The topic of this inquiry is of long standing interest to us and our predecessor committee, the Science and Technology Committee. But it is also timely: Lord Drayson, the Science Minister, has started a debate on the strategic priorities of research funding and there have recently been machinery of Government changes that have impacted on the science and engineering advisory system.
This is a constructive report that reflects on some of the good work that has already taken place to put science and engineering at the heart of government policy. It builds on these achievements and makes recommendations that we believe will help to improve the use of science and engineering advice further.
It revisits recommendations that we made in our recent engineering report, Engineering: turning ideas into reality. Although we were pleased with much of the Government's response, we were disappointed that some key recommendations were not accepted. For example, the Government will not be calling departmental engineering advisers 'Chief Engineering Advisers', nor will it move the Government Chief Scientific Adviser and his Government Office for Science into the heart of Government, the Cabinet Office.
We urge the Government to safeguard the independence of all Science Advisory Committees and make a number of recommendations on how this might be achieved. For example, we suggest that transparency could be improved and that setting up a press office in GO-Science would give SACs an independent voice.
We provide a critique of the Science Minister's debate on strategic funding priorities, and on Government consultations more generally, concluding that more should be done to clarify the aims and context of consultations. For example, what is at stake in the strategic priorities debate? If there will be winners, will there also be losers? Additionally, debates on strategic research priorities should be put in the broader context of the future of UK plc.
The principles that govern UK science funding decisions are discussed. We conclude that the Haldane Principle is useful as a basis for discussion, but should be replaced with a principle that can accommodate regional science policy, the full range of research funding streams, mission driven research, and the rationalisation of detailed and strategic funding decisions.
Finally, we welcome changes to the Government's internal science scrutiny programme, and the House's decision to reinstate the Science and Technology Committee. We suggest some ways in which the future Science and Technology Committee could operate after the general election.