Brexit threatens UK's reputation for scientific research, watchdog says
Britain risks losing its reputation as a scientific research powerhouse as a result of Brexit, the head of parliament’s spending watchdog has warned.
Meg Hillier, the chair of the public accounts select committee, said the government was “sorely lacking” in the leadership needed to maintain Britain’s position in areas such as robotics and climate change after withdrawal from the EU.
She was commenting on a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) warning of shortcomings in leadership on robotics and advanced materials research.
The report, published on Wednesday, said the total UK government expenditure on research and development in 2015 was £8.75bn, with ministers announcing last year that they would provide an additional £4.7bn by 2021.
It warned that Brexit could affect how UK research was funded in future, as Britain was a net recipient of EU funding for research, taking in €8.8bn (£7.9bn) between 2007 and 2013, compared with contributions of €5.4bn.
The report found a risk that departments providing funding did not have the “coherent data” needed to identify where Britain is lagging behind or which programmes could be hit by Brexit, to ensure investment goes to the right activities.
Collective action was needed to prioritise investment in climate research, robotics and advanced materials, it said.
Hillier said: “As members of the EU, we have access to European projects, free movement of researchers and billions of pounds of investment in the UK from the EU. There is a risk we could lose our edge as a research power as a result of Brexit.
“In order to avoid that, we need strong leadership from government departments. But, to date, in important areas like robotics and climate change, that leadership has been sorely lacking.”
Sir Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said: “Some newer areas [of research], including important emerging technologies and areas of national importance, need more effective leadership.
“As a proportion of GDP, the UK spends less on research and development than many comparable nations. Government needs a coherent view of the UK’s research strengths relative to other nations and analysis of funding in key areas of research, so it can prioritise areas where activity is lagging behind.”
Action is needed to prioritise investment in climate research and robotics, the National Audit Office has said. Photograph: Getty/Blend