UK: Comprehensive Spending Review 2010: Implications for Science and Technology

Last Updated: 1 November 2010
Article by Joanne Wheeler, Gary Chu and Sang Vu

The Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), delivered on 20 October 2010 by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, sets out the Government's spending plans for the next four years. 

The CSR sets out how the Government will carry out "Britain's unavoidable deficit reduction plan", and describes decisions as to what is to be prioritised: department budgets, other than health and overseas aid, will be cut by an average of 19 percent over four years. 

Notwithstanding this, there are a number of ways in which the CSR highlights the importance of investment in science and technology in order to spearhead and support sustainable economic growth in the UK.

Science, technology and research

The CSR emphasises that £4.6 billion per year will be set aside to ensure that the UK remains a world leader in science and research by supporting the highest value scientific research. 

The Government seeks to increase the effectiveness of how the science budget is allocated, intends to save £324 million a year by 2014-15, and to reinvest such efficiency savings into UK science projects.  £200 million a year will be provided by 2014-15 to support high growth companies and the commercialisation of technologies, including funding a network of technology development and innovation centres.  

More detailed information on the Government's science budget over the next four years will be available when business plans are published by the various Government departments later in the year.  A reform White Paper, to be published by the Government early in 2011, will provide greater clarity in respect of the opportunities available to the science and technology sectors.

Digital infrastructure

It is acknowledged in the CSR that information and communications technologies drive productivity improvements in both the private and public sectors.  Accordingly, £530 million will be invested to support the UK's broadband network in order to benefit around two million households, and facilitate the provision of super fast broadband in pilot areas such as North Yorkshire, Cumbria, Herefordshire and the Highlands and Islands. 

The Government's announcement to sell public sector spectrum will support new mobile communication uses, including mobile broadband.  The Government intends to hold an auction in 2011-12 for 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum, and it intends that at least a further 500MHz of public sector spectrum below 5GHz will be released over the next ten years for new telecommunication uses.

On 25 October 2010, the Government published the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP), which sets out a vision for the infrastructure investment needed to support the UK's economic growth.  The key points in the NIP in respect of digital infrastructure are summarised below. 

  • The Government's objective is for the UK to have the best super fast broadband network in Europe by 2015 and a functional level of broadband access for everyone in the UK. 
  • With the right broadband infrastructure, it is the Government's view that businesses will operate more efficiently and new jobs will be created, and that the private sector is best placed to develop the UK's broadband network.  In particular, the NIP notes that BT and Virgin Media already have plans that should provide coverage for about two-thirds of the population by 2015, including the investment by BT of £2.5 billion in the fibre upgrade of its network. 
  • The Government has been considering measures to reduce infrastructure costs, for example infrastructure sharing, which will include granting access to other operators to BT's existing network of ducts and poles.
  • A further National Broadband Strategy document, to be published this December, will elaborate on how the Government intends that its broadband vision will be realised.

Low carbon technologies

The Government commits to reducing the UK's carbon emissions.  It is announced in the CSR that investment in low carbon technologies will help to place the UK at the forefront of a shift to a low carbon economy.  Accordingly, more than £200 million is to be allocated to the development of low carbon technologies, recognising that such technologies have the potential to increase growth and help reduce carbon emissions.

Cyber security

The CSR refers to the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which sets aside £650 million for an entirely new National Cyber Security Programme, to deal with the real and growing threat of cyber attacks.  This is underpinned by an awareness that cyber space provides opportunities for future prosperity, and that cyber security is vital to securing that future.  It is stated in the SDSR that investment in science and technology is essential to the UK's overall defence and security capability.  Key areas of focus for investment include nanotechnology, cyber and outer space. 

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 29/10/2010.

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