Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 9

Submission from AstraZeneca


    —  A robust, long-term national science and engineering strategy that stretches from fundamental science through to applied and translational activities that will ensure economic impact and rapid exploitation is required.—  A new Department for Science is not required, rather science should be fully embedded in all Departments. A common process of expert strategic consultation coupled with integration and coordination of science across and within government departments and the Sub-Committee is needed.—  Science and engineering advice should be at the core of policy development and sought from a wide range of stakeholders.

    —  Greater focus on building public trust and confidence is urgently needed and will better enable the UK to take scientific leadership and deal with critical scientific challenges.


  1.  AstraZeneca is a global pharmaceutical company engaged in the discovery, development, manufacture and marketing of new medicines for the treatment of infections including tuberculosis, cancer, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, neuropsychological, gastrointestinal, respiratory and inflammatory disorders. Our innovative products bring benefit to patients throughout the world.

2.  AstraZeneca is pleased to contribute to this inquiry. As a successful major pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca values working in partnerships with stakeholders in the science base to ensure a vibrant and sustainable biomedical research base with the capability to develop and deliver to market products, technologies and services.

Question 1.  Whether the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Science and Innovation and the Council for Science and Technology put science and engineering at the heart of policy-making and whether there should be a Department for Science

  3.  If the UK is to remain globally competitive it must create and enact a robust, long-term national science and engineering strategy that stretches from fundamental science through to applied and translational activities that will ensure economic impact and rapid exploitation. Such a strategy would be founded on the major global challenges of health, sustainability, nutrition and minimising environmental impact but also incorporate the needs of existing and emerging knowledge based industry, skills development and capacity needs and an indicative investment plan for the research and engineering base. Science and engineering strategy is fundamental to the development of policy across most if not all Departments of Government and at the present time coordination between Departments is weak and the processes by which expert advice and consultation are sought are inconsistent. Such a strategy is important if the UK is to remain an attractive location for pharmaceutical research.

4.  AstraZeneca welcomed the creation of the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Science and Innovation with direct access to the highest level of Government. If the UK is to be successful in taking forward a knowledge driven economy then it is vital that there is integration and coordination of science across and within government departments and the Sub-Committee must act to ensure that this takes place. Given the diversity of the Science and Engineering agenda and the varied position of different Departments along the "fundamental research through exploitation to technology procurement" chain, in AstraZeneca's view a sufficiently empowered Cabinet Sub-Committee is preferable to forming a new Department of Science.

  5.  Further steps must be taken to fully embed science in all Departments and to ensure common processes of expert strategic consultation and coordination. This will require strengthening departments by employing more scientists within Government, creating mechanisms to ensure effective knowledge exchange and networking both within government and outside, to ensure that scientists in leadership and policy development roles can keep up to date with current scientific and engineering developments.

  6.  Leadership for the health of the UK's essential fundamental science and engineering base should be retained by DIUS but there is much further to go in terms of developing strong and effective working relationships with other departments. The creation of the Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research (OSCHR) is a welcome positive development to ensure strategic coordination between MRC and the Department of Health and to drive translation but the current situation is much poorer for essential interfaces between (for instance), DIUS, DEFRA, NERC and the Home Office.

  7.  The Council for Science and Technology has produced some good reports, although the mechanism to identify future subjects and the evidence gathering process are not always clear.

Questions 2 and 6.  How Government formulates science and engineering policy (strengths and weaknesses of the current system) , the role of GO-Science, DIUS and other Government departments, charities, learned societies, Regional Development Agencies, industry and other stakeholders in determining UK science and engineering policy

  8.  The lack of an over-arching high level Government strategy for Science and Engineering and a clear process for its creation and renewal leaves too much room for Departments to interpret and create their own strategies. The main Research Councils within DIUS come closest to having a science and engineering strategy creation process that is understood by their user communities.

9.  Sound science policy-making is dependent upon expert scientific advice, wide evidence and consultation, and talented staff with the ability to develop and drive forward agreed policy. Considering the whole "fundamental research, through development and exploitation chain" it is necessary and beneficial to seek input and comment from a wide variety stakeholders including medical charities, learned societies and industry. Some such as major Pharma have strategic interest in the whole chain, whilst others such as the Regional Development Agencies maybe only interested in exploitation and new business development. There should be clear measurable outcomes with end points that can be identified and mechanisms to monitor the outcomes of policy levers and to ensure that such information is used to shape future policy decisions.

  10.  Many of the problems that currently exist could be addressed by a better understanding and dialogue between the relevant sectors of scientific practice, for example the UK is training more STEM graduates than ever before but industry is still unable to find appropriately educated staff. A meaningful dialogue between universities, industry and government could address these issues head-on.

  11.  The role of the Chief Scientific Advisor and the creation of a close network of chief scientific advisor positions in most government departments are welcome developments and they could play a strong role here. Continuing to develop and strengthen this network is critical to ensure appropriate involvement in science spending, policy development and implementation.

  12.  Departments should be encouraged to attract well-qualified scientific staff and further develop capacity in this area in order to provide expertise in policy making across government. One suggestion would be to make use of short-term secondments or appointments for scientists for specific projects and encourage greater inter change and connectivity with scientists in industry. Furthermore although the value of former academic scientists into government and in advisory roles is unquestioned, more value could be added by similarly involving scientists from industry, particularly large companies.

Question 3.  The views of the science and engineering community are, or should be, central to the formulation of government policy, and how the success of any consultation is assessed

  13.  The knowledge (not the views) of the science and engineering community is vitally important to robust policy development. Identification of future science related issues is a critical component in policy making. Horizon scanning should be coordinated across government and include individuals from different departments. It is important that a wide spectrum of scientific expertise is used and including the industry sector and social science community.

14.  Evidence gathering and research commissioned by government departments should be of the highest quality and involve appropriate use of scientific experts. Where possible consistent and transparent processes should be used for gathering evidence with the widest applicability, thus avoiding multiple studies and consultancies by different Departments.

  15.  The current consultation processes aim to reach a broad stakeholder base and are valuable. However, it is not clear when and if such information, advice and evidence offered through consultation is taken up and utilized in policy development.

  16.  A clear international perspective is vital in science and engineering policy-making especially if Government wishes to engage fully its key global industrial players. A good example is new science required to combat and deal with emerging infectious disease, stretching from epidemiological trend through to the latest advances in DNA vaccines. Scientists within key Departments must forge stronger and more influential relationships with European and US counterparts to share knowledge and to identify early areas for collaborative policy development.

Question 4.  The case for a regional science policy (versus national science policy) and whether the Haldane principle needs updating

  17.  It is important that an over-arching National science strategy is developed under which a consistent set of policies can be constructed. These should be implemented nationally and regional bodies should follow the strategy developed at a national level and not create new or variants. A number of the Science Councils exist within the Regions and along with the Devolved Administrations these have a role to play in the implementation of policy and alignment with local strengths and needs. However the solutions to many national problems in training and education support cannot be solved by regional approaches, particularly as the systems operate currently.

18.  The UK will benefit if the regions and devolved administrations work closely together to ensure the supply of a critical mass of relevant skilled scientists and engineers able to tackle the scientific challenges presented by effective treatment of disease, sustainable energy, climate change and an ageing population. The Research Councils, funding Councils and Technology Strategy Board also have key roles to facilitate this.

  19.  The Haldane principle should be maintained. It has served the scientific community well and still enables Government to ring-fence budget for strategic priority research whilst allowing scientists freedom to direct research.

Question 5.  Engaging the public and increasing public confidence in science and engineering policy

  20.  DIUS has recently conducted a consultation on its vision for a new science and society strategy. We await the outcomes of that work. In addition there is a reasonable body of activity in the UK sponsored by ESRC and other bodies on societal impact of science, public engagement and dialogue. The strategy and planning of this work should be more strongly coordinated with fundamental science and engineering strategy of key Research Councils.

21.  We believe that engagement with science needs to begin at a young age and this should be an essential component in Government policy. Confident teaching of science in schools including the delivery of a balanced appreciation of more difficult topics such as the use of animals and nuclear energy is critical. Considerable steps have been made in raising awareness of science, by industry through Science and Engineering Ambassadors, the STEM Programme led by Professor John Holman, the work of museums, science festivals and a variety of public and private initiatives. Attitudes to science are improving with growing interest in issues such as energy, climate change and medicine. However, more could be done to improve scientific literacy and understanding.

  22.  Providing useful information in a usable and meaningful form to a broad range of groups has greatest impact. Traditional media routes and new forms such as the web can be successfully utilized. However, much more needs to be done. There are still negative perceptions about science and scientists and there needs to be a step change and concerted action to alter the negative public.

  23.  In support of this there is a pressing requirement to link science policy to communication policy across government departments and for each department to own all the issues, including the difficult ones like GM foods, use of animals in research and nuclear energy.

  24.  There is still a need to bring science into an everyday context and demonstrate the role of scientists and the impact of scientific discoveries and technological developments. An ongoing public dialogue on important science -based challenges and technologies should be encouraged and an appropriate format developed. This should promote informed and open debate on the scientific challenges, risks and potential solutions, priorities and choices. By building public trust and confidence the UK will be better able to take scientific leadership of some key topics and to deal with the scientific challenges. A coordinated effort involving government, industry, learned societies, medical charities and other stakeholders would be required.

  25.  It is also important to monitor progress on science literacy and a survey of public attitudes to science should continue.

Question 7.  How government science and engineering policy should be scrutinised

  26.  The former Science and Technology committee was well placed to scrutinise the science policy across all government departments. Placing the committee within DIUS runs the risk of diminishing the strength of this group. Further benefit could be gained by making more visible the outcomes of scrutiny.

January 2009

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