Up to £1billion of income and thousands of jobs could be placed at risk as a result of a move by Downing Street to allow Google and other digital search engines ‘open access’ to the nation’s best academic and scientific research.

A report commissioned by 10 Downing Street sociologist Dame Janet Finch will say that open access to public-funded research ‘offers significant social and economic benefits’.

The study, due for release today, is part of a drive initiated by former Downing Street adviser Steve Hilton aimed at turning Britain into a digital hub attracting investment from internet behemoths such as Google.

But UK businesses fear that the proposals will destroy Britain’s highly-regarded academic publishing industry that modifies raw research, publishes it in the form of academic magazines, journals and books and exports it to the rest of the world.

One leading publishing group said the move to provide all of Britain’s academic output online for nothing could destroy a £1billion industry that employs 10,000 people here and in its overseas operations.

Much of the scientific work from the nation’s leading research universities is passed on to the academic publishing industry where it is subjected to so-called ‘peer review’, or examination by experts, before it is published in journals and books that are also available online.

The material is a valuable source of income to UK publishing houses such as Reed Elsevier, one of Britain’s leading publishers with a market value of £6billion, as well as the hugely-respected Oxford University and Cambridge University Presses.

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