Professor Sir John Ball FRS PRSE has responded to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak’s recent Autumn Budget and Spending Review

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), Scotland’s National Academy, welcomes the Spending Review and Budget’s reinforcement of the critical role of research and innovation in supporting the UK’s long-term prosperity and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. We note, with some disappointment, that the UK Government has chosen to defer its target of increasing science spending by £22bn by two years to 2026. However, it remains crucially important that the Government meets this commitment as soon as feasible, in order that the UK remains a globally competitive science nation.

While the confirmation that additional funding will be made available to meet the full costs of the UK’s association to Horizon Europe is a very welcome development, the UK and the EU are still in the process of formalising the UK’s association. As such, uncertainty continues to surround the UK’s participation. This requires to be addressed as a matter of urgency in order to provide long-term clarity to UK-based researchers and innovators.

The Budget has provided further detail on the level of funding to be provided through the Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF). The SPF will replace EU Structural and Investment funds which have played a valuable role in supporting research and innovation, particularly in the devolved nations. It remains to be seen, however, how the Fund will be allocated and the level of input that Scottish Government and local partners will have to decisions about this allocation. It is important that this issue be clarified ahead of plans for the Fund being set out in the forthcoming Levelling Up White Paper.

With the focus of the world on COP26 and on the need to meet ambitious targets to reduce global CO2 emissions, we are disappointed that the UK Government has chosen at this time to cut Air Passenger Duty by 50% on all domestic flights from 2023. We are supportive of the concept of reductions in the Scottish air passenger tax to areas such as the Western and Northern Isles, but not for other domestic flights.