Select Committee on Science and Technology Sixth Report


The Science and Technology Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1. In April 1993, the Government published the White Paper 'Realising Our Potential: A Strategy for Science, Engineering and Technology'.[8] Realising Our Potential set out the Government's policies and objectives for science, engineering and technology (SET) and the contribution that SET makes to the UK economy and quality of life. It was the first general review of SET policy and organisation since the Rothschild and the Dainton Reports of the early 1970s.[9] Following the 1992 General Election, the Government had also introduced some structural changes to improve Whitehall's handling of science and technology policy. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was given specific responsibility for science and designated 'Cabinet Minister for Science'. The Office for Science and Technology (OST) was formed within the Office of Public Service and Science in the Cabinet Office, bringing together the science elements of the former Department of Education and Science and the Chief Scientist's Office from the Cabinet Office.

2. In April 2000, we decided that it would be appropriate to examine the impact of Realising Our Potential. Policies arising from the White Paper had been in place for several years and we felt that it was timely to assess their success. We also hoped that our inquiry might contribute to the development of the next Government White Paper, then expected in the Autumn of 2000. Our terms of reference were to:

"Examine the extent to which the measures and objectives outlined in the White Paper have been successfully delivered, their impact on the management and performance of science and technology, and whether the structures it specified are still appropriate."[10]

3. In response to our call for evidence we received 51 memoranda from a broad range of individuals and organisations.[11] We held five evidence sessions in May to July 2000: from Professor Sir William Stewart, former Chief Scientific Advisor to Government;[12] from the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals;[13] from the Rt Hon Lord Waldegrave of North Hill, former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster;[14] from Sir John Cadogan, former Director General of the Research Councils and from Sir Robert May, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government;[15] and from representatives of ICI, BT and Rolls Royce.[16]

4. During the course of our inquiry it became clear that the new White Paper was to be published in the Summer of 2000 rather than the Autumn. Instead of seeking to influence the content of the new White Paper, we decided to extend our inquiry to include assessment of it and the associated science budget. In July 2000, the Government released its Science and Innovation White Paper,'Excellence and Opportunity: A Science and Innovation Policy for the 21st Century'.[17] Also in July 2000, the Government published the outcome of the 2000 Comprehensive Spending Review.[18] The Spending Review 2000 announcement was followed, in November 2000, by publication of the Science Budget which allocated funding for the three year period 2001-02 and 2003-04.[19]

5. In November 2000, we issued a second call for evidence inviting comments on Excellence and Opportunity and the Science Budget. We received a further 34 memoranda.[20] We took oral evidence in October 2000 from Lord Sainsbury of Turville, Minister for Science and OST officials, on the Science Budget;[21] and in March 2001 from the Rt Hon Stephen Byers MP, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.[22]

6. We are grateful to all those who contributed to our inquiry by submitting evidence. We are also most appreciative of the work of the two specialists advisers who have assisted us: Professor Derek Burke, formerly Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia; and Professor Michael Elves, formerly Director of the Office of Scientific and Educational Affairs, Glaxo Wellcome plc. We take this opportunity to thank Professor Burke and Professor Elves for their invaluable service throughout this Parliament.

Realising Our Potential

7. Realising Our Potential was preceded by an extensive consultation exercise. It set out a series of reforms which the Government believed were necessary to build on the country's existing strengths in science, engineering and technology. Improving the nation's competitiveness and quality of life were pervasive themes throughout the White Paper. The main purposes of the White Paper were:

  • to harness the strength in science and engineering to the creation of wealth in the UK by bringing it into closer, more systematic, contact with those responsible for industrial and commercial decisions;

  • to modify the missions and structures and management of the Research Councils and Government research establishments to meet better the global challenges now faced by the UK; and

8. The initiatives it introduced were:

  • Forward Look - an annual publication to monitor the overall success of its strategy;

  • Technology Foresight - a programme to improve interaction between the science base, industry and Government, and to identify key emerging technologies and opportunities;

  • a Council for Science and Technology - (to replace the Advisory Council on Science and Technology) to ensure that the Government benefited from independent and expert advice when deciding its own research spending priorities;

  • creation of the post of Director General of the Research Councils and absorption of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils into OST;

  • restructuring of the Research Councils and re-organisation of their management structure; and

  • a new campaign to spread the understanding of science through schools and amongst the public.[24]

Excellence and Opportunity

9. Excellence and Opportunity was built on the foundations of Realising our Potential, though - rather surprisingly - made no reference to it. It identified three main objectives:

  • to extend opportunities for innovation; and

  • to restore public confidence in science.

10. In pursuit of these three objectives, the White Paper outlined a number of new initiatives. These included:

  • a new £1 billion programme in partnership with the Wellcome Trust to renew the infrastructure for science;

  • an additional £250 million to boost research in three key areas: genomics, e-science and basic technology;

  • an increase in the PhD stipend, over three years, to £9,000 a year;

  • a £4 million fund, in partnership with the Royal Society and the Wolfson Foundation, to assist in the recruitment of up to 50 top researchers;

  • a Higher Education Innovation Fund of £140 million over three years;

  • a new Foresight fund, initially worth £15 million;

  • Regional Innovation Funds of £50 million a year to enable Regional Development Agencies to support clusters, incubators and new networking arrangements;

  • a Small Business Research Initiative;

  • publication of science and innovation strategies for Government Departments;

  • stronger guidelines from the Chief Science Adviser on how scientific advice should be used in drawing up Government policy; and

The Spending Review 2000 and the Science Budget

11. The results of the Spending Review 2000 were announced in July 2000.[26] It provided for an increase in £725 million in the science budget over the three years 2001-02 to 2003-4. The Spending Review announced a strengthening of UK science and engineering, with an average 5.4% real growth a year in spending:

  • to allow £1 billion for new laboratories and equipment, in partnership with the Wellcome Trust;

  • to step up research in key areas like the human genome; and

  • to do more to turn scientific knowledge into jobs and wealth.[27]

The Science Budget allocations were published in November 2000 showing distribution of funds to the Research Councils, the Royal Society, and the Royal Academy of Engineering and a range of funding initiatives.[28]

The Enterprise, Skills and Innovation White Paper

12. In February 2001, the Government (the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE)) published an Enterprise, Skills and Innovation White Paper Opportunity for all in a world of change.[29] This White Paper included a number of initiatives to promote innovation:

  • million to promote the commercial exploitation of research focussing on genomics, basic technologies and e-science;

  • the Enterprise Scholarship Programme to attract the brightest and best young graduates from around the world, particularly in hi-tech subjects, to come to the UK to develop their careers and start new businesses; and

  • a pilot scheme to encourage British entrepreneurs abroad to set up companies in the UK to pursue innovative business proposals.[30]

13. The DTI also published a second edition of UK Competitiveness Indicators.[31] Among other things, these showed that the UK:

  • underperforms nearly all its major competitors in terms of patents

  • has a relatively low level of novel innovators; and

  • needs to improve commercial exploitation of university research.

Forward Look

14. Realising Our Potential announced that a clear and up-to-date statement of the Government's strategy for science and technology would be published each year as 'Forward Look' to inform the industrial and academic research communities.[32] Forward Look replaced the Government's 'Annual Review of Government Funded Research and Development', which had provided a comprehensive account of publicly funded research and development, explaining the purposes for which different Departments funded their programmes, and indicating current expenditure plans. Forward Look was to have a broader scope than the Annual Review in outlining:

  • the portfolio of public funded work best suited to the broader scientific and technological needs of the UK; and

  • the extent to which current individual departmental science and technology programmes are matched to that portfolio.[33]

15. Forward Look was published, along with a statistical supplement, in 1994, 1995 and 1996. In 1997 and 1998 the statistical tables were published alone. In 1999 Forward Look was published again followed two months later by the statistical tables 'SET statistics'. In 2000, the statistics were again published alone. In our Report into Government Expenditure on Research and Development, published in April 2000, we recommended that Forward Look should resume annual publication.[34] In its response the Government outlined that it intended to produce new Forward Looks on a cycle consistent with the timing of future spending reviews.[35] It is next to be published in the Summer of 2001. In our follow up Report we urged the Government to re-instate annual publication.[36] In response to that Report, the Government argued that it made sense to publish Forward Look in the year following a Spending Review (to date, every two years), in order that it could set out departmental spending plans over the period of the Review; and that there would be little justification in publishing a full Forward Look in the intervening years if there was nothing new to say.[37] We do not accept this argument. While Forward Look in the intervening years might not have new spending plans to present, it is - as we have said before - "an effective management tool to ensure progress monitoring against objectives and a means of communicating the Government's plans and progress to a wider audience".[38] The evidence we have received in the inquiry confirms that Forward Look is widely felt to be useful.[39] Once again we recommend that Forward Look be published annually, and that it be published together with the statistical supplement. It is widely used by the science, engineering and technology community.

16. In our Report on Government Expenditure on R&D, published in April 2000, we recommended that the Forward Look match SET and R&D expenditure figures more specifically to policy objectives and the achievements of departmental science strategies.[40] In its response, the Government stated that from 2001 it would introduce departmental science and innovation strategies and these would develop improved measures of SET output performance, linked to policy objectives.[41] (These are expected to be published in the Summer of 2001.) It is not clear to what extent these will be included in Forward Look. Evidence received in this inquiry suggests that Forward Look should show more clearly how the research priorities contribute to an overall strategy for science and technology.[42] We recommend that the next issue of Forward Look provide a clear statement of Government's overall strategy for science and technology and show explicitly how expenditure figures match policy objectives. We look forward to publication of the departmental strategies and trust that these will contain meaningful measures of Departments' science, engineering and technology performance.

8   Realising Our Potential: A Strategy for Science, Engineering and Technology, May 1993, Cm 2250.  Back

9   A Framework for Government Research and Development, Cmnd 5046, July 1972 - The Government's Response to The Organisation and Management of Government Research and Development (the Rothschild report) and The Future of the Research Council System (the Dainton report), Cmnd 4814, November 1971. Back

10   Press Release No. 25 of Session 1999-2000, 20 April 2000 Back

11   See Volume II, Evidence, pp 69-217. A memorandum from the OST is published in HC 466-iv, Session 1999-2000; a memorandum from CVCP is published in HC 466-ii; and memoranda from ICI, BT and Rolls Royce are published in HC 466-v. Back

12   Minutes of Evidence, Wednesday 10 May 2000, HC 466-i Session 1999-2000. Back

13   Minutes of Evidence, Wednesday 14 June 2000, HC 466-ii, Session 1999-2000. Back

14   Minutes of Evidence, Monday 19 June 2000, HC 466-iii, Session 1999-2000. Back

15   Minutes of Evidence, Monday 26 June 2000, HC 466-iv, Session 1999-2000. Back

16   Minutes of Evidence, Monday 3 July 2000, HC 466-v, Session 1999-2000. Back

17   Excellence and Opportunity - A Science and Innovation Policy for the 21st Century, Cm 4814, July 2000. Back

18   Spending Review 2000, New Public Spending Plans 2001-2004, Cm 4807. Back

19   Science Budget 2001-01 to 2003-04. DTI/OST November 2000, Available via . Back

20   Volume II, Evidence, pp 218-295. A supplementary memorandum from OST is published in HC 274-i, Session

2000-01. Back

21   Minutes of Evidence, Wednesday 25 October 2000, HC 898-i, Session 1999-2000.  Back

22   Minutes of Evidence, Wednesday 7 March 2001, HC 274-i, Session 2000-2001. Back

23   Cm 2250, paragraph 1.16. Back

24   Cm 2250, paragraph 1.18. Back

25   Cm 4814, chapter 1, paragraphs 32, 35 and 37.  Back

26   Cm 4807, paragraphs 5.14-5.16, 34.1-34.5. Back

27   Cm 4807, Chapter 34. Back

28   Science Budget 2001-01 to 2003-04. DTI/OST November 2000, page 3. Back

29   Opportunity for all in a world of change, A White Paper on Enterprise, Skills and Innovation, Cm 5052, February 2001. Back

30   Cm 5052, paragraphs 4.12-4.26, 6.10-6.14. Back

31   UK Competitiveness Indicators: Second Edition, DTI, February 2001. Back

32   Cm 2250, paragraph 1.18. Back

33   Cm 2250, paragraph 2.36. Back

34   Fifth Report, Session 1999-2000, Government Expenditure on Research and Development: the Forward Look, HC 196-I, paragraph 1.  Back

35   Seventh Report, Session 1999-2000, Government Expenditure on Research and Development: the Forward Look - The Government's Reply, HC 723, Appendix, recommendation (a). Back

36   HC 723, paragraph 10. Back

37   Third Special Report, Session 1999-2000, Government's Response to the Seventh Report of the Science and Technology Committee on the Government's Expenditure on Research and Development: The Forward Look - The Government's Reply, HC 981, paragraph 17. Back

38   HC 723, paragraph 10. Back

39   Evidence, p 75, paragraph 3; p 91, paragraph 2; p 190, paragraph 1; p 163. Back

40   HC 196-I, paragraph 3. Back

41   HC 723, Appendix, recommendation (b). Back

42   Evidence, p 98, paragraph 2.1; p 102, paragraph 8. Back

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