Science fights short-sightedness

As a kid, I used to annoy my parents (and impress my engineer Granddad) by taking things apart to find out how they worked. Fortunately, I impressed my Granddad even more by having a knack for putting them back together again.

This annoying habit developed into an interest in engineering. I find the work of de Lesseps, Frank Crowe, Thomas Telford, Lloyd Wright, and Norman Foster awe-inspiring. In recent years, I’ve started appreciating physics and the sciences just as much as engineering. So it disappoints me profoundly to see what the Coalition are likely to do to the sciences in Britain.

The Treasury intend to cut 15% from the annual research budget of £6 billion. Now a £1 billion yearly saving sounds healthy in these times of austerity. But Osborne’s simplistic outlook of spending less equals having more money is incredibly short-sighted and, well, stupid.

Cutting scientific research by a billion may keep that billion in the exchequer in the short-term, but in the long-term it will cost the country £10 billion. That’s because every pound spent on research and development creates 10 pounds in increased employment, new efficiencies, intellectual property, sales, exports, and more revenues. Even the Treasury’s own figures agree that’s the case.

It’s also been demonstrated that for each billion produced by R and D, £750 million of it ends up in the Government’s pockets. £500 million of that would come from tax revenues while the rest would be in savings in welfare as people are employed.

So a £1 billion investment from the Government, with the multiplier of 1:10 shown above, will bring a return of £7.5 billion. Putting £6.5 billion back into the Government coffers. You don’t have to be Duncan Bannatyne to see that makes good sense.  

However, with the Government planning to cut £1 billion a year, then that means that they are actually managing to lose £6.5 billion more a year through nothing more than short-sightedness. If the Government carries on in this manner, not only will it lose an income stream but there’d be far fewer de Lesseps or Telfords in our future. Which would surely disappoint my Granddad.


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