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Labour plans 10-year budgets for UKRI and Aria

Image: Grace Gay for Research Professional News

RPN Live: Shadow science minister Chi Onwurah reveals new details on Labour’s R&D plans

Shadow science minister Chi Onwurah has said that Labour’s plans for extending R&D budgets to 10 years could include the national funding agency UK Research and Innovation and the Advanced Research and Invention Agency.

The news, announced at the Research Professional News Live event yesterday, has been welcomed by some in the sector.

“We’ve listened to the sector, and we understand the value of long-term stability,” said Onwurah. “That is why we’ve announced 10-year R&D budgets for key institutions, which will allow relationships with the industry to be built, long-term partnerships to form, and investment in new technologies and infrastructure.”

She said long-term stability “is good for research, good for researchers and enables research institutions to offer longer-term contracts to researchers”.

Onwurah thinks this could also help with the mental wellbeing of researchers, as well as with the diversity of the sector, as it would allow those from less privileged backgrounds more security.

“By bringing the full talent of our country into the research base, we will really be able to supercharge innovation, jobs and growth across the country,” Onwurah said.

“Aria would be one institution that we would expect to give a 10-year budget, and UKRI,” she added.

Asked if other, smaller institutions or even individual researchers could also be given such longer-term funding, she said: “How that then [works] with other institutions is obviously something we’d need to work out over time.”

National priorities

The plans were welcomed by Benjamin Reid of the prominent business lobby group, the CBI. “Business will welcome that the Labour Party is considering extending its 10-year research and innovation budget commitment to UKRI as a whole, as well as to…smaller institutions like Aria,” said Reid, the organisation’s director of technology and innovation.

“UK business needs stability in public policy and funding, and a clear line of sight on government priorities, to be able to confidently increase and extend their own investments in R&D and innovation.”

CBI research in 2022 showed that 63 per cent of all UK businesses and 80 per cent of large businesses would increase innovation investment if the government set out more than five-year innovation priorities and associated funding, Reid said. 

Onwurah said Labour would be “much clearer” about what their national priorities are, and that she wanted to work with UKRI to help deliver those priorities.

She also said the party would cut red tape to reduce paperwork and box-ticking, and would work on a principle of “earned trust”. “We will end the time-consuming Tory labyrinth that sucks up the resources of our innovators,” Onwurah said.

REF response

Onwurah added that her concerns over bureaucracy include how the Research Excellence Framework is run, and said she would be looking into that. “I am concerned about some of the bureaucracy associated with the REF,” she said. 

Elsewhere in her speech, Onwurah cited an existing Labour target of investing 3 per cent of GDP in R&D, from combined public and private sectors, as being “fundamental” to its plans to grow the UK economy.

She noted that recent changes in ONS methodology for collecting R&D investment data mean the UK may already be investing this much, but added: “We are sticking to our target.” Onwurah added that if Labour manages to get that proportion even higher by encouraging private investment—something they are working on—that would be “fabulous news”.

She said that on R&D, there will be “more to come as we approach the general election and the publication of our manifesto, whenever…[prime minister] Rishi [Sunak] feels brave enough” to call an election.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Fortnight