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Science strategy is a no-show

The UK government's much-trailed science and innovation strategy was “conspicuous by its absence” on the day of the autumn statement, according to the Campaign for Science and Engineering.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills could not say when the science and innovation strategy would be published.

The government had been expected to publish the strategy at the same time as its autumn statement, on 3 December, but instead the chancellor made some stand-alone science policy announcements. These included the government’s intention to split the £1.1 billion annual capital budget into two halves: one to fund existing facilities and the other to fund new projects based on a series of grand challenges picked by government.

The strategy is still expected to be published soon and should reveal further details of these grand challenges and the process for allocating the rest of the funding. CaSE said in a statement that the conspicuous absence of the strategy was perhaps due to government departments “waiting for the dust to settle before announcing the strategy with more ‘air space’”. Science minister Greg Clark has said previously that research collaboration will be at the heart of the strategy.

In a statement, CaSE director Sarah Main welcomed the autumn statement’s science announcements but said they need to be part of a cross-government strategy.

“The chancellor’s welcome words are not always matched by actions across government,” said Main. “If the government would commit to ring-fencing the science budget in real terms, matching capital investment with resource so that new facilities can be run well, and setting a trajectory for investment in science above growth, we would see a real transformation in the UK’s fortunes and future prospects.”

CaSE has joined the pressure group Science is Vital and a group of science-focused Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidates and MPs in expressing concern over Clark’s recent statements about the ring fence.

CaSE’s statement says, “There are danger signs for investment in science and engineering across government.”

In an interview with Research Fortnight, Clark declined to commit a future Conservative government to an increased research budget or a continued ring fence, arguing that science would, nonetheless, be central to the party’s election manifesto for 2015. “The commitment to science and research that we’ve shown will continue and deepen,” he said.