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Policy and funding

Call for the next Prime Minister to back R&D

27 June 2019

Business, charities, researchers and universities unite to appeal to Conservative leadership hopefuls.

In an unprecedented joint statement (PDF, 162KB), a coalition representing some of the UK’s leading businesses, minds, universities and charities, including the Institute of Physics, is calling on the next Prime Minister to put research and innovation at the heart of their plan for UK prosperity, post-Brexit. 

The group is urging the next Conservative leader to deliver a concrete and overdue vision for UK research and development (R&D) which builds upon existing pledges, to boost jobs and deliver vital medical, technological and social breakthroughs. 

Despite having made a firm commitment to spend 2.4% of national wealth on R&D by 2027, the Government is not on track to meet its target and the UK already trails behind its international competitors, undermining efforts to develop new cancer treatments, tackle climate change and support the knowledge-intensive industries of the future.    

It will be up to Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt to bring these commitments back on track and prove they are a leader of action over words. 

Joint statement in full

The next leader of the Conservative Party should commit to ensuring the UK remains a world leader in research and innovation. 

We ask the Conservative leadership contenders to pledge their support for the R&D commitments necessary to ensure the UK remains globally competitive, delivering a strong and prosperous future for our economy and society post-Brexit.

The evidence is clear: investment in R&D drives productivity and raises living standards, benefiting people and communities across the whole of the UK. From the great challenges of our time, including cancer, climate change, food security and caring for an ageing society, to the creation of high-skilled jobs, new businesses, and the innovations that power our NHS – UK research and innovation has real-life impact. 

It is vital that the next government sends a clear message to domestic and international investors that the UK is open for business and ready to embrace the opportunities of a changing world. Globally, our competitors such as Germany, Israel, South Korea and Japan already invest more than 3% of their GDP in R&D. 

The next Prime Minister must set out a long-term plan for research and innovation investment up to 2030. This should build on the Government target to boost overall R&D investment initially to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 – and the longer-term aim of 3% of GDP. But words and targets will not be enough, the UK needs a coherent long-term plan to build our position as the global hub for new world-leading technologies, to draw on our strengths across multiple disciplines, to attract talent from around the world and to promote British entrepreneurship. 

Action is overdue. The next leader of the Conservative Party will have the opportunity to be the Prime Minister who builds a bold vision for UK R&D, putting us on a solid path to delivering it. 

The statement has been signed by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Association of Medical Research Charities, the British Academy, the Campaign for Science and Engineering, Cancer Research UK, the Confederation for British Industry, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Russell Group and Universities UK.

Notes to editors

The Government has committed to raising investment on R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, and 3% in the longer-term. The 2.4% target was chosen on the basis that this is the average amount OECD countries invested in R&D in 2015.

However, UK spending on R&D represented just 1.69% of GDP in 2017. The CBI has calculated that, based on current trends, the 2.4% target will not be met until 2053. If looked at over time, the UK’s expenditure on R&D has fallen, from 2.01% in 1981 to 1.69% in 2017.