Zahawi urged to recommit to UK science spending

The UK’s new Treasury minister Nadhim Zahawi must confirm the UK’s “full support” for joining Horizon Europe within the next two weeks and extend the promise to any projects approved for European funding for at least another year, the British Academy has said.

In a letter to the new Chancellor of the Exchequer published on 11 July, the academy’s president Julia Black raises the “pressing issue” of the UK’s association to the European Union’s flagship €90 billion (£77 billion) research scheme, stating that short-term actions and longer-term commitments to science funding are required.

“We cannot underscore enough the urgency of the situation,” said Professor Black, who added that the academy would “strongly support the government’s priority to associate to Horizon Europe as soon as possible and encourage you to continue to pursue this goal.”

The letter by the body representing humanities and social science researchers follows concerns over the fate of UK-based academics left in limbo by the continued deadlock over the country’s association to Horizon Europe.

The EU has refused to admit the UK into the seven-year framework unless it drops legislation to rewrite the Northern Ireland Protocol on trade between the province and the British mainland. That has led the European Research Council to announce the cancellation of 115 grants to UK-based scholars while proposals for an alternative ‘Plan B’ funding scheme have yet to be published, with experts warning that this hiatus might cause a “massive underspend” on research and innovation.

Professor Black said it was vital that Mr Zahawi, who was appointed chancellor after Rishi Sunak quit to trigger the resignation of Boris Johnson, “announces the short-term arrangements that will be put in place to continue to support the research and innovation sector, including full support for third country participation to Horizon Europe and an extension of the current Horizon Europe guarantee implemented by UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) to at least the end of June 2023.”

She also called on Mr Zahawi to confirm “uplifts to existing UK-based schemes to support the retention and attraction of global talent.”

“The UK national academies already have applications from highly talented researchers who have been recommended for funding, but we are unable to support them within confirmed budgets. Offers could be made to those researchers now to increase the chance of securing their long-term futures in the UK,” added Professor Black.

In the autumn, the new chancellor, who is running to become the next prime minister, must also see that “full funding [is] set out in the Autumn Budget for association or replacement programmes if necessary is ringfenced and committed.”

“If the UK is not currently able to associate to Horizon Europe, the Treasury provides us with a multi-year spending profile and budget breakdown for that ring-fenced budget at the earliest opportunity,” she added, stating that the government should ensure it “engages with the wider community on the long-term proposals if the UK is not able to associate.

“This will mean the sharing of plans for major new programmes so that they receive the community’s input to shape them,” she said, with the plans for Plan B due to published before 21 July when parliament breaks for the summer.

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