Shadow science minister tells Royal Society event government promises need to be “matched with actions”
Shadow science minister Chi Onwurah has accused the UK government of not taking science seriously as she set out the Labour Party’s plans for R&D, which she said were “developed through a series of roundtables with scientists, startups and universities”.
Speaking at the Royal Society’s Research System Community of Interest meeting on 21 November, Onwurah said the Conservative government was “not upkeeping this country’s proud scientific heritage”.
Onwurah welcomed plans announced in the autumn statement to boost UK R&D, including a recommitment to investing £20 billion of public R&D funding by 2025 and a reform of R&D tax credits.
“However, I fear that we have heard it all before,” she said. “What I want, and what I’m sure everyone here wants, is for the government’s words and promises on science to be matched with actions.”
Setting out Labour’s vision for R&D, Onwurah said the party would increase R&D spend to 3 per cent of GDP “to reverse the UK’s flagging productivity, and contribute to economic growth and provide skilled jobs”.
“We do not invest enough in R&D,” she said.
Labour would also take an “active role in catalysing investment, breaking down barriers and acting in partnership with the private sector to leverage yet greater investment”, she added.
In reference to the government’s plan to “level up” the country, she said Labour recognised that innovation and science were “absolutely critical to building regional economies that are strong and self-sufficient”.
She said: “Labour believes the UK has huge potential for new industries, sparked by investing in science and R&D, which holds the potential to rebalance our economy and spread wealth and opportunities.”
Onwurah also said that “we must diversify the Stem sector”.
“Labour’s industrial strategy has an ambitious plan for ensuring skills development by all people, breaking down persistent inequalities,” she said adding that the party would “make R&D more representative of the population it serves by considering policy changes on the reporting of gender and ethnicity pay gaps”.
She added: “Labour has a long history of supporting UK science and scientists, but the Conservatives are not upkeeping this country’s proud scientific heritage.”
Onwurah criticised the government’s failure to secure association to Horizon Europe, which has been delayed due to an ongoing dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol.
“Losing access to Horizon would be a disaster for the UK,” she said.
“The uncertainty over Horizon has meant the UK has lost out on collaborative opportunities, scientists are leaving international projects and being told to relocate.
“Jobs are under threat across the country. We are in November and the government seem no closer to association or a plan B—no one has taken responsibility for this.”
She added, echoing her party leader Keir Starmer’s speech to business leaders this week: “Labour’s position is clear, Britain must make Brexit work, and Horizon is part of keeping Britain as a world leader in science.”
Responding to the government’s announcement on Monday of nearly £500m to help universities and research organisations cope with the uncertainty, Onwurah warned that it was “not a long-term solution”.
“The government may replace Horizon in financial terms, but it can’t replicate the collaborative opportunities and the prestige that Horizon holds.”
Research Professional News has approached the government for comment.