Committee publish report on science and engineering policy

23 July 2009

The Government has reduced science to a political bargaining chip and must raise its game to produce an ambitious science and engineering strategy for the future, conclude MPs in a Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee report published today

The Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee says that while there are many positives to take from its inquiry into science and engineering policy in Government, such as the growth of the science and engineering community in the civil service, a broad vision is missing.

The failure to find a stable home for the Government Office for Science has reduced science and engineering advice to, at best, a peripheral policy concern, and, at worst, a political bargaining chip. The Committee directly appeals to the Prime Minister to bring GO-Science into the Cabinet Office and it urges the creation of a Government Chief Engineer and a Government Chief Scientist.

To improve transparency and safeguard the independence of scientific advice, the Government should establish a press office in GO-Science which would also serve all the Science Advisory Committees.

The independence of scientific advisers is crucial. The criticism by the Home Secretary of Professor David Nutt, Chairman of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs, after his comments about ecstasy could deter experts from serving on Scientific Advisory Committees. It is vital that in such cases the Government Chief Scientific Adviser steps up and offers public support to safeguard the independence the advisory system.

The report also says:

  • If the Government is to return to ‘picking winners’ it must have clear priorities and come clean about which areas of research will get less money
  • The 2009 Budget Research Council savings are in reality an attempt to influence research funding streams and the Government should not label them as something they are not
  • The Haldane Principle should be replaced with a principle which accommodates a much wider range of factors, for example regional science policy
  • After the general election, a new free-standing Science, Engineering and Technology Committee should be created with a cross-departmental remit

Phil Willis MP, the Chairman of the Committee, said:

"My Committee does not underestimate how important the Government believes the role of science and engineering advice to be. We were impressed by evidence demonstrating that significant progress is being made, such as the increasing use of Chief Scientific Advisers.

"We ask that a tangible and ambitious strategy for UK science and engineering policy is developed. The Government has committed to placing science and engineering advice at the heart of policy formulation and now it is time to do so: scrutiny of policy must be strengthened and a clearer vision for the future must be developed."

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