Following the Chancellor's announcement of the 2021 Budget, Professor Dame Anne Johnson PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences said:
“Today’s budget understandably focussed on the need to support the economy as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and to lay plans to rebuild the health and wealth of the UK. Biomedical and health research is at the heart of our response to COVID-19 and will be central to our collective social and economic recovery: from the vaccines that are being rolled out to help us get back to a life outside of lockdown; the work to address the long-term impacts of the pandemic on our physical and mental health; to the thriving life sciences sector which draws investment, creates high-skilled jobs across the country and improves the lives of patients and the public.
“This Government has shown a strong commitment to research and development (R&D) and this Budget included welcome initiatives designed to help achieve the Government’s ambition of making the UK a science superpower. I welcome plans to make the immigration system more attractive to international talent, and new support through a new ‘Future Fund: Breakthrough’ for the most innovative, R&D intensive businesses. Even so, and whilst we recognise the enormous financial challenge posed by the pandemic, some urgent questions remain unanswered about how UK R&D can be made sustainable – especially research careers – and how overarching R&D targets will be met to ensure medical research can continue to drive our recovery.
“I am disappointed not to hear news of how the UK will fund association to Horizon Europe, the EU’s flagship research programme, and I hope we will hear more about this in the coming months. Along with the scientific community I strongly welcome participation in the programme, but it is crucial the existing R&D budget is not used to cover the costs as this would more than undo recent uplifts for UK R&D, making the Government’s commitment to 2.4% harder to meet.
“Meanwhile, the UK’s medical research charities are still in urgent need of tailored support to address their fundraising freefall. Without support, their life-saving work is at risk of long-term erosion and the whole research ecosystem will suffer. More importantly, innovative breakthroughs for patients and the public may be delayed if our research charities aren’t helped to recover soon. I hope support for the vital work of our research charities is forthcoming.
“I am pleased to see the series of proposals in this budget to make our immigration system more attractive and streamlined, including a new unsponsored points-based visa intended to make it easier for scientists, researchers and engineers to come and work for UK tech firms. High-growth, innovative firms in the life sciences sector will be a vital piece of this puzzle and I hope they will be able to benefit from these reforms. However, we should remember that our immigration system remains one of the most costly in the world for scientists and this must be addressed if the UK is to continue to attract to talent from across the globe.
“Despite the achievement of medical science over the past year, the foundations of our success are being threatened. COVID-19 has disrupted projects, clinical trials and researchers’ careers, threatening our pipelines of talent, investment and innovations. To avoid long-term damage, it is crucial Government maintain and deliver their ambitions to unlock the benefits of R&D for all. We stand ready to support this effort, to fuel the UK’s recovery and, more fundamentally, help improve the health of the patients and public of the future.”