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Minister's warning on risk to Scots life science

SCOTLAND'S pioneering life-sciences industry, which created Dolly the Sheep, would suffer if the country left the UK, the Coalition's new minister for the sector will warn today.

George Freeman will use a visit to some of the country's leading research facilities to warn existing science funding arrangements would end if Scotland became independent.

Under the present system, Scotland gets about 13 per cent of total UK research funding, recognising the country's world-class reputation.

But the Conservative MP will say: "Scottish science and innovation makes a vital contribution to the UK's world-class research base, bringing benefits for business and society as a whole.

"However, our position has been made very clear to date on this important issue: if Scotland left the UK, the current framework for research could not continue."

His visit comes after Michael Russell, the Scottish Education Secretary, said present levels of funding would be guaranteed in an independent Scotland if the existing framework were to be broken up.

In its independence White Paper, Scotland's Future, the Scottish Government says it will seek to preserve the existing "common research area," insisting it would be in the best interests of an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Mr Freeman will today visit Edinburgh's BioQuarter and the Roslin Institute in Midlothian where Dolly the Sheep became the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell in a major breakthrough nearly a decade ago.

Before entering Parliament the Mid Norfolk MP, who became the UK's first dedicated life-sciences minister in David Cameron's reshuffle last month, worked in the life-sciences sector, helping to establish a number of high-tech firms in Scotland.

He was a consultant to the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat Scottish Government when it was drawing up a life-sciences strategy.

He will say: "All the evidence suggests that being part of the UK complements and ­strengthens Scotland's world-class research base.

"Scottish institutions and researchers benefit from substantial funding, underpinned by a UK-wide tax base, with access to a nationwide network of world-class facilities and skills.

"Researchers across the UK, including Scotland, benefit from the UK's international influence, networks and ability to attract inward investment.

"If research trials are being undertaken at multiple sites across the UK, as soon as there are differences in the regulatory and intellectual property regimes operating across the different sites, there could be additional costs and extensive uncertainty."

He will add: "Collaborations between Scotland and the rest of the UK have resulted in ideas with the capacity to change our lives.

"These exciting partnerships are a symbol of what can be achieved without geographical boundaries and the best way for research to continue to flourish in Scotland is together as part of the UK."

Scotland is home to some 650 life-sciences companies.

Around 35,000 people rely on the sector for their jobs.

Many of the companies have been "spun out" from work at Scotland's universities and are seen as playing a key role in the Scottish economy in the decades to come.

Last year Scots higher education institutions secured £257 million of UK Research Council grants, just over 13 per cent of the total and considerably higher than the country's "population share" of 8.4 per cent.

Yesterday it emerged that Mr Russell had offered a guarantee of continued funding if UK grants to Scottish institutions were reduced after independence.

He insisted that maintaining the present system was "the sensible thing to do as it suits both sides".

He added: "From my discussions - and I've spoken to research councils and charities - I'm confident that situation will prevail.

"But I'm also confident, given the resources, that we can make a guarantee that no-one will suffer.

"If for some reason there is the view of a research council that doesn't wish for this to happen then we'll make that money up and make sure there is a Scottish base for that research."

Professor Bryan MacGregor of Aberdeen University, a spokesman for the Academics for Yes campaign group, said: "The simple truth is that Scotland does well in open competition for funds but poorly where funds are allocated by other means, such as for research council centres and private R&D."

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