The UK research system is largely centralised, although regional autonomy for innovation policy has been increased in recent years.
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The Devolved Administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have responsibility for aspects of health and education funding. Block funding for higher education institutes is provided by separate higher education funding councils (or similar bodies) in each country, although the bulk of research funding comes via the Research Councils which have a UK-wide remit. At the regional level in England, responsibility for innovation support has been assumed by the Technology Strategy Board following the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies in 2011.
Research policy forms a significant element within the Government's policy on innovation, competitiveness and economic growth. Thus, it takes a cross-governmental view of research policies and attempts to operate coordinated policies for research. In general terms, the UK Government takes the view that a strong and thriving science and technology base is a vital component of the national innovation system and that national competitiveness is underpinned by a well-functioning R&D system, which requires adequate levels of investment from both the public and private sectors. Hence, research policy assumes a major role in high level political debate on innovation and competitiveness issues and features as a key issue in related policy documents.
The most recent strategy document produced is the Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth (IRS), published in December 2011, which remains the central guiding document for UK innovation strategy (although a new Science and Innovations Strategy is expected to be publisehd in the Autumn of 2014). Long-term financial expenditure across government as a whole is defined through a series of Comprehensive Spending Reviews (CSR). In its ten-year Strategic Innovation and Investment Framework (2004-2014) the UK expressed the ambition to reach a ratio of GERD to GDP of 2.5% by 2014. While the economic recession seemed to have greatly reduced the probability of this being achieved, recent figures have shown a better than anticipated growth for the UK economy although the the ratio remains around 1.8%.
Overall, the most significant instrument for the support of R&D would appear to be the funding of university research by the Higher Education Funding Councils and the Research Councils. The next largest outlay is for defence R&D: whilst the majority of this funding will be directed to industry, approximately two-thirds of this is spent on development.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) plays the lead executive role in research issues, and is the home of the Government Office for Science (GO-Science), headed by the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA). The CSA reports directly to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and also chairs the principal high-level national policy making and coordination body, the Council for Science and Technology (CST), which in turn draws on policy advice from a range of bodies both within and outside the Government structure, including dedicated committees in both the upper and lower houses of Parliament. High-level UK science policy making also places particular emphasis on the use of systemic reviews and evaluations.
The economic downturn continues to restrict funding in certain areas: however, despite a projected 6% cut in the budget of BIS, the July 2013 Comprehensive Spending Review committed to maintain the resource budget for science at £4.6bn (approx. €5.35bn), increase the capital budget for science in real terms to £1.1bn (around €1.28bn) and to maintain this real increase until the end of the decade.