Page last updated at 22:42 GMT, Friday, 28 March 2008

'Funding stranglehold' on science

Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank
The Lovell telescope is part of the eMerlin project

Science and innovation is being stifled by the government, say the Tories.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne said a UK government "stranglehold" on science funding meant over 20% was controlled centrally, up from 2% in 1997.

He was visiting Cheshire's Jodrell Bank Observatory, which faces an uncertain future due to an 80m shortfall in the nation's physics and astronomy budget.

Skills Secretary John Denham said Labour had invested heavily in science, and would be spending 6bn by 2010.

Jodrell Bank, home to the renowned Lovell telescope, is threatened because of its central role in the UK's eMerlin radio astronomy network.

The eMerlin project is at risk because the government's Science and Technology Facilities Council has an 80m hole in its finances, and an assessment panel has listed the project as a "lower priority" for UK physics and astronomy.

Central control

Mr Osborne, MP for Tatton in Cheshire, said: "We must break Gordon Brown's stranglehold over British science and return power to scientific experts.

"In 1997, just 2% of the science budget was controlled centrally, with the remainder handled by committees of scientific experts.

"But as a result of Gordon Brown's command and control approach, over 20% of science spending is now controlled from Whitehall.

"That is stifling innovation and creativity."

Mr Denham responded by saying Labour had a better record at science funding than implied by Mr Osborne.

He said that since 1997, Labour had built up a world-class British research base which ranked "second only to the USA".

"When the Tories were in power, they let science go to rack and ruin - so much so that scientists had to start a campaign to 'Save British Science'.

"Labour has doubled investment in science, and will be spending 6bn on science by 2010/11."

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