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Science Capital Spend inquiry


The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) invests in science to support economic growth and improve national productivity. Capital spending on science projects was £1.1 billion in 2014–15, and this will be maintained every year up to 2021. However, according to the National Audit Office (NAO), the department needs to develop a more systematic and informed approach to investing in science projects.

The Department's £1.1 billion expenditure covers major national projects such as supercomputers and oceanographic research ships, capital for large national research facilities such as particle accelerators and the UK's participation in international programmes such as the European Space Agency. It also covers capital funding allocated by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) for laboratories and research facilities in universities.

National Audit Office findings

The NAO found that the Department's processes for sifting project proposals and taking investment decisions have not been supported by good information. BIS has had to quickly identify projects to invest in when extra funding has become available at short notice but has not had a structured plan to help it do this.

BIS has subsequently consulted with the research community to identify priorities for investment, but it did not have good quality information to assess and sift the resulting proposals.

More recently approved business cases have lacked key analysis, such as information on what projects could cost to run or assurance on how ongoing costs will be funded. Running costs of science infrastructure can be substantial. BIS has committed £3.2 billion of capital expenditure to 56 projects since the NAO previously reported on science projects in 2007, and the NAO estimates that these projects may cost some £2 billion to run between 2015–16 and 2020–21.