A leading industry recruiter has warned that the UK's move to rejoin the EU's flagship funding programme for research and innovation could have a dampening impact on Scotland's scientific sector.

Ivor Campbell, chief executive of Stirlingshire-based life sciences search company Snedden Campbell, said the return to the €95 billion (£82.9bn) Horizon Europe project may discourage entrepreneurialism if most of the funding goes to large research establishments south of the border. At the same time, a reliance on large-scale international research may lead to complacency regarding domestic research and development efforts.

“Like the Erasmus program, Horizon Europe has been criticised for potentially benefiting a select group of elite individuals and institutions, while the broader population bears the costs," Mr Campbell said. "The UK should ensure that the programme's benefits are spread more equitably.

The Herald: Ivor CampbellIvor Campbell (Image: Snedden Campbell)

“The UK must carefully evaluate the long-term impact, allocation of funds, and alignment with national priorities to ensure that this move genuinely benefits its scientific community and the broader society.”

After seven years of uncertainty since the 2016 Brexit referendum, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced in September that the UK will join Horizon Europe in January 2024. The UK will also become part of Copernicus, the EU's earth observation program.

As part of the deal, Britain will contribute €2.6bn a year to the programme in exchange for the opportunity to access grants and participate in international collaborations. Under the "bespoke new agreement", the UK will be able to recoup funding if British scientists receive significantly less money than the UK's annual contribution.

READ MORE: Scottish Government urged to boost research funding to universities

“Rejoining the program solely for the sake of being part of a prominent international collaboration may not be sufficient if the outcomes are not commensurate with the investment," Mr Campbell said.

“The substantial financial commitment to Horizon Europe should be weighed against other national priorities. The UK must consider whether investing billions of euros in the programme is more beneficial than directing those funds towards infrastructure, healthcare, or education.”

The arrangement also precludes the UK from rejoining the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), the single market for the trade in nuclear materials and technology across the region.

Mr Campbell said opting for the UK's own £650 million domestic alternative to Euratom raises concerns about nuclear safety, research, the supply of medical isotopes, and the UK's standing in international non-proliferation efforts.

“Euratom plays a crucial role in overseeing the transport, storage, and use of fissile and radioactive materials, ensuring safety and security standards," he said. "Losing access to these safeguards could potentially compromise nuclear safety in the UK.

READ MORE: What is Horizon Europe and why has the UK rejoined?

“Euratom is essential for the development of nuclear power, which is crucial for achieving carbon-free energy targets, especially as much of the UK's nuclear industry is owned by overseas firms.

“It is vital for nuclear science and research, including the operation of facilities like the Joint European Torus at Culham, which conducts fusion research."

He added: “The exclusion from Euratom jeopardises the UK's participation in these critical scientific endeavours. Furthermore, Euratom is responsible for the supply of medical isotopes used in the treatment of various diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular conditions. The disruption of the supply chain for these critical medical materials could have serious consequences for patients' well-being.”

Established in 2001, Snedden Campbell recruits senior executives and research scientists from all over the world for UK medical technology, pharmaceutical and biotech companies. The business is owned by Mr Campbell and his wife, Jennifer Snedden.