Tuesday, 2 July 2013


You hear of things during the course of your day. Some lift you, some make you chuckle, some inform you, some make you reflect. Occasionally, you come across things that make you completely "facepalm" at the sheer banality of it all. Such an thing occurred today; an article in The Guardian, one of my more common sources of epic facepalming.

£50bn. Hold on, that doesn't do it justice, let's give this the shelf space it deserves; FIFTY BILLION POUNDS. That's a lot of dosh. Only.....it isn't, not really. It's chump change to most of the controlling factors of society, mere fractions of a larger, even more impressively meaty budget. But it's still many, many, many times more than what we can easily imagine spending. No wonder, therefore, that it has made big news as the projected (and rapidly inflating) budget for HS2, that imaginatively named controversy soon to be snaking its way between London and Birmingham.

Now, I've been loosely following this thing, not with any great interest, but still keeping a beady eye on it in a "hope it fails and embarrasses the Government completely" kind of way. In many respects, I'm getting my wish, but I digress. In reading the article above, it occurred to me that I had not, at any point, thought something like "£50bn? You could spend that on something really useful". This is uncharacteristic of me to say the least, but also something that a lot of people seldom devote serious time to, as Andrew Steele appears to have done here.

The entire science budget for the coming year is £4.6bn. That's across all levels of science, including all research, all patented technologies, everything. Yet the Government are prepared to throw £50bn at a train network that will, at best, shave 35mins off the journey between London and Birmingham. Let's put this in perspective, a science budget of £50bn would change the world. The entire world, thusly :-

  • It would put the UK front and centre in all leading technology and scientific sectors, it would enable economic stability (as most of the economy is actually dependent on science and graduate sectors), it would fundamentally alter the way we're able to live our lives. 
  • It could begin to seriously address issues to do with climate change, poverty, the economy, joblessness, pollution, medical treatments. 
  • It could train and teach an entire scientific workforce capable of then building forward again, establish the UK as a world leader in scientific research and economic progression. 
  • Scientists and professionals worldwide would flock here, new centres of research would pop up almost overnight and the resulting technologies are only limited by imagination. 
That's what £50bn buys you. Or, you could have a slightly quicker train. You could have the cure for cancer. Or some diffuse and as yet unknown economic boosts from a HS train network along the middle of Britain. You could have completely clean, basically infinite energy. Or shave 35mins off your commute.

Tell me right now that you're not facepalming. 

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