Autumn Statement: Response from the Campaign

November 23, 2016

The Campaign for Social Science welcomes the ambitions set out in today’s Autumn Statement to enhance the UK’s position as a world leader in science and innovation. Experience teaches us that it’s sensible to treat headline numbers like “an extra £2 billion a year” with caution until there’s a chance to read the fine print. But it seems that this is genuinely new money, which is fantastic news. And it’s a real credit to Sir John Kingman, as UKRI chair, and Jo Johnson, as science minister, that they have secured such a substantial investment boost from HM Treasury.

The new National Productivity Investment Fund will see increased expenditure on research and development of £4.75bn over the next four years. Some important details are still to emerge: how much of the new money will go to the research councils, and how much to the new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund? How will the new challenges and priorities be defined, and with what mix of government, academic, disciplinary and user input? And will this extra investment be enough to offset the damaging uncertainties being created for the research community by Brexit? If the PM and Chancellor are intent on ensuring a resilient economy as we exit the EU, more clarity is needed soon on what comes after 2020, when we may no longer have access to European framework funding.

Across all areas of the National Productivity Investment Fund, the social sciences have a crucial role to play. Headline priorities such as accelerating housing supply and improving transport will benefit directly from social science evidence and insights. Social science can also help us to understand the underlying drivers of the UK’s productivity gap, and the strategies needed to close it. Strategic investments in the social sciences can amplify and accelerate the impacts of other areas of science and innovation spending.

Overall, this week’s announcements are an unexpected and exciting statement of intent. The social science community is ready to play its part, and we look forward to working with government and UKRI to realise these ambitions.

Professor James Wilsdon, Chair, Campaign for Social Science