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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Osborne Gives £60 Million A Year To ESA - His Argument For Doing So Would Only Make Sense If He Were Instead Spending It On X-Prizes

  Here is the text of a rather interesting speech read by George Osborne, but drafted at the behest of him and Science Minister David Willets, to the Royal Society.

    It names 7 areas of scientific endeveour where Britain has a particularly strong position and where government assistance could and should help that industry and thus the economy grow.

They are:

The Big Data Revolution and energy efficient computing;
Synthetic Biology;

Regenerative Medicine;

Agri-Science;

Energy Storage;

Advanced Materials;

Robotics and Autonomous Systems;

Satellites and commercial applications of Space

     That is a pretty good list and with the exception of some fluff about windmills in the energy storage section and CO2 absorbing concrete in the materials one, more free of eco-nutery than one would expect of a government document. 

   My particular interest (and how I found out about it because it was clearly the bit that interested the media) is last - the space stuff.

  Finally there are the opportunities to be a world leader in satellites and commercial applications of Space.

The UK space sector, including such companies as Astrium, Inmarsat and Avanti, already generates £9 billion a year for the economy, and has grown at over 8per cent per year through the recent difficult economic times.
Our ambition is to have a £30 billion industry by 2030.

We are now at a watershed where space is transitioning from a celebration of science endeavour into a capability that impacts on our everyday lives.

Live transmissions of news and sports are driven by satellite telecommunications, and satellites are bringing broadband to rural communities across the UK, while providing enormous export opportunities.

The new generation European navigation programme brings very precise location capabilities opening up new markets.

Because space involves substantial investment, much of it is better done through international collaboration.

In particular, the UK gains great scientific and industrial benefits through being a strong but selective partner in the European Space Agency. 

We engage particular strongly in a number of areas of high added value including telecoms, earth observation and meteorological satellites.

The European Space Agency is holding its four-yearly Ministerial meeting later this month, where commitments for the period to 2017/18 will be made.

I can now announce that, subject to negotiation with our European partners, the UK is willing to commit an average of £240 million per year over the next five years through ESA to high value scientific and industrial programmes which will benefit the UK.

Subject to satisfactory negotiations, substantial benefits to the UK will flow from this investment, and the private sector itself has already identified projects to the value of £1 billion that will flow from this investment.

I am delighted also to announce that ESA has agreed, to site its telecoms satellite headquarters in Harwell, Oxfordshire.

This will crystallise a major space hub at Harwell and create 100 new high-tech jobs there.

  The BBC report calls that an extra £60 million a year which is not exactly what was said but I will take it as the intent. That is a 22% increase which is only 4% a year for an industry agreed to be growing at "over 8%" (the ministry has previously said 10% but either way it is more growth than the entire rest of the economy is managing) so despite all the trumpetings he seems to have brought forth a mouse.

  More importantly it is all going to Europe on the dubious grounds that "Because space involves substantial investment, much of it is better done through international collaboration". ESA's record is of having decades of a budget half the size of America's, if one includes the semi-independent French and German space programmes, without achieving even putting a single person above the atmosphere & without any plans to do so in future.

 Justifying giving money to ESA on purely economic grounds is clearly even more false than justifying the euro on economic rather than political grounds.

   By the very argument Osborne is using, the money should be going into X-Prizes, which nobody argues is not a 33-100 times more efficient use of money. By the argument he is using it should be rising faster than the rate at which the industry is growing, leading it forward, rather than slower, which acts as a brake.

  I suggest at twice the rate if we want a world leading role. That would be about 18% or £50 million a year If it increased the rate of growth of the £9 bn industry that extra money would come back, in spades. With 40% of all money in the economy coming to the Treasury each 2% additional growth in the space industry would make the Treasury £36 bn better off and bringing the UK industry up to the 17% annual growth in the commercial space sector the US has achieved is clearly possible.

   I do not begrudge a penny spent on any of the other fields - they are ALL effective uses for government money, so little of which is normally used to generate wealth - but in the same speech he promises £40 million for Regenerative Medicine, a field with a world market of "just over £500 million, with forecast generating revenues of over £5 billion by 2021"

   The British space market alone is worth £9bn a year and the world market well over £200 billion today. In economic terms we should be investing at least 25 times as much in space & 100 times would be more sensible.

-----------------------------

Some interesting quotes from the speech:

"I am glad to say that one of my predecessors has some small place in your Hall of Fame.
Charles Montagu, whose portrait is on display here today, was President of the Royal Society in the late 17th century, and at the same time as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
He made his mark as Chancellor, founding the Bank of England and so saving the country from bankruptcy after racking up debts after war with the French...

He only got the job because his illustrious friend, Sir Issac Newton owed him a favour because he had given Newton the then rather lucrative role of Master of the Mint."
    - I'm not sure if he is really openly trying to say even in Newton's day scientists sucked up to politicians so you should too you catastrophic warming promoters.

"In the long run it is technical change which determines our economic growth – we become more productive not by more back-breaking labour but by working with more knowledge in our heads and more equipment in our hands."

"Innovation is not a sausage machine.
You don’t get it by a plan imposed by government and you can’t measure it just by counting patents or even just spend on R&D.
It is all about creative interactions between science and business."
   - Exactly - grants don't & can't work. Prizes aren't guaranteed to work either but they are mush more likely to inspire innovation & obviously, when they don't they don't cost anything anyway. 

"I am up for the challenge set by Brian Cox and others of making Britain the best place in the world to do science.
Our decisions on tax and spending show we are serious about this."
    - Prove it. The government know prizes work. They have actively refused to even consider them, despite having no actual argument against them (my FoI proved both those statements). Start being serious.

"cash spending on science and research with a £4.6billion ring-fenced budget."
   - Looking at that figure we aren't told how much goes to actual science and how much to pushing the warming and other Luddite scares. Here is my estimate. NERC (Natural environment research Council) gets about £500 million, all of which is must be part of that budget. Professor Jones of climategate fame got £13.7 million from government of which £2.7 million came from NERC (20%) so extrapolating from that the eco-scare stuff must, unless the government produces credible figures, must be assumed to make up about £2.5 billion or more than all of the real science budget put together.

  "Scientific curiosity creates a need for new equipment which makes new science possible.
That creates new knowledge which in turn makes more new technology possible.
Market opportunities are opened up too"

"Prosperity and the power it brings are shifting to new corners of the globe, to countries like China, India and Brazil.
So as the Prime Minister has said, countries like ours are in a global race.
That we face a choice: Sink or swim, Do or decline".
      - and our science and engineering is the only absolute advantage we have

"It is not government who creates the scientific innovation, or translates into growth.
But we can back those who do."
     - That can only be done by prizes. Rewarding the winners not picking them 

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