Close and constructive dialogue

Dr Helen Munn, Executive Director of the Academy discusses how the Academy and others worked to secure a favourable settlement for medical research and training in the 2013 Spending Round.

On the 26 June the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out the Spending Round 2013, describing how the Government will spend £740 billion of tax-payers’ money between April 2015 and April 2016. Government sought to make over £11 billion of savings, outside the protected departments of health and international development, generating a pressured and intense environment in which to make the case for continued investment in science.

Ultimately, the science community did as well as it could have hoped, given the 6% cut in the budget at the Department for Business, Industry & Skills (BIS). The resource budget for science has been maintained at £4.6 billion and the capital budget increased to £1.1 billion. I firmly believe that the joint work of the National Academies played an important role in securing this outcome, not just by making the case for science investment in our powerful paper ‘Fuelling prosperity’, but by showcasing a co-ordinated and committed research community that can generate the intellectual capital necessary for  health and wealth gains.

Attentive listeners to the Chancellor’s speech on 26 June may have noticed his remark ‘And we’re not going to shift medical training and research out of this department, because they’re working well where they are. This might have seemed rather strange, given that there had been no official proposal to move budget responsibility for medical research and education out of BIS. But Spending Rounds can be strange affairs, where ideas are floated by officials and Ministers as they seek to meet their budget targets, with some gaining traction and some falling by the wayside. From the outside it can be difficult to know how to handle these ideas, and if we oppose them, whether to confront them very robustly and openly or to let them quietly wither away without the oxygen of support.

As demonstrated by the Chancellor’s remark, the proposal to move medical research and education out of BIS turned out to be a very real possibility, and the Academy had significant concerns. Our arguments, expressed in letters and meetings with BIS and Treasury officials, as well as the Chancellor himself, focused on the need to:

  1. Protect the integrity of the UK’s life sciences ecosystem, of which the complementary and coordinated strands provided by BIS and Department of health are vital components.
  2.  Underpin the education of doctors with a strong scientific foundation to ensure that, in addition to meeting core competencies, they are able to anticipate and respond to an evolving healthcare system and to harness future scientific and technological advances.
  3. Overall, sustain the funding base across the entire research endeavour to support the interdependencies between scientific disciplines.

We and others enjoyed close and constructive dialogue with Government throughout this process, helped by excellent collaborative working with our National Academy partners and colleagues in Wellcome Trust, Association of Medical Research Charities, Medical Schools Council and elsewhere. There was a genuine sense of a community working together in common purpose, allowing us to provide a compelling case to Government.

Of course, the work does not stop there – exhausting as it was this was just a one year Spending Round! We will continue to work behind the scenes and more overtly in the run up to the General Election in 2015 and in preparation for future Spending Rounds. The excellence of UK medical science is unquestionable, and the Academy will keep working to ensure that policymakers hear the right messages at the right times.

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