The quality of the pre-Budget report depends largely on what we want from it. Those who think it should be about politics will be pleased, but for the rest of us, who believe a budget should be about sound fiscal management, the verdict is damning.
Under close examination, staggering inconsistencies arise. The country’s scientific community are undoubtedly feeling bewildered.
Scientific research, development and innovation – and the benefits derived thereof – provide invaluable momentum to the recovery of the UK economy. Alastair Darling recognises this, taking the opportunity to praise Britain’s proud record of scientific achievement in his pre-Budget report speech*.
To ensure that the UK remains an attractive and vibrant location for innovative activity, the Chancellor announced his own innovation: the ‘Patent Box’. Offering a reduced rate of corporation tax on income derived from patents, this will “help maintain jobs in science and technology in this country”. It is one of the few good ideas in the budget, and is to be applauded.
It is inconsistent, however, with his pledge to cut £600m from the Higher Education, Science and Research budget. This is to be achieved through a number of means, including “changes to student support”, “prioritisations across universities, science and research”, and “reductions in budgets that do not support direct student participation”.
In practice, this means the cuts will be most acutely felt by those at the cutting edge of academic research; the very people who drive innovation and maintain the high standards that Alastair Darling so assuredly championed.
It appears the Government is offering incentives to innovate with one hand, while removing the ability of those best placed to do so with the other. There are certainly more high-profile, and potentially more serious misjudgements contained within the pre-Budget report, but as a manifesto merely masquerading as a budget, sound judgement and joined-up policy are clearly not the first priority.
*on that point – just to be picky – while the Chancellor is technically correct to say that we’ve been awarded more Nobel prizes “than any country of our size”, his praise is a touch disingenuous. Only Italy and France, among Nobel recipients, are of a similar size to the UK, and when appropriately weighted, the UK – depending on which analysis you choose – wavers between 4th and 8th on a list of the most successful countries. Not like the Government to offer us misleading figures though, is it?