PRESS RELEASE 24/11/2016
Scientists for EU respond to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement
The Autumn Statement is notable for its promise to increase funding in infrastructure, tech and scientific research. This is to be applauded. However, the amounts fall far short of the widely recommended 3% GDP target. Moreover, most worryingly, the complete neglect of urgently-needed investment in the NHS and social care will dangerously deplete an ecosystem in which many UK-based researchers (health services researchers, social scientists, health innovators) have been attempting to improve the lives of our fellow citizens. The government have their heads deeply in the sand over the existing healthcare crisis.
Investment in science – understanding the whole ecosystem
Science is a public good and depends on public investment. In yesterday’s Autumn Statement the government has offered an increase in R&D funding of up to £2 billion per year by 2020. Here we explore this in context.
Currently the UK spends 1.6% of GDP on R&D (public and private investment). This increase will take us to 1.7%, hopefully leveraging private funds to bring it to 1.8-2.0%. But this is “by 2021”, so hardly indicates that we are in a hurry to be competitive with other nations at the 3% figure. Theresa May has talked of this money moving us to the cutting edge. The UK is already at the cutting edge thanks to our world-leading productivity in science. However, many believe that a strong part of this UK science productivity is due to our role in the science engine of the EU and multinational European networks. Collectively, the EU is outperforming the US in science for sheer size and growth. We need to know whether this government intends to prioritise buying back into those networks after Brexit. If so, will the necessary funds come from this “£2 billion” or will they be external to it? We note the current inflow from the EU to UK science is around £1bn/annum and rising, with heightened value due to its additionality of function and the fact that UK international collaborations produce 40% more citation impact than UK domestic-only research. To buy back into the EU science programme may cost more than this figure – if it is demanded that a large & highly-competitive country such as ourselves pay an additional net contribution to help fund the research capacity growth of less competitive members in the wider European team.
Small productivity investment relative to EU input into UK
The Chancellor announced a new Productivity Investment Fund launch, funded to £23bn over 5 years. There is probably not, at this stage, enough appreciation of the myriad EU-based mechanisms that bring funds into innovative players in the UK public & private sector. Horizon 2020 and the EU Structural Funds (€10.8billion allocated to the UK from 2014-2020) are not the only investments. The very new European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), also known as the “Juncker Plan” has to date funded 8 large infrastructure projects & an expected approx. 3,000 SMEs via intermediary banks in the UK amounting to €2.4 billion in financing. The more long-standing European Investment Fund (EIF) invested €2.3bn in 144 UK-based venture capital funds and similar entities from 2011-2015. This new investment fund must be viewed within this context, if that EU funding withdraws.
NHS funding and post-truth politics
The Chancellor made absolutely clear that this economic plan is a Brexit-based plan; focused on getting us “match-fit” for Brexit. Therefore, the vision forward comes against a backdrop of growth forecasts down by 2.4% to 2020, with projected government borrowing going over 90% of GDP next year and an increase to our borrowing bill by £58.7 billion.
Despite Vote Leave campaign promises, there is no money for the NHS, neither now, nor when the reality of Brexit has long swallowed any notional release of funds. Sadly, the false promise comes at a desperate time. We have had six years of NHS neglect, including costly and confusing re-shaping of healthcare by the Health & Social Care Act of 2012 and face 5 years more. The 4% growth in NHS demand year-on-year will have been met with trivial increases for a decade. Relative cuts are misrepresented as ‘record levels of funding’. Other countries like Germany, Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Sweden fund their health at 11% GDP. The UK is on 8.5% and now on course for under 7% by 2020.
Two thirds of trusts are in debt and only 7 out of >150 are in surplus. Crisis point has been reached in many places. Research on health services of leading developed nations has consistently shown the NHS to be the most efficient, or one of the most efficient. However, inadequate funding to NHS core functioning, public health and adult social care systems around the NHS means that it is now in dangerous convulsions. Brexit is also pushing up NHS purchasing prices (falling value of £) and driving off foreign doctors and nurses at a time of staff shortages.
The “£10 billion pounds of additional funding” to the NHS that the Chancellor has cited (note: missing in written transcript, but clearly spoken and recorded in footage) is false and we condemn its use. The figure has been called out by the chief of NHS England and Dr Sarah Wollaston, MP; the Chair of the Commons Health Committee. At such a critical time, it is wildly irresponsible to put false political soundbites before responsible fact-based discussion. The use of this figure ranks alongside another widely-discredited financial figure that found its way onto the side of a red bus. More worrying is that the critical state of the NHS received a fleeting mention, but the history and “critical risk” to the stately Wentworth Woodhouse appeared to warrant extended discussion. Heads appear to be deep in the sand whilst an NHS and social care system in crisis readies itself for winter.
Many in the UK science community work in the rich ecosystem of the NHS, social care, mental health, social inequalities, medical innovation, health services research and health data. Our ability to serve the public by helping craft better services, resources and technologies is hampered when the system becomes impoverished and thrown into crisis management. We urge the government to re-focus on the rapid money-saving and life-saving that investment in the critical area of healthcare can bring.
“Science investment is inching in the right direction rather than striding, but the scale of Brexit costs means that our borrowing is surging while our NHS and social care are collapsing around us.”
Dr Mike Galsworthy, co-founder, Scientists for EU
“This is a post-truth statement from the Chancellor of a post-truth government. The bottom line is that Brexit is damaging the economy and the only solution on offer is to slash tax while continuing to starve public services. There is nothing offered for the NHS or social care and very little for universities – all of whom are suffering from the perfect storm of austerity and Brexit.”
Dr Rob Davidson, co-founder, Scientists for EU
For further information, please contact Dr Mike Galsworthy, Programme Director of Scientists for EU on: [email protected]