£11 billion spent on government R&D, including research on engaging with dinosaurs and robots

Embargoed: 00:01 Thursday 30 September 2021

  • TaxPayers’ Alliance finds over £11 billion was spent on research and development in 2019-20, an increase of over £1 billion compared to 2017-18. 

  • Around half of UKRI funded projects since 2003 have resulted in ‘engagement activities’ such as a talk or presentation.

  • The campaign group is calling for new measures to assess the value for money of publicly funded research projects.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) has today revealed the £11,038,077,014 spent on research and development in 2019-20, an increase of over £1 billion compared to 2017-18. The complex grant funding system has seen taxpayers’ money fund projects which “promote gender and intersectionality” or “engage audiences of all ages with dinosaurs and robots.”

The business department was responsible for 73 per cent of the research and development budget, at £8,046,000,000, which was then divided between several research councils to distribute to individual projects. Around half of the outcomes, or 406,048 UKRI research projects since 2003, resulted in ‘engagement activities’. 164,370 of these were a talk or presentation.

Table 5: UKRI project outcomes by project outcome classification, 2003 – present day


Included in the research funding is almost £5 million from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to work on “an international network of scholars, policymakers and practitioners to promote gender and intersectionality.”

Innovate UK gave over £4.5 million to a project called ‘Dinosaurs & Robots’, which “will explore how immersive technologies can be used to engage audiences of all ages with dinosaurs and robots in new ways and create a range of valuable learning and entertainment experiences.”

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) handed over more than £3 million to a ‘Global Gender and Cultures of Equality’ project that uses “different arts based practice including creative writing, dance, exhibitions, music, theatre, performance or social media.” AHRC also provided £2 million to fund a ‘Centre for Cultural Value’ focusing on “cultural democracy, co-creation & participation,” whose “outcomes will be captured via regular research digests & blogs.”

The analysis of research funding identified a lack of robust scrutiny of the efficacy of funding outcomes, with checks and balances present in the process for the allocation of funding but not once the monies had been distributed. The TaxPayers’ Alliance is calling for new measures to assess the value for money of publicly funded research projects, including an independent mechanism to analyse funding outcomes.




Key findings:

  • Government departments spent a total of £11,038,077,014 on research and development expenditure in 2019-20. This was an increase of £1,082,105,135 compared to 2017-18, when spending reached £9,955,971,879.

  • The highest spending department was the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) which spent a total of £8,046,000,000 on UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and departmental research funding in 2019-20.

  • UKRI’s highest spending council on research was Research England. The organisation spent a total of £2,383,394,000 on research segment spending in 2019-20. This amounts to 35 per cent of UKRI’s total research segment spending.

  • Innovate UK funded the most expensive single project over the three years 2017-2019: the High Value Manufacturing Catapult Core Delivery Programme cost £642,853,000 and runs from April 2018 to March 2023.

  • The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council was the research council with the most expensive single project. The project was titled The Faraday Institution, costing £100,911,513. The project runs from January 2018 to March 2023.

  • UKRI’s National Productivity Investment Fund received a 296 per cent one-year increase in research and innovation spending – the largest increase of any UKRI research and innovation fund. It rose from £85,417,000 in 2018-19 to £338,487,000 in 2019-20. The National Productivity Investment Fund is distributed across all research councils.



John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said:

"Taxpayers expect money to go towards groundbreaking projects and innovative technologies, but not to be wasted on righteous or ridiculous research.

“The current system rightly scrutinises projects throughout the application process, but lacks effective measures to judge value for money on projects that have already been funded.

“If research budgets are to continue to grow, ministers must address the real effectiveness of R&D spending by putting more focus on project outcomes.”


TPA spokespeople are available for live and pre-recorded broadcast interviews via 07795 084 113 (no texts)


Media contact:

Danielle Boxall
Media Campaign Manager, TaxPayers' Alliance
[email protected]
24-hour media hotline: 07795 084 113 (no texts)


Notes to editors:

  1. Founded in 2004 by Matthew Elliott and Andrew Allum, the TaxPayers' Alliance (TPA) campaigns to reform taxes and public services, cut waste and speak up for British taxpayers. Find out more at www.taxpayersalliance.com.

  2. TaxPayers' Alliance's advisory council.

  3. Details about the ESRC funded ‘Gender Responsive Resilience and Intersectionality in Policy and Practice Network’ can be found here.

  4. Details about the Innovate UK funded ‘Dinosaurs & Robots’ project can be found here.

  5. Details about the AHRC funded ‘Global Gender and Cultures of Equality’ project can be found here.

  6. Details about the AHRC funded ‘Centre for Cultural Value’ project can be found here.
This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience.  More info. Okay