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Autumn statement 2023: As it happened

 Image: Number 10 [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0], via Flickr

All the research, innovation and higher education news from Jeremy Hunt’s speech

13.51—Okay folks, that’s a wrap for now. Research Professional News staff will delve into documents emanating from the Treasury after the statement, with reactions and detailed analysis to follow on our news site soon.

—Whether a few plaudits from Hunt about the importance of universities and R&D to the UK economy will make up for months of attacks on “woke science” and “low value degrees” is debatable.

In response to Hunt’s statement, the shadow shancellor Rachel Reeves says: “The Tories have had 13 years to improve public services and they have failed…this is too little and too late.”

—Nice to hear Hunt say in his concluding remarks that “the best universities” and “the cleverest scientists” have given the UK “Europe’s most innovative economy”.

The government is not one that typically hands out plaudits to the higher education sector.

—Building on yesterday’s announcement of a third English investment zone in West Yorkshire, Hunt announces three further investment zones to focus on advanced manufacturing to be based in West Midlands, East Midlands and Greater Manchester.

These are expected to create 65,000 new jobs and bring in over £3bn of private investment, the chancellor says. He also announced an additional investment zone in Wales—in Wrexham and Flintshire—but gave no further detail on it.

—He repeats pledges made yesterday on supporting British manufacturing, starting from 2025 for five years. The Treasury said yesterday this was provide “industry with longer-term certainty about their investments”.

More than £2bn is earmarked for the automotive industry; nearly £1bn each for aerospace and a Green Industries Growth Accelerator (to support clean energy manufacturing); and £520 million for life sciences manufacturing.

The investments are “to build resilience for future health emergencies and capitalise on the UK’s world-leading research and development”, the Treasury said.

—Hunt confirms his plans to reform R&D tax credits, apparently with some further tweaks that may be welcomed by small and medium sized businesses.

“To further support research and development, I’m creating a new simplified R&D tax relief combining the existing R&D expenditure credit and SME schemes,” he says

“I’ll also reduce the rate at which loss-making companies are taxed within the merged scheme from 25 per cent to 19 per cent and lower the threshold for the additional support for the additional support for R&D intensive loss-making SMEs that I announced in the Spring to 30 per cent, benefiting a further 5,000 SMEs.”

—In honour of the centenary of Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, the chancellor says: “I’m giving £5m to Imperial College and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to set up a Fleming Centre to inspire the next generation of world changing innovations.”

—“We have grown to become the third largest technology sector in the world: double the size of Germany, three times the size of France, the biggest life sciences industry in Europe…We know that AI will be at the heart of any future growth. I want to make sure our universities, scientists and startups can access the computing power they need,” Hunt says.

“British discovered vaccines and treatments saved more lives across the world during the pandemic than those from any other country and I’m incredibly proud of our life sciences industry,” he adds.

—Next, he moves on to support for the most innovative businesses. He talks up life sciences, manufacturing, tech and artificial intelligence specifically.

“I’ll invest a further £500m over the next two years to fund further innovation centres to help make us an AI powerhouse,” Hunt says, name checking recently funded supercomputer centres in Edinburgh and Bristol.

—He pledges to make it quicker for green business to connect to the grid and provide clean electricity.

—The chancellor announces plans to back businesses and get them to invest billions more into the economy.

This includes £50m over the next two years to boost skills, including apprenticeships in areas such as engineering “and other key growth sectors where there are shortages”.

—Hunt, a former health secretary, says he has “given the NHS its first ever long-term workforce plan as I promised to do a year ago”. The plans aim to double the number of medical students and significantly increase training places for nurses.

Concurrent plans to scrap England’s student NHS bursary have gone down less well.

—This government has long called on universities to take more action on antisemitism. Earlier this month, the higher education minister Robert Halfon said that the government will explore the introduction of an antisemitism charter for universities, and the withdrawal of visas from international students found to have incited racial hatred.

—“I’m announcing up to £7m over the next three years for organisations like the Holocaust Educational Trust, to tackle antisemitism in schools and universities,” Hunt says.

—We’re off. Hunt opens by noting that today is his wife’s birthday.

—Prime Minister’s Questions has wound up, Hunt is up at the despatch box next…

—More from University of St Andrews vice-chancellor Sally Mapstone on what universities want from the autumn statement in this week’s Sunday Reading column.

“The UK’s economic puzzle is a difficult one, but a necessary ingredient to solve that puzzle is growth. So much evidence shows the central, and almost unique, role universities can play in generating stronger growth,” Mapstone said.

—But universities will want to see more than just support for spinouts from the chancellor today.

The Russell Group of large research-intensive universities has called on Hunt to provide sufficient funding to ensure high rates of UK participation in Horizon Europe.

The group also wants Hunt to announce investment to strengthen UK research ties with institutions in Germany and Australia, and it has called for the Treasury to take steps to assist UK universities in protecting themselves against security breaches.

The latter would include creation of a UK Research Security Fund to “disrupt hostile attempts to interfere in the UK’s world-leading university research”, the Russell Group said last month.

—Following an independent government-commissioned review on university spinouts, published yesterday, Hunt will also inject £20m into universities to foster more such companies.

The independent review, led by the University of Oxford vice-chancellor Irene Tracey and venture capitalist Andrew Williamson, recommended innovation-friendly policies that universities and investors could adopt to make the UK a better place to start a spinout company.

Hunt has accepted all the recommendations and will set out his full response during the autumn statement. He said earlier today that innovative, globally competitive businesses are making a “huge contribution to our economy” and added that “it’s critical that we harness this potential and give universities the tools they need to translate cutting edge research into exciting UK businesses that start and grow in the UK”.

The move will likely be welcomed by the sector, which gave its backing to yesterday’s review.

—The chancellor will also likely announce huge sums for life sciences. Yesterday he said a deal with the NHS and industry for a voluntary scheme for branded medicines pricing will unlock £400m for life sciences over the next five years.

The day before, Hunt also committed to investing £520m in life sciences manufacturing “to build resilience for future health emergencies and capitalise on the UK’s world-leading research and development”. This would come from a separate pot of £4.5 billion in funding for British manufacturing to provide “industry with longer-term certainty about their investments”, starting from 2025 and lasting five years.

11.50—Hunt will also promise to unlock pension funds to invest in innovative firms, having pledged £320m to drive innovation through investment policy reform. The move is part of the government’s push for new investment vehicles “tailored to the needs of pension schemes, allowing investment into the UK’s innovative companies”.

It includes £250m committed to two successful bidders under the Long-term Investment for Technology and Science initiative. “This will provide more than £1 billion of investment from pension funds and other sources into UK science and technology companies,” the government said yesterday.

—Hunt is due to extend the Treasury’s programme of investment zones from five to 10 years and double the envelope of funding and tax reliefs from £80 million to £160m.

The three such zones announced so far have focused on life sciences and the advanced manufacturing sector. Last week, West Yorkshire joined South Yorkshire and the Liverpool City Region in hosting an investment zone.

—Welcome to the Research Professional News live blog of the autumn statement. Jeremy Hunt should begin his speech in the House of Commons at 12.30pm. We will be reporting everything the chancellor says that is relevant to research and higher education. Stay tuned…