Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Chemical Industries Association


  The Chemical Industries Association (CIA) is the major body representing the UK chemical and allied industries. The Association is also the industry's National Training Organisation (NTO) and, in conjunction with The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), runs the sector's Awarding Body for National Vocational Qualifications.

  The chemical industry has always been strongly dependent upon research and technological innovation for its competitiveness, and it will need to be even more so in the future in the face of stiffening global competition. The academic science base, which provides both skilled manpower and leading-edge research expertise, is a vital resource for the industry.

  The CIA thus regards this consultation to be of high importance. A comprehensive review of the extent to which the measures and objectives outlined in the 1993 White Paper have been delivered, their impact on the management and performance of science and technology, and whether the structures it specified are still appropriate, is timely.

  We hope that our comments will be given the appropriate consideration since the CIA represents a sector of industry which constitutes one of the largest users and sponsors of scientific and technical research within academe. In 1997, the industry invested £2.8 billion in R&D. We estimate, based upon research performed within the CIA membership, that approximately 4.7 per cent of this investment is channeled into universities (some £132 million, annually).

  We have chosen to submit comments based on the following broad themes which the consultation paper encompasses:

    1.  Forward Look.

    2.  Technology Foresight.

    3.  Council for Science and Technology.

    4.  Technology Transfer.

    5.  SME's and Innovation Support Programmes.

    6.  Research Councils.

    7.  Creation of the post of Director General of the Research Councils.

    8.  Campaign to spread understanding of science amongst school children and the public.

  Our comments on all these issues are set out below.


  The CIA believes that perspectives in national science policy and strategy have improved as a consequence of the 1993 Science White Paper "Realising our potential" by:

    —  crystallising discussion on strategy and policy relating to science, engineering and technology (SET) within Government;

    —   resulting in some important initiatives such as Forward Look, Technology Foresight, technology transfer schemes, and innovation support programmes for SME's;

    —  ensuring that the Research Councils, especially the EPSRC, are more responsive and flexible to the needs of industry, including the demands set by the rapid pace of change in SET; and

    —  providing a sense of purpose to both the public and private sector on the importance of SET in a knowledge-driven economy to ensure UK competitiveness in the context of a global economy.

  More specifically, we feel that:

    —  Forward Look should be an annual publication seeking to match Government expenditure figures on R&D and the SET base to policy objectives and the achievements (or the lack) of departmental science strategies;

    —  Foresight, including the "Knowledge Pool", should be properly resourced, its findings should be communicated to the wider community, and that it should be a central feature in a coherent Government strategy on the SET base;

    —  the Council for Science and Technology must increase its profile and transparancy, especially in industry, and stress the importance of joined-up thinking on issues facing SET across Government;

    —  the Government must fund more demonstrator projects, a key step in technology transfer, as well as tackle barriers such as the Research Assessment Exercise which can hinder collaboration between industry and academe;

    —  the myriad of Government funded research and innovation support schemes, not funding levels, for both SME's and academe should be reduced to a select few. The Government should also ensure that innovation policy does not become too pre-occupied with SME's, thereby ignoring the needs of their larger industrial counterparts;

    —  the Research Councils should continue to be more receptive to the needs of industry, embrace a closer working relationship with each other, and promote career progression for fixed-term research staff as well as increase the funds allocated to PhD students;

    —  the appointment of the Director General of the Research Councils has helped to co-ordinate their activities, thereby ensuring that their approach is synergistic, strategic, visionary and cost effective;

    —  the Government must re-direct its efforts to helping improve the perceptions of the risks associated with science rather than focusing soley on the public understanding of science. Its current campaign to spread the understanding of science has had little, if any, positive impact in society;

    —  the Government must continue to invest in the science base, increase public expenditure on R&D activities—the current decline should be reversed, and improve the reward and remuneration structure associated with a scientific and a teaching career;

    —  the Government must ensure that the forthcoming White Paper on "Science and Innovation Strategy" is holistic, promoting strategies and policies which are practical, and readily achievable.


  The annual publication of Forward Look has developed significantly since its inception, and it provides an excellent synopsis of Government's strategies for science, engineering and technology.

  The statistical summaries of various Government departmental budgets have proven to be particularly useful in influencing the key objectives of science policy across Government, and we support its continuance as an annual publication. However, Forward Look should seek to match expenditure figures more specifically to policy objectives and the achievement (or the lack) of departmental science strategies.

  Finally, we welcome and agree with the conclusions and recommendations made by the recent House of Common Science and Technology Committee's report on "Government Expenditure on Research and Development: The Forward Look", published on 19th April 2000.


  The creation of Technology Foresight (now Foresight) is an important development arising from the 1993 White Paper since:

    —  it offers an unrivalled networking opportunity, thereby helping to improve communication, interaction and mutual understanding between Government, industry and academa;

    —  it has served as an excellent platform for participants to think constructively, critically and imaginatively about future economic, social and technological implications and challenges;

    —  it has been an important catalyst for many companies in the chemicals industry to evaluate and enhance their industrial R&D priorities, and to influence and initiate change in their business strategies, by developing strategic vision through the use of the outputs from the 1st Foresight round.

  Although the CIA enthusiastically supports Foresight, and we remain committed to its principles, there are a number of issues which are of concern to us. These include:

    —  a large proportion of individuals, especially from academe, have either never heard of Foresight or have never been exposed to its outputs due to the lack of dissemination of information from the 1st Foresight round;

    —  many small and medium enterprises (SME) have not directly benefited from Foresight since the majority tend to do little, if any, long-term strategic planning;

    —  there is still an immense scepticism about the value of Foresight due to the lack of persuasive evidence of the benefits associated with it since many of them tend to be intangible.

  Foresight is extremely effective in identifying opportunities and threats but it has yet to galvanise the efforts required to arrive at solutions to any problems identified.

    —  there is a general perception that Government departments still do not consider themselves to be one of the principal audiences for Foresight, especially in the analysis of issues, and in the subsequent delivery and implementation of policy from a practical perspective;

    —  there is little evidence of developing coherence in science and innovation policy across Government as a consequence of the Foresight programmes. However, we hope that the forthcoming Science and Innovation White Paper will help resolve this matter.

  On a more positive note, the recommendations from the 1st round of Foresight have been used by the Research Councils to help shape their programmes, and we hope that this will continue;

    —  the current round of Foresight is almost invisible, and the much publicised "Knowledge Pool" has yet to deliver any tangible rewards.

    —  One of the reasons behind this is the lack of proper resources and variable support given to Foresight by the Office of Science and Technology. We believe that without greater Government commitment, the present round of Foresight will not realise its full potential.

    —  Foresight also needs to be more targeted rather than "all encompassing" with the result that it may cover nothing adequately.

  Overall, we believe that Foresight should be a central feature in a coherent Government strategy on science engineering and technology (SET), influencing government policy on issues such as expenditure of the science budget, and promoting the progress of the SET base.


  We do not feel competent enough to comment on the wisdom of abolishing the Advisory Council on Science and Technology and replacing it with the Council for Science and Technology (CST). However, its successor has appeared to be largely invisible since its inception. Although, we are unable to comment on the impact of its activities on influencing Government's own research spending, we note with some concern that this is sadly in decline.

  We believe that a body like the CST does have an important role to play in the strategic overview of science and innovation issues, but it must be more transparent in its activities. Recent Government initiatives have delivered a framework of policies promoting innovation, but any advisory body on science and innovation strategy must stress:

    —  the importance of joined-up thinking across Government;

    —  raise the general awareness of the importance of research and innovation in the context of a global economy;

    —  promote an effective and supportive taxation regime for R&D activities;

    —  ensure that legislation promoting R&D, not hindering it, is created such as a strong patent regime.


  We welcome the Government's desire for supporting technology transfer initiatives between the science and engineering base and industry, and we believe that this is an extremely important activity in the knowledge-driven economy, and for UK competitiveness.

  However, and worryingly, the proposed interchange of ideas, skills, know-how and knowledge has yet to fully materialise. Although the Research Councils have encouraged greater industrial involvement in their projects, LINK has been maintained and bodies like the Institute of Applied Catalysis have been created, these form only a very small microcosm of ventures which are needed to help improve industry and academe collaborations.

  To date, many powerful barriers exist which still tend to prevent the desired change in attitudes to collaboration. These include:

    —  the Research Assessment Exercise;

    —  the reluctance of acadame to work in an interdisciplinary manner;

    —  the attitude of some Industrial Liaison Officers;

    —  the lack of appreciation of intellectual property rights by academe;

    —  the lack of funds to undertake demonstrator projects which often are a key step in technology transfer.

  The recent initiative entitled "Higher Education Reach Out to Business and the Community (HEROBIC) is a welcome experiment on promoting technology transfer. However, funds allocated to it are very limited. We believe that these types of schemes should be actively pursued and properly funded by government, especially when they can be strategically integrated with other collaborative links promoted by different government departments.

  Although, the 1993 White Paper has created the momentum to explore new approaches to knowledge transfer, more needs to be done to ensure successful integration of novel and "blue sky" ideas from academe into industry by:

    —  Increased but targeted funding for science parks.

    —  More technology incubator programmes.

    —  Emphasising the importance of developing relationships between established innovative firms and academe, and not just focusing on spin-offs from academe.

    —  Promoting diversity and creativity in the workforce (by encouraging greater recruitment from outside the UK—either from Europe or elsewhere).

    —  Emulating the successful US-based Small Business Innovation Grants Scheme.

  Overall, the conversion of technologies and ideas, emanating from the UK science base, into innovative products and processes, are vital for the future success of the chemicals and allied industries in the UK.


  The Government has made significant progress on improving the access for small and medium-sized enterprises to innovation support programmes. For example, the Specialised Organic Chemicals Sector Association (SOCSA), which was created in 1993 as a part of the CIA, has definitely benefited from some of these initiatives. It has been able to access funds for projects in areas of pre-competitive, under-pinning science such as applied catalysis, process engineering and analytical science.

  Furthermore, the recently announced tax incentives for SME's to undertake R&D are a positive sign of the Government's commitment to help companies invest in innovation, and this is warmly welcomed by the CIA. However, much more needs to be done in this area and the Government must not be complacent. In addition, we still have a number of concerns relating to innovation support programmes, and these are:

    —  The myriad of Government schemes, which are currently in operation, on supporting research and innovation for SME's (and within academe), needs to rationalised to a select few. We believe that a reduction in the number of initiatives (not the funding levels) is warranted.

    —  Innovation policy can become too pre-occupied with SME's and start-up companies, and therefore ignores the needs of their larger industrial counterparts. Many of these now tend to operate as small business units, and play an important role in the knowledge-driven economy. The emphasis purely on SME's can also lead to some confusion in the objectives of innovation and employment policy.

    —  The lack of access to academe is still cited as a major issue for SME's within the chemicals sector, although SOCSA has provided some help in this endeavour.

  Overall, we believe the 1993 White Paper has had a positive impact in ensuring that the Government understands the needs of SME's, especially from economic, regulatory and social perspectives.


  The re-organisation of the Research Councils with modified management structures, as a consequence of the 1993 White Paper, has been broadly positive.

  The current move towards encouraging interdisciplinarity, greater co-ordination between the Research Councils on related activities, alignment of projects with those of the findings of Foresight, the creation of peer review pools, recognising the importance of consulting the wider community (in particular industry) on their research needs before embarking on specific and targeted programmes, and their increased enthusiasm to collaborate with industry, are to be applauded.

  However, there are still a number of issues which need to be resolved. These are:

    —  Each of the different Research Councils tend to operate via their own criteria and modus operandi. For example, the EPSRC dispenses industrial CASE awards whilst with the BBSRC you have to bid for them.

    —  We believe that a commonality of approach should be implemented across all the Research Councils as soon as possible.

    —  It is vital to ensure that a correct balance is struck between the managed and responsive mode funding mechanisms.

    —  The continuing difficulties in providing career progression for fixed-term research staff and post-doctoral research workers, and properly funding PhD students needs to be assessed and positive solutions developed.

    —  In this regard, we welcome EPSRC's proposal or greater flexibility in support of doctoral-level training, and we hope that they will develop flexible funding schemes to support young researchers early on their scientific careers in academe.

  Overall, we feel that the changes which have been undertaken by the Research Councils, especially the EPSRC, will help to promote wealth creation and improve the quality of life in the United Kingdom. We certainly look forward to working more closely with them in the future since their outputs, both in terms of trained scientists/engineers and research projects, are extremely vital to the success of the UK chemicals industry.


  We welcome the creation of the post of the Director General of the Research Councils and the absorption of the functions of the Advisory Board of the Research Councils into the Office of Science and Technology.

  This has been an essential appointment to help co-ordinate the activities of all the Research Councils, thereby ensuring that that their approach is synergistic, strategic, visionary and cost effective. We believe that it is vital that the post-holder should be an individual with solid industrial experience who has an appreciation of the importance of pure and applied research to industry and an understanding of the needs of academe.


Understanding of Science: the general public

  The launch of a campaign to spread the understanding of science has had little, if any, positive impact amongst the public-at-large. Our own surveys, conducted by MORI, suggests that it is trust and perceptions of risks rather than public understanding of science that are the real issues to address. In our surveys, there is no positive correlation between a formal science education and favourability towards the chemicals industry.

  We feel that one possible reason may be that policy makers and scientists are often wrong in the predilection for promoting a desired message rather than engaging the public in scientifically informed debate. Their messages should be tailored to combating their genuine concerns and lack of understanding of science.

  We recognise that this is a complex issue, whereby any gains made in developing a trust in and acceptance of science can be easily lost if the community-at-large feels underestimated, threatened or coerced. Therefore, we support the view that it is the responsibility of scientists, in academe/government/industry—in both the public and private sectors—to work together in order to re-establish public trust, enunciate the benefits and discuss potential concerns derived from research and development activities in an impartial and honest manner.

  The chemicals sector is certainly keen to complement the work of Government and academe to promote science, including its importance to society, by engaging in debate with NGO's and other stakeholders of the role of chemicals, the chemicals industry, and of science in general, in an informed and sensitive manner.

Understanding of Science: school children

  We strongly believe that science should remain an essential element of the national curriculum at both primary and secondary level so that school children can have some appreciation of its importance in the modern world.

  The Dual Science GCSE (DSG) can play an important role in influencing the up-take of science at A-level by young students. A negative experience of DSG can easily discourage pupils from undertaking science at higher level. We are also concerned about the value of DSG as an effective preparatory tool for those who wish to study natural sciences at A-level. We feel that the Government should examine its worth compared to the merits of studying individual science subjects separately at GCSE.

  Young individuals who train as scientists and engineers are the key to the future vision of a knowledge-driven economy in the UK, and although, we applaud the various Government schemes relating to improving science education, there are significant and fundamental challenges which still need to be addressed. These include:

    —  the poor reward and remuneration associated with a scientific and a teaching career;

    —  the lack of infrastructure investments at both schools and universities;

    —  the general view that science has no future in the UK.

  The lack of up-take of science courses can also be attributed to these issues. We believe that it is vital for both government and industry to work together in tackling these areas of concern.

General Comments

  The wider public appreciation and understanding of science has probably been the least successful aspect of the 1993 White Paper. The image of science still remains poor, further damaged by the BSE crisis, the GMO issue and other reports in the press which have dented the public trust in it. The campaign to promote science amongst school children and the public (for example, through Science Week, and the work of the British Association) also seems to have passed unnoticed.

  We recognise that many organisations are making valuable contributions in this area, but we feel that there needs to be much greater cohesion of the activities in order to make a significant impact. The Government has a clear role here by continuing to publicise the benefits of science, working with all concerned parties for greater critical mass and to ensure that science and engineering are in the hearts and minds of the public in a positive light.

  Finally, we would like to add that the recent House of Lords Science and Technology Committtee Report on "Science and Society", published on 14 March 2000, makes some excellent recommendations which we would support. We hope that the Government will act on its findings, especially those relating to the need for an open and impartial public debate on the role of science within society. We also believe that the Higher Education Funding Councils should give serious and urgent thought to rewarding work performed in improving the public understanding of science.


  The 1993 Science White Paper represents an important milestone in acknowledging the importance of the science base; crystallising discussion on strategy and policy relating to SET expenditure within Government; and providing a sense of purpose to both the public and private sector on the importance of science in a knowledge-driven economy.

  We believe that perspectives in national science policy and strategy have improved as a consequence of the 1993 White Paper. For example,

    —  the Research Councils are more receptive to the needs of industry;

    —  the 1st round of Foresight did help to identify the importance of partnerships between industry an academe;

    —  evaluation and the impact of R&D activities has now become the norm;

    —  scientists are more ready to acknowledge and address public expectations/concerns of science issues, as well as countering the effect of negative reporting by the media on the SET base;

    —  concerns (and action needed) are openly expressed about the decline in public funding of research and development, including the decay in research infrastructure, employer difficulties in recruitment and retention of scientists and the complexities faced in undertaking collaborative ventures with academe.

  However, although the progress made to-date is highly welcome, and the themes of the 1993 White Paper are currently valid, a great deal of work still needs to be done. We hope that the forthcoming White Paper on "Science and Innovation Strategy", the broad aims of which the CIA fully supports, will try and address some of the issues and concerns which have been identified as a result of the 1993 White Paper. A copy of the CIA's submission to the DTI's recent consultation on Science and Innovation Strategy is attached for your information.[19]

  We strongly feel that the new White Paper must present a clear direction, understanding and vision of the UK's national needs; ensure adequate and long-term funding for the SET base; and promote and foster a climate where innovation, entrepreneurship and risk taking is supported and encouraged. In particular, we believe that the Government should:

    —  take a more holistic view of innovation, if it is to make any real impact on the UK economy, just like the Japanese have done so successfully. For example, the marketing of R&D activities is a key function for generating profits from innovative products and processes, and it is this that tends to be lacking in the United Kingdom;

    —  Furthermore, if the UK is still going to retain a strong chemicals manufacturing base, then innovation in process technology is as important as investment in new products;

    —  avoid generating false expectations that have resulted from earlier science policy, and we look forward to seeing more details in the forthcoming White Paper as to how their ambitious plans will be translated into both policy and action;

    —  improving the current and poor image of the SET base, which is exacerbated by the City's and media's obsession with companies who are part of the "new" economy, namely the dot-coms. "Old" but robust and financially strong industries, such as those in the chemical sector, are no longer fashionable and perhaps even deemed uncompetitive in comparison to their new counterparts.

  In conclusion, a strong science base is vital for the UK to continue to be innovative. Stimulating knowledge transfer schemes, improving the flow of skilled scientists and engineers into industry is fine, but this only addresses a small part of the overall jigsaw which needs to be examined.

  The UK still retains a high quality science base, world class in many areas, in spite of government funding which is poor in relation to our major competitor nations. If government support for scientific and technical research is not improved, through better strategic focus and an overall increase in spend, the UK will lose its position as an attractive base for research-intensive industry, with severe implications for prosperity and employment in the future.

  We hope that we have identified some of the issues which the consultation needs to take into consideration and address. Through its Science, Education and Technology Committee (SETCOM) the CIA and its member companies welcomes this opportunity to work closely with the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee so that the SET base in the United Kingdom can be strengthened, for the benefit of government, industry and academe.

July 2000

19   Not printed. Back

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