Horizon programmes backtrack or best bet?

Whatever your political colour and views on Europe; industry and academia agree that international collaboration in R&D is vital to the future of the British economy. European Framework programmes and Horizon 2020 have been the backbone of support for industrial R&D for the last 40 years and highly effective partnerships have been established. Indeed, it is important to highlight that the U.K. is a net beneficiary of these programmes to the tune of billions.

The Government position on Horizon 2020 has evolved since the Brexit vote. Initially the proposal was to honour contracts signed up to the November after the referendum. The position has shifted with the current position being that grants awarded up to March 2019 will be honoured; meaning that post departure from the European Union the U.K. Government will pick up the bill for British participation in projects.

Documents indicate this will mean a contribution until 2023 (a four-year R&D project awarded in February 2019 could run until 2023).

There has been alarm in both the industrial and academic communities at the potential loss of European research collaborations and the very substantial funds which support them. A substantial lobby has grown asking government to consider very carefully the relationship with our European neighbours in the field of industrial R&D. Last week Government responded by indicating plans to negotiate our continued involvement in and contribution to Horizon programmes in the future.

Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Israel are outside the European Union, but nonetheless participate in and contribute to Horizon 2020. The U.K. has a well-established model to follow here. As this debate has developed some European Governments have said that it would be unacceptable for the U.K. to be net beneficiary of Horizon programmes post-Brexit.

The U.K. contribution to future programmes based on population and GDP appears to be around £875 million per year; on current track record we might receive £1.2 billion in grants. The debate on money in, money out misses two important points.

The U.K.’s strengths in R&D contribute materially to benefits in the Union and that R&D funding has a gearing effect, a billion in R&D grants drives several billion in economic activity in the longer term. Both sides benefit substantially from the relationship.

Top performing modern economies spend around 4% of GDP on R&D, currently the U.K. struggles to achieve 2%, so the debate and the outcome are critically important for the economy. Our decisions and alliances in R&D are of critical importance for the economy and thus for the NHS, social services, defence etc.