Science and technology in devolved Scotland : the example of the Scottish Agricultural and Biological Research Institutes

Cuthbert, Margaret and Cuthbert, Jim and Ashcroft, Brian (2004) Science and technology in devolved Scotland : the example of the Scottish Agricultural and Biological Research Institutes. Quarterly Economic Commentary, 29 (3). pp. 38-44. ISSN 0306-7866

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In previous papers, (Cuthbert and Cuthbert, various dates), we have been concerned with a number of aspects of the operation of the devolution settlement, particularly but not exclusively relating to financial issues. One of our concerns has been whether the interface between the handling of devolved matters by the Scottish Executive and the handling of complementary reserved matters by UK government departments works satisfactorily. Such an interface issue arises in the field of science: we concentrate here on a particular problematic example, the Scottish Agricultural and Biological Institutes (SABRIs). The SABRIs receive their core funding from the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD), that is out of devolved funding, but they are nevertheless clearly regarded as being an integral constituent of the UK science base. We ask in this paper whether the arrangements for funding the SABRIs and determining their research programmes are in the best interests of the SABRIs themselves, and more generally, in the interests of the wider Scottish economy. We conclude that there are significant weaknesses. First, the funding arrangements are sub-optimal in that almost uniquely among the core science base the SABRIs are barred from accessing Research Council and major charity funding. Secondly, the existence of the SABRIs in their current form has arguably distorted priorities within the Scottish Executive's overall support for science. Thirdly, and conversely, the SABRIs are not fully integrated into the planning and strategy arrangements for the UK science base. While this paper is concerned primarily with the SABRIs, the issues identified have wider implications for the public funding of research in Scotland and for devolution.