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Government unable to say how its research budget is spent

Millions of pounds worth of taxpayer money could be being wasted because the government is failing to keep track of how much it spends on externally commissioned research and when the research is published, a new report has found.

The report, from charity Sense about Science, found that the UK government does not keep track of what it spends on research, what studies it commissions or when they are published. However, the sum is thought to be as much as £2.5bn.

In response to Freedom of Information requests from Sense about Science, only 11 out of 25 government departments were able to provide a list of the research they had commissioned.

The report found civil servants complaining they couldn’t locate their own research, and researchers who had worked for the government saying the experience had discouraged them from doing so again.

It also found that in many cases, the publication of research was deliberately delayed if it contradicted government policy.

For example, one of the reasons for the government’s many delays in publishing its childhood obesity strategy were delays in the publication of research into reducing sugar levels by Public Health England.

In another incident, research commissioned by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on the impact of fracking on house prices was published with large sections redacted until the unredacted information was revealed through an FoI request.

Tracey Brown, director of Sense about Science, said, “If government wants people to trust the research it commissions, and if it wants to go on attracting top class researchers to its contracts, then it needs to behave accordingly. Departments should not be losing valuable research or subjecting it to swings in the political mood.”

The report recommends publishing all externally commissioned government research on a standardised central register.

Currently, only four departments (transport, health, international development and the environment), keep such a database, and the DfT was unable to confirm that its database was complete.

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