EU, including Horizon, are still ongoing. Whatever the outcome of those negotiations, the government is committed to maintaining and enhancing the UK’s position at the forefront of global science collaboration.

And on the Erasmus+ academic mobility scheme:

The DfE settlement “provides funding to prepare for a UK-wide domestic alternative to Erasmus+, in the event that the UK no longer participates in Erasmus+, to fund outward global education mobilities. The government will set out further details in due course.”

13.25—Some details on the Departmental Expenditure Limits (DEL) given to the business department:

The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) settlement includes £2.4 billion resource spending and £15.6 billion capital spending. BEIS’s core resource budget has grown by 3.3 per cent and its capital budget by 15.7 per cent in real terms since 2019-20. Core total DEL is now £18 billion and has increased by 13.8 per cent in real terms each year from 2019-20 to 2021-22.

13.23—The full 122 page spending review document contains 32 mentions of R&D. Stay tuned to find out what they are…

13.17—The official government press release for the spending review touts “significant increases in research and development (R&D) with almost £15 billion in 2021-22 including funding for clinical research to support delivery of new drugs, treatments and vaccines”.

It continues:

The Spending review announces the next phase of the government’s infrastructure revolution with £100 billion of capital expenditure next year, to kickstart growth and support hundreds of thousands of jobs. It gives multi-year funding certainty for select projects – such as school and hospital rebuilding, housing and transport schemes – and targets additional investment in areas which will improve the UK’s competitiveness in the long-term, backing new investments in cutting-edge research and clean energy sources, investing in a greener future by delivering against the Prime Minister’s ten-point plan for climate change.

13.11—He’s finished. Labour now responding.

13.11—Sunak highlights the government’s previously announced immigration system alongside its R&D investments, “ensuring the best and brightest from around the world come here to learn, innovate and create”.

13.10—Sunak announces a £4bn “levelling up fund”—but says it will be administered by the Treasury, housing and transport departments. The absence of BEIS here raises questions over how tied into this agenda R&D will be, despite the government’s frequent rhetoric around using science and research to help level up the country.

13.08—Sunak reiterates the government’s commitment to making the country a “scientific superpower” with almost £15bn of funding for R&D. Puts government roughly on track to its promised £22bn by 2024-25. This year’s spending was around £13bn.

13.06—Sunak says the government is abandoning its target to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on overseas aid. Moving to 0.5 per cent, although it hopes to return to 0.7 per cent in future. Possible implications for research funding such as GCRF and Newton Fund there.

Intention to return to 0.7 per cent when “fiscal situation allows”. Lots of wriggle room there.

13.05—Sunak emphasises “this is a spending review for the whole of the United Kingdom”.

In a move likely to be welcomed by the devolved administrations, which have benefited substantially from European Union structural funding set to come to an end after the Brexit transition period, he announced the roll-out of the long-awaited UK Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF). “Over time, we will ramp up funding so that total domestic UK-wide funding will at least match EU receipts on average reaching £1.5bn a year,” he told MPs. “To help local areas to prepare for the introduction of the SPF, next year we will provide funding for communities to pilot programmes and new approaches.”

13.01—No mention for HE yet, but £291m for further education and £1.5bn “to rebuild colleges”.

Sunak said the government is “committed to boosting skills” and announced £291 million for further education, and £1.5 billion for college buildings. He also promised to improve the way the apprenticeship system works for businesses, something businesses have long called for.

12.57—Bad news for public sector research staff: while there will be pay rises for 1m NHS staff any increases for the rest of the public sector are paused unless they earn less than £24,000.

12.52—Lots of warnings about debt now. Is Sunak teeing up future cuts?

12.50—Will Rishi Sunak have anything up his sleeve for charity research organisations this afternoon?

The Association of Medical Research Charities is calling for a Sciences-Charity Partnership Fund that it hopes will protect medical research charities to recover from the impacts of COVID-19 with a minimum £310 million initial investment.

Originally when a multi-year spending review was planned, the charities said that this amount could reduce gradually over several years as the economy recovered. A source told us that hopes of a deal were high until the spending review was reduced to a single year exercise—a move which they fear could scupper any deal. Not long to wait now before we find out if there will be any investment in medical research charities.

12.48—Sunak promises “once in a generation investment in infrastructure”, £280bn overall for Covid, and £18bn for testing and PPE. And some £55bn for public services funding for tackling coronavirus.

12.46—And we’re off. “Our immediate priority is to protect people’s lives and livelihoods,” says Sunak.

12.41—PMQs is now over. Sunak should be up in three minutes…

12.35—Not long to go now. Rishi Sunak is scheduled to be up after Boris Johnson finishes today’s Prime Minister’s Questions.

12.25—Yesterday we asked readers if they were expecting a big research spending boost today…

12.15—One of the sub-plots of today’s spending review is whether or not the Department for Education will publish two important documents: its long-awaited response to the Augar review of post-18 education funding, and the findings of Dame Shirley Pearce’s review of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework.

While neither are related to spending announcements today, the government has said repeatedly that it will publish them “alongside” the spending review. To put it in context, it is now 18 months since Philip Augar published his report, and Pearce’s TEF review thought to have been complete since the start of the year (she began her work on it a year ago this month).

However, it appears that the publication of either document today is unlikely. Asked whether they will finally see the light of day, a DfE source says “probably not”. The wait goes on…

12.00—Former science minister Chris Skidmore discussed the spending review at yesterday’s Operational Research Society Blackett Lecture: 

“This is not the multi-annual spending review framework we had hoped it might be, but this nevertheless gives us a window to be more dynamic with how government spending, and indeed research spending might operate for the future.”
Referencing the government’s existing pledged to boost R&D funding to £22 billion a year by 2024-25, he said: “The £22 billion cannot wait until 2025: we need a front loading of this investment, to deliver a signal that the UK is open for R&D business, and that we welcome the opportunity for future partnership, and are willing now to invest in opportunities presented.”
He added, “the first fruits of this investment are already appearing. £1 billion has been committed for the new Ayrton Fund, investing in climate change research across developing nations. Last week’s defence spending announcement saw an extra £1.5 billion to be spent on military R&D, taking this figure to now £5.8billion.”

11.45—Of course, some of Sunak’s speech will not be surprising. UK news editor Mico Tatalovic has been looking at promises already made.

11.30—If you need more background reading, our views section has plenty to keep you busy. Check out five key views from the sector.

11.15—While we wait for the Chancellor, take a look at UK senior reporter Sophie Inge’s five things to watch out for at the spending review.

11.05—Subscribers will already have read this morning’s 8am Playbook, packed with predictions about what the spending review has in store. Here is an excerpt:

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s cancellation of a comprehensive spending review this year in favour of a one-year budget-setting exercise for Whitehall departments is the second time the comprehensive spending review has been put off. His predecessors Philip Hammond and Sajid Javid both pulled the same trick and for a while now we have been living off promises of research jam tomorrow without seeing the fine print.
In the meantime, the public finances have headed south and something has to give if the chancellor is to square the need to finance the government’s response to the pandemic with his more hawkish Conservative fiscal instincts. Researchers might be about to find out that the vision of Britain as a science superpower is to be projected into the future while the government deals with more urgent matters in the here and now.
The longer a commitment to science spending is postponed, the less likely it is to happen—or, at the very least, the less likely it is to happen in the format originally envisioned, as the reality of the economic scarring caused by the coronavirus comes to bite the public purse.

If you subscribe, you can read the full analysis.

11.00—Welcome to the Research Professional News live blog of the 2020 spending review. Stay with us to find out what Rishi Sunak has in store for the research and innovation world.