Some readers may have noticed that we are in the middle of an election campaign here in the UK. Unsurprisingly, science and technology have barely been mentioned at all by any of the parties, and I don’t suppose many people will be basing their voting decisions on science policy. It’s nonetheless worth commenting on the parties’ plans for science and technology.
I discussed the Labour Party’s plans for science for the next three years here – this foresees significant real-terms increases in science funding. The Conservative Party has promised to “at least match the current administration’s spending on science, innovation and R&D”. However, the Conservative’s spending plans are predicated on finding ��35 billion in “efficiency savings”, of which ��500 million is going to come from reforming the Department of Trade and Industry’s business support programmes. I believe it is under this heading that the ��200 million support for nanotechnology discussed here comes from, so I think the status of these programmes in a Conservative administration would be far from assured. The Liberal Democrats take a simpler view of the DTI – they just plan to abolish it, and move science to the Department for Education.
So, on fundamental science support, there seems to be a remarkable degree of consensus, with no-one seeking to roll back the substantial increases in science spending that the Labour Party has delivered. The arguments really are on the margins, about the role of government in promoting applied and near-market research in collaboration with industry. I have many very serious misgivings about the way in which the DTI has handled its support for micro- and nano- technology. In principle, though, I do think it is essential that the UK government does provide such support to businesses, if only because all other governments around the world (including, indeed perhaps especially, the USA) practise exactly this sort of interventionist policy.