Engineers issue six demands for government spending

Article by Amanda Jasi

THE National Engineering Policy Centre (NEPC) has outlined six spending priorities for the UK government ahead of its spending review.

The NEPC, which is led by the Royal Academy of Engineering and represents 450,000 UK engineers from 42 engineering organisations including IChemE, has called for investment in R&D and the skills and infrastructure necessary to meet targets for economic growth and net zero emissions. The six priorities have been put to government a month before it publishes its annual budget and its spending review for the next three years.   

NEPC’s recommendations include the Government following through on its commitment to invest £22bn (US$29.83bn) in R&D by 2024/25. The UK made this commitment in March 2020, to put in on track to achieve its pledge to increase R&D spending to 2.4% by 2027. NEPC says the increase needs to start ramping up now to help businesses and universities recover and grow, and to sustainably increase the capability and capacity of the R&D system to ensure this and future investments deliver returns for economy and society.

To help address the current skills shortfall in the UK, NEPC recommends urgently investing in an ambitious net-zero skills plan to enable rapid and affordable reskilling and upskilling opportunities for the existing workforce. This will ensure the UK meets short term skills needs for the net-zero transition, as well as longer term skills needs, NEPC says.

It also recommends accelerating decision-making and investment in low-regret actions needed for decarbonisation. Low regrets decisions are urgent decisions that must and can be made now to have a significant impact on decarbonisation. Actions include demonstrating the effectiveness of low-carbon technologies so they are ready for future deployment and supporting difficult-to-decarbonise sectors as they work to become low-carbon and resource-efficient.

The report further recommends the government prioritise investment in more sustainable infrastructure to help meet long-term climate goals; establish an organisation to coordinate and accelerate the achievement of net zero targets and share the lessons it learns; and invest in a long-term STEM education strategy.

Sir Jim McDonald, President of Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “The 2021 Spending Review is one of the most important in a generation, coming at a time when the UK has to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic in a more regionally equal and environmentally friendly way.

“The scale and pace of change required of government with regard to policy and investment is unprecedented. The UK’s path to net zero and its ability to decarbonise at sufficient speed and scale is contingent upon urgent decisions made by the government now, as well as on the development of a far-reaching and comprehensive transition plan.

“Engineers and the professional engineering institutions to which we belong are ready and willing to support delivery of these priorities and the time to act is now.”

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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