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UK science to get out of the labs and onto the balance sheet

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Britain's future as a scientific leader is in the hands of industry, chancellor Gordon Brown said yesterday.

Outlining a 10-year programme of investment, he said the corporate world must match the government's committment to science. Improving industrial productivity cannot be left solely to academia, and depends on companies increasing corporate research spending.

Helping universities to develop a better sense of what can be commercialised is also key. Trade and Industry secretary Patricia Hewitt said: "We still need to get science out of the labs, into our companies and on to the balance sheet."

Scientific spending in the UK declined until the late 90s. Since then, the percentage of the UK gross domestic product spent on research has increased. But compared to European counterparts, Britain still lags behind.

Brown will develop his investment strategy over the next three months, in tandem with the public spending review. He told scientists and ministers at a Downing street breakfast seminar yesterday that he will chose science over other investment priorities.

"We have to make it a priority as a nation to invest in what is the key to our whole economic future and well-being - our science and skills," he said.

Scientists cautiously welcomed the promise of extra cash.

Dr Peter Cotgreave, director of pressure group Save British Science, told the BBC that Downing Street seminar shows the government is taking science seriously. But he remains sceptical about until he knows the actual sums.

"One has to have a caveat that it has to be real money and it has to go into the science base, not just things ministers can interfere in." ®

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