Taxpayers' investment into science is being poured down the drain, according to a report from the Public Accounts Committee

 
Helen Cahill
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Boaty McBoatface put science on the top of the national agenda

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has urged the government to do more to protect taxpayers' investment into science.

The government is not safeguarding the intellectual property coming from UK science, the committee said - wasting taxpayer money that could be boosting the UK economy through scientific discoveries.

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Project proposals are not coming under enough financial scrutiny before being approved, and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) need to make better businesses decisions when it comes to funding science, PAC said.

Business assessments need to include "assessments of alternative options and locations, potential demand for the project and expected running costs."

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Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said: "Public investment in science is crucial to support economic growth and secure the UK's place at the cutting edge globally.

"It is therefore vital that taxpayers' money goes to the right projects, in the right locations. Funding decisions must be supported by a sound business case that is not unduly influenced by political pressures of the day.

"We are not convinced there is sufficient rigour and transparency in the way funding decisions are made, nor enough attention paid to safeguarding the benefits resulting from those decisions."

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Since 2007, BIS set aside around £3.2bn capital funding for major science projects and will spend another £5.9bn on capital projects between 2016 and 2021.

A BIS Spokesperson said:

"We are delivering a decade of sustained investment in UK science and protected science capital in real terms until 2021. All our funding decisions are subject to rigorous scrutiny and require a robust business case before spending is approved.

"We welcome the PAC’s acknowledgement that the formation of UK Research and Innovation could support future investment decisions and will now consider the recommendations in detail and respond to the report in due course."

Richard Bacon MP, vice-chairman of PAC, said:

The widespread interest in astronaut Tim Peake or the 'Boaty McBoatface" research ship demonstrates the power of science to capture the imagination of the public and the scientists of the future.

If we are to get full benefit from our investments then the government must adopt a more thorough and consistent approach to funding decisions and the way it measure their impact.

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