HC Deb 22 November 1989 vol 162 cc6-7W
Mr. Hanley

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what guidance he has given the advisory board for the research councils in seeking its advice on the allocation of the science budget in 1990–91 to 1992–93, following his announcement on 15 November,Official Report, columns 272–76; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. MacGregor

I have written to Sir David Phillips inviting the board's advice. Following is the text of my letter:

Dear David,

"THE SCIENCE BUDGET 1990–91 to 1992–93 In offering the Board's advice for this year's public expenditure survey, you emphasised the importance which the Board attached to the need to build on the foundations laid by the 1988 settlement. You noted that the momentum of that settlement would be lost unless the value of the Science Budget was preserved in real terms. I am glad to say that, despite the difficult economic circumstances surrounding this year's discussions, I have been able to achieve this, and more. The Government is providing increases for each year of the Survey of £61m, £53m, and £59m. These increases include about £ I m in each year in respect of transfers into the Science Budget from the DTI for the British Geological Survey and from another DES Vote for MRC intercalated awards. At £897m the Science Budget in 1990–91 will be about 10 per cent. above the level in 1989–90 in cash terms. Total provision for science in 1990–91 includes receipts from the European Community and non-voted public expenditure by the IPSR from privatisation receipts, and will amount to £904m. You expressed concern about the profile of last year's settlement. This year's profile of expenditure over the period is heavily influenced by the provision which I have made—£17.2m in 1990–91 and £1.4m in 1991–92—to sustain scientific research programmes while meeting the construction costs of the RRS James Clark Ross. If provision for this ship is excluded from the figures the real terms index of spend (1989–90 = 100) is 102.5 in 1990–91, 103.6 in 1991.92 and 103.3 in 1992–93. I have therefore ensured that, in this year's settlement, the underlying Budget is not only higher in real terms but remains at the higher 1990–91 level over the planning period. Apart from the ship, I have sought to keep earmarking to the minimum in order to leave the Board with maximum discretion in framing its allocations advice. I intend however to make an allocation of £2 million in each of the Survey years for the Remote Sensing Instrument associated with ERS-2 in line with the Government's declaration at the meeting of the Council of the European Space Agency last October. I should greatly value the Board's advice on what further allocation may be appropriate for earth observation instruments, particularly on Polar Platforms. Finally, I am also earmarking sums of £1 million, £2 million and £3 million in the PES years, respectively, for the British Geological Survey. This is being made available to enable the national Geosciences Information Service (NGIS) to provide better access to and marketing of the Survey's geological information and its interpretation. This once and for all investment in NGIS concludes the Government's treatment of the BGS as a national scientific commitment; I do not intend to earmark sums for BGS in future years. The Government is making this increased provision for science in the context of its overall policies for reducing the rate of inflation. I am sure the Board will appreciate the overriding importance of this. At £897 million, the Science Budget in 1990–91 is £189 million higher than expenditure in 1988–89—an increase of 27 per cent. over 2 years. Over the last two public expenditure exercises the Government has increased provision by £490 million; and expenditure in real terms in 1990–91 will be more than 27 per cent higher than in 1979–80. I hope that the scientific community at large will see this as further evidence of the importance which the Government attaches to civil science in the Research Councils and the universities. I look forward to receiving the Board's advice on how the additonal resources for next year can best be distributed. The Science Budget is a matter of considerable Parliamentary and public interest and I propose therefore to follow precedent by publishing the text of this letter in the form of a Parliamentary Answer.

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