Government Responds to Science and Technology Committee’s Reports on EU Membership and Science – February 2017
The Government has published its response to the Science and Technology Committee’s Reports “A Time for Boldness: EU Membership and UK Science After the Referendum”, and “EU Membership and UK Science”. In the report, the Government responded to a number of recommendations made by the committee. There was a strong focus on plans to promote the attractiveness of the UK to world-class scientific researchers and students and to encourage collaborative relationships between EU member states and researchers from the UK.
Research and Development
The Government’s response highlighted the substantial investment in research and innovation, including the commitment to provide an extra £2 billion a year by 2020/21, alongside previous decisions to protect science funding with a total investment of £26 billion over the period 2016/17 to 2020/2021.
Positive MAP InsightsThe Government is protecting science resource funding at its current level of £4.7 billion, which will rise in cash terms every year, for the rest of the Parliament, and is also investing in new scientific infrastructure, delivering on the £6.9 billion science capital commitment in their manifesto. The total investment of £26.3 billion between 2016/17 to 2020/21 builds on the protections for the science budget in the last Parliament, representing a decade of protection of the science budget, and a decade of sustained investment by the Government.
The Committee also recommended that the Government should try to enable scientists in the UK to retain access to Horizon 2020 and other EU funding post-Brexit, as a number of countries outside the EU already have access to this funding. The Government response stated that there may be European programmes that the UK might want to participate in, and that these would be negotiated, but expressed that it was too early to speculate on the UK’s future relationship with specific EU research programmes, including Horizon 2020 and successor programmes.
The Government has established a High Level Stakeholder Working Group on EU Exit, Universities, Research and Innovation, chaired by the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Jo Johnson MP. Membership includes representatives of research and innovation funders, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), national academies and learned societies, and business. The group meets regularly to consider how to “best build on the excellence of UK research and innovation, maximising the opportunities from the UK’s exit from the European Union”. Various other means of communication with the science and research community are ongoing.
With regards to regulation, the committee urged that the Government should assess (and publish the findings of) the administrative structures and scientific advice required to support the regulatory responsibilities (including those in the medical sector) that will transfer from the EU to the UK prior to the Great Repeal Bill being enacted. The Government response confirmed that EU laws were currently being reviewed and that “where laws need to be fixed, that is what the Government will do”. They also stated that they will discuss with the EU whether they should co-operate, and how best to do so in fields of regulation that affect UK business.
The Committee acknowledged that although some EU regulatory frameworks have had a detrimental effect on UK and EU Science in the past, there remains value in the harmonisation of regulatory frameworks across Member States and highlighted how the UK has played a key role in the past on working to improve these. The Government response said that whilst the UK remained a part of the European Union, there was ongoing work to ensure that the regulatory framework remains supportive of research and innovation. The response also noted that as a result of UK involvement, the EU has changed its approach to regulation, so that the decision-making process is more focused on reducing burdens for businesses, particularly smaller businesses, and increasingly recognises the need for innovation-friendly regulation.
Scientific Advice – Trade and Industry
The Committee also urged that in the short term, the Government assess the need for a Chief Scientific Adviser in the Department for International Trade. The Government’s response stated that although the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) is continuing to work closely with Sir Mark Walport, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, the department is currently exploring several options, including the appointment of a Chief Scientific Adviser.
The Department for International Trade is also considering the case for appointing a Chief Scientific Adviser. The High-Level Stakeholder Working Group on EU Exit will be an important mechanism for gathering the community’s views.
Cautionary MAP InsightsSeparately, Science minister Jo Johnson announced that Prof Sir Mark Walport will be Chief Executive Designate of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Sir Mark will lead the establishment of UKRI and ensure it plays a central role at the heart of the Industrial Strategy. Sir Mark will not continue as the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser and in a letter to Stephen Metcalfe MP, he has stated that “The recruitment process to choose my successor as GCSA will be under way very shortly.”
Another of the Committee’s recommendations was that the Government should use Brexit as an opportunity to review current rules on VAT exemption on sharing of buildings, equipment and facilities for the purposes of R&D, to support many sectors, including industry. The Government response outlined that VAT was a complex issue that will have to be carefully negotiated with the Commission and other Member States.