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

Memorandum 26

Submission from the John Innes Centre


John Innes Centre

    —  supports the concept of a Department for Science, despite the risks—  would welcome further development of cross-department policy formation and cross-council approaches to funding—  believes that UK science career structure is weak and policy needs to be addressed—  welcomes the Government's efforts to consult more widely in policy formulation and would welcome the opportunity to contribute to a broader range of research issues

    —  agrees that the Haldane[130] principle should continue to be embraced

    —  supports the widest engagement in policy development, driven by a central vision of what the UK can best deliver, based upon its strengths within publically-funded organisations.

Q1.  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

  1.  The John Innes Centre welcomes the recent appointment of a Cabinet-level Science Minister.

2.  Science funding policy does not yet adequately reflect science as the cornerstone of the knowledge based economy on which the nation's future prosperity depends.

  3.  A Department for Science is needed to sustain and extend current scientific activity to the benefit of UK GNP. However, there is a risk that the creation of a Department for Science could lessen the perceived importance of science more broadly in Government.

  4.  The inclusion of "Science" in the title of DIUS would be welcome.

  5.  Attention should focus on making the relatively new departmental structure and other existing structures as effective as possible ensuring that science and research feed into evidence-based policy making.

Q2.  How Government formulates science and engineering policy (strengths and weaknesses of the current system)

  6.  JIC acknowledges that Government has been largely supportive of science through improved funding, and stimulation of open debate of scientific issues in relation to society.

7.  JIC would welcome the development of mechanisms for effective cross-departmental coordination of policies, which draw on the wider research base. Government has a key role in fostering greater inter-council co-operation in funding large scientific questions.

  8.  Government needs to take into account the fact that cycles for scientific delivery are much longer than political cycles and, having agreed policy, needs to plan accordingly for continuity of funding.

  9.  Funding policy is too often directed towards issues of international popularity without necessarily giving thought to what the UK can best deliver—playing to our strengths.

  10.  The UK science career structure is weak and policy needs to be addressed; PhD studentships need to be more attractive, to attract and retain the brightest and best; the Postdoctoral research career structure also needs addressing.

  11.  Government needs to give higher priority to issues of food security through programmes of development in plant biotechnology and plant breeding.

Q3.  Whether 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

  12.  JIC welcomes the Government's efforts to consult more widely in policy formulation and would welcome the opportunity to contribute to a broader range of research issues.

13.  Science is complex and costly. Hence decisions on scientific funding should be informed directly through close consultation with scientists. UK Government should be open to international scientific opinion on proposed scientific policy.

  14.  Consultations with the science and engineering community need to be better coordinated, giving time for considered input. Improved efforts should be made to ensure that stakeholders are contacted, with clarity on what information they would like.

  15.  Government should make clear how the responses to their consultations have been used to inform policy development.

  16.  Ultimately the success of such consultations will be shown by our ability to deliver societal and economic improvements, but the long incubation times should be recognised.

Q4.  The case for a regional science policy (versus national science policy) and whether the Haldane principle needs updating

  17.  The Haldane principle should continue to be embraced—JIC believes that scientists (in the guise of research councils) rather than politicians should lead in decisions on priorities of research funding expenditure.

18.  "Blue skies" research capabilities should continue to be protected—balancing curiosity-driven research with economic impact drivers.

  19.  Fundamental research and maintaining a world leading science base are major functions of the Research Councils and this should be retained. In the UK Government Departments fund science to inform policy development but unlike the US there is little Departmental funding of science to help deliver policy goals. For example US-DOE and US-DA fund targeted plant genome research for priority food and energy species. This does not happen in the UK and should, but not at the expense of the Research Councils.

  20.  Funding should be linked to excellence as judged by peer review

  21.  In the area of agriculture, regional and national have complementary aims and values. International collaboration is at the heart of science and should be encouraged. Agriculture is especially tailored to local climatic and soil conditions. Hence, crop development will always need to have a local flavour.

Q5.  Engaging the public and increasing public confidence in science and engineering policy

  22.  DIUS recently consulted on "A Vision for Science and Society: a consultation on developing a new strategy for the UK". JIC's communications professionals responded to the consultation. JIC looks forward to seeing the report from the consultation and hopes that this will lead to a strategy in which DIUS leads the community and other Government departments, and provides incentives for partners to work together.

23.  JIC believes that bench-scientists are not always the best communicators of the bigger issues. Excessive reliance on research scientists to influence wider public thinking is not necessarily a strong policy.

  24.  JIC does, however, have an active role in engaging with public audiences on a variety of levels, both local and national, and takes its responsibilities in delivering accurate information extremely seriously.

Q6.  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

  25.  The widest engagement is positive but this should be driven by a central vision of what the UK can best deliver, based upon its strengths within publically-funded organisations.

Q7.  How government science and engineering policy should be scrutinized

26.  All appropriate Parliamentary Select Committees should continue their role of scrutiny of policy, an approach which should be cross-cutting and encourage combined enquiries (more than one committee involved) echoing our view expressed in para. 6 above

27.  Policy success will be measured by the well recognised outputs of, international recognition, delivery to society and industry, and economic growth over a long timescale.

January 2009

130   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haldane_principle Back

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