Last week I was in Scotland to host a meeting of some of our member charities about how we might support their work to ensure science and research is firmly on the agenda of the Scottish Assembly.
Held in a curtained-off room in a Starbucks cafe I couldn’t help wonder whether this was how it felt in the early seventies when the first twenty or so CEOs got together as an informal group that is now AMRC. The enthusiasm and goodwill in the room was heartening and the group will be meeting regularly from now on.
41 out of our 120 member charities fund medical research in Scotland. Many of these are UK-wide charities. But there are also some very important home-grown funders such as Medical Research Scotland and the Association of International Cancer Research (AICR) that I admire and respect very much. Together this group of 41 pumped in about £130 million into medical research last year or about 14% of the total research charity spend in the UK as a whole which is £935 million. For a not altogether tidy comparison, charities in Canada (which has a population six times that of Scotland) spend about £200 million on medical research.
It is no mean feat and although I hate the colloquilism there is truth in the saying that ‘Scotland punches above it’s weight’ when it comes to medical research. Having attended Chief Scientists’ meetings in Scotland for some four years now I am increasingly impressed by its sense of identity and vision for research which will be reaffirmed towards the end of the year when it launches a revamped version of its research strategy. In the meantime it has quickly modeled what is called an Academic Health Sciences Collaboration (AHSC) which aims to harness the research strengths of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities.
That’s not to say that there are not issues for charities as I heard last week – continuing concerns over the level of Charity Research Support Funds (CRSF) available to cover the indirect or overhead costs for universities receiving charity money, a desire to see quicker adoption of research and new treatments by the health service, an ongoing worry that the Scottish Parliament focuses on building and strengthening a system which can sustain research into both the biggest killers in society such as heart disease but also has a place for work into rare diseases. A common agenda to that in the rest of the UK but with some important differences and inflections that require a country=specific approach.
So in our all too London-centric world I am pleased that we have got this initiative off the ground. Indeed with events such as the Scottish Parliament elections coming up in 2011 it is vital that AMRC’s thinking and the way it operates, reflects the concerns of our members active in funding research in Scotland. And that goes for all the devolved administrations.