Nick Ferrari grills Grant Shapps on triple lock

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The Business Secretary Grant Shapps has made a dig at the EU over ongoing delays to include the UK in a vital scientific funding programme. The Government has today announced that it is pledging £484 million in targeted investment to support British researchers who have been shunted from the EU’s Horizon Europe programme. Britain has been waiting for authorisation to say it is a part of the scheme – but instead, has been left without any money from the £80 billion pot. The EU’s cash is set to help with medical advances, along with research in climate, food and the environment. 

Mr Shapps said in a statement this afternoon: “This immediate investment will help our excellent research sector to shore up their talent pools, invest confidently in infrastructure and protect the UK’s reputation as a science superpower.

“The UK cannot wait indefinitely for the EU to meet its commitments which is why this funding is so important to boost research and innovation across the breadth of our country.”

The refusal to sign up the UK under the TCA (Trade and Cooperation) agreement in 2020 has left Mr Shapps with no alternative but to allocate funds to support staff retention, local talent strategies at eligible universities and research organisations and ground work to ensure the growth of the UK’s burgeoning fusion industry. 

As part of a statement issued by the Government it says: “Today’s support builds on the Horizon Europe guarantee scheme, extended in September, which continues to provide funding for eligible, successful UK winners of Horizon Europe calls to ensure UK researchers and businesses can continue to collaborate internationally.”

The half a billion pound UK package

The money will be divided between different areas. The largest quantity of £200 million has been labelled as a “one off boost” to the UK’s research infrastructure base. It includes UKRI World Class Lab funds which enables institutes and universities across the country to invest in research equipment and sustain their bases. Funds will also be allocated to the UK’s Public Sector Research Establishments such as the National Physical Laboratory and the Met Office.

Then, another £100 million quality related funding will go to English universities with additional funding for the Devolved Administrations. This, it says, will complement the Talent and Research Stabilisation Fund to deliver a one-off boost to enable universities to strengthen research capabilities.  This could be used for employing more research staff, technicians or sustaining new areas of research.

A total of £84 million will be givn to JET Operations (Joint European Torus) as the world’s largest and most powerful fusion experimentation, to continue operations which will provide valuable new insights and support other UK fusion programmes such as STEP (Spherical Tokomak for Energy Production).

The Fusion Industry Programme will receive £42.1 million – helping to “spur commercial innovation” and will be released through a challenge fund. 

Lastly, a £30 million pledge will be made to the  Talent and Research Stabilisation Fund. This will provide targeted support to eligible universities and research organisations who have a track record in attracting direct talent-based funding from the EU, to help them retain talent and address vulnerabilities at a local level.  

At the time when the UK and EU agreed to the country being associated with Horizon Europe’s programmes, this included Euratom, Fusion for Energy and Copernicus. At the time this association could not be finalised due to the correct legislation not being in place.

But it has been now for 19 months and there has not been a positive step forward. The UK still wants to be a part of it, but the European Commission is still refusing to implement the agreement that was reached under the TCA.

The Government has said UK researchers and innovators who have been successfully been evaluated by the European Commission have some stability from the Horizon Europe guarantee which was formed in November last year.

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This is almost to bridge the gap while the EU continues delaying the UK’s association. The Government added: “The Horizon Europe guarantee is working and is providing eligible, successful UK winners of Horizon Europe calls with funds to continue their work in the UK and their international partners; this additional package of spending sits alongside the guarantee to offer additional support to the R&D sector.”

Just last week, Britain and Switzerland signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate on research and innovation after both have blocked from accessing the EU’s £80billion flagship innovation programme.

The major Swiss-Anglo agreement is set to see a deepening relationship between the two countries’ world-leading research and innovation communities, with a particular focus in particular on what is called “deep science” and “deep tech”, which includes areas like life science, energy technology, AI and space. 

It was signed and negotiated by Science Minister George Freeman, who has recently returned to his position after resigning from former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Government and the Head of Switzerland’s Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research Guy Parmelin.  

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