Posted on behalf of Michele Catanzaro.
The Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies (COSCE) has accused the Spanish government of “tarting up” the R&D budget, after finding evidence that an increasing portion of the money assigned to science has been left unspent since 2008.
The difference is mainly due to a pot of money for loans for applied research, which the government included in the budget but companies left largely untouched, according to COSCE’s study presented yesterday in Madrid.
This means that the cuts to the overall science budget applied in the last few years (4% in 2010 and 7% in 2011, and 25.5% in 2012) get larger, if the actual amount of money spent is taken into account.
COSCE’s analysis found that in 2011 there were €3 billion of “remnants” in the science budget — unspent funds that go back to the state’s treasury and are not carried over to following years. The sum is equivalent 42.4% of the state’s €8.6 billion science budget in 2011.
José de Nó, a researcher at the National Science Council (CSIC) and co-author of the study, says the 42% figure is not exact, because the State Comptroller does not publish detailed enough information, but he and his colleagues used this figure as a proxy to estimate how much money was actually spent on R&D, and found that it has increasingly deviated from the official budget over the past few years (see graph). “The government has been tarting up the budget with artificial quantities,” says Carlos Andradas, a mathematician at Madrid Complutense University and president of COSCE.
The discrepancy is mainly down to unused loans for applied research. In 2011 grants accounted for 39% of the science budget, while the rest was loans.
“However, 88% of the loans [under the main Spanish funding scheme, the National Plan for Research] result as remnants,” says de Nó. Varying percentages of unspent loans are found in the other five main parts of the budget related to science (data for other, smaller, programmes are not published).
“There is not enough demand for so many loans, and the recession has reduced it even more,” says Andradas. Now, COSCE is asking to have a “zero base” budget starting next year. That is, one in which the amounts of loans do not exceed the expected demand, on the basis of previous years’ experience.
Santiago Rodríguez Uriel, chief of staff at the state secretariat of research, development and innovation, the branch of the ministry of economy that is in charge of science policy in Spain says the government agrees with COSCE’s analysis. “In last year’s R&D budget, the first of this government, we already cut loans,” he says.
But COSCE points out that the €1.4 billion cut in loans in 2012 is still less than the €2.8 billion in loan remnants from the six main research programs. The government approved its draft 2013 budget yesterday, and will disclose it starting from Saturday, when it will be presented to the Parliament.