Submission from Semta
Semta does not believe that the rationale
for separate Science Department is strongshould such a
department be created, it must add clear benefits to existing
arrangements. The government could use Sector Skills
Councils' expertise and networks more effectively and more often
in the policy-making process. The government should use the newly-formed
groupings of Sector Skills Councils in manufacturing and science
in the development of policy.
1. Industry owned and led, Semta aims to
increase the impact of skilled people throughout the science,
engineering and manufacturing technologies sectors. We work with
employers to determine their current and future skills needs and
to provide short and long term skills solutions, whether that
be training and skills development, or campaigning with government
and other organisations to change things for the better. Through
our labour market intelligence and insights from employers across
our sectors, we identify change needed in education and skills
policy and practice, and engage with key industry partners and
partners in the education and training sector, to help increase
productivity at all levels in the workforce.
2. The sectors we represent are: Aerospace, Automotive,
Bioscience, Electrical, Electronics, Maintenance, Marine, Mathematics,
Mechanical, Metals, and Engineered Metal Products.
3. Semta is part of the UK-wide network
of 25 employer-led Sector Skills Councils (SSCs).
Does 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?
4. Cabinet Sub-Committee papers and meetings
are confidential, so it is difficult to establish its specific
impact on policy-making.
5. The Council for Science and Technology produces
interesting work and publications, but could engage more often
with other stakeholders, such as Sector Skills Councils.
Should there be a Department for Science?
6. There are strong arguments both for and
against such a step. A separate department could bring together
expertise and impetus to influence policy-making for science.
It might also send an important message about the British government's
commitment to science, and about the role which science will play
in helping the UK face the inevitable difficulties of the future
(both economic and social).
7. However, the Machinery of Government changes
in July 2007 undoubtedly caused some fragmentation, and we
are concerned that more change might be disruptive. Individuals
and organisations find ways to work with the existing circumstances,
so changing the current setup would inevitably cause disruption
to these relationships. In addition, Lord Drayson (Minister for
Science and Technology) already attends Cabinet, so the creation
of a new department would not necessarily improve representation
in terms of national policy and decision-making, although it might
raise the profile of science within Cabinet. It is also important
that "science" is understood to play its part in a whole
range of activities, from the economy to education to health.
There is a danger that creating a separate department would remove
experts from these other departments and concentrate them into
a single entity, which lack influence in other departments.
8. It is therefore difficult to see the
added benefit of a separate department for science. If such a
department was created, we would like to see a strong rationale,
with key deliverables and relationships articulated.
How does Government formulate science and engineering
policy (strengths and weaknesses of the current system)?
9. This government created Sector Skills
Councils (SSCs) but does not use them and their resources as much
as they could. SSCs provide both information in terms of research,
and direct links to groups of employers. In some cases, the government
appears not to utilise research which it has tasked SSCs to provide
(for example the Sector Skills Agreements) and instead periodically
asks the same questions. DIUS' current investigation into STEM
skills supply and demand did not utilise the SSAs until a late
stage in the process.
10. SSCs can also provide links to and fora for
employers who are interested and engaged with skills issues in
11. Government could do more to engage with
Sector Skills Councils, simply by including them earlier in the
policy-making process, and by using their links to employers in
the development of policy.
12. In formulating wider policy, government
often seems to prefer a "one-size-fits-all" approach,
which can leave science and engineering companies questioning
its relevance. For example, the funding for skills available
through Train to Gain has hitherto been underused, as the science
and engineering sectors' skill needs are at higher levels. The
new sector Compacts are beginning to address this, but valuable
time has been lost in engaging with science and engineering employers.
13. The new Manufacturing Strategy is an
interesting development, which sums up the positive aspects and
potential pitfalls of science and engineering policy. A manufacturing
strategy is a tremendous boost to all the industries involved
in manufacturing. We hope that it will raise the profile of manufacturing
within government, and give credibility to measures designed to
sustain the UK's manufacturing base. However, there are elements
which will need careful management to ensure they are not lost
in the departmental policy cross-over of BERR, DIUS and DCSF (particularly
those elements relating to education).
14. Having at least three departments (BERR,
DIUS, DCSF) involved in the development of science and engineering
policy (in addition to other departments such as Health and Work
& Pensions, with another in the Science Department proposed
above) inevitably raises issues. Semta's view is that this fragmentation
is not necessarily a problem, where officials work together.
Are the views of the science and engineering community
central to the formulation of government policy?
15. We would summarise the attitude of government
to the needs of the engineering and science sectors as "receptive"
but sometimes lacking in specific action to address concerns.
For example, the automotive industry recently approached government
with specific concerns around the economic situation, and while
their needs were heard sympathetically, there is as yet no sector-based
responsethe response so far has merely reiterated government
support which is available to all sectors.
16. The sector-based approach on skills recommended
by Leitch has been slow in implementation. It is only now being
seen by companies in the Compacts, negotiated by SSCs to meet
the particular needs of their sectors. It is encouraging that
so many of the Compacts are for sectors involved in science and
engineering, and that the very first one agreed was with Semta.
The flexibilities negotiated by Semta (eg funding for second
qualifications at a particular level) have since been made available
to all sectors, which will help achieve the Leitch targets across
the economy, but reduces the impact of a sectoral "offer".
17. In the devolved administrations, the
experience is similar, with a few additional comments. In Wales,
the newly-formed Manufacturing Forum is likely to be very helpful
in raising the profile of manufacturing (and engineering), as
well as improving understanding. Government in Scotland is supportive
of science and engineering, but could use the SSC network more
effectively in its decision-making and policy formation. However,
the Scottish government has made additional commitment to the
engineering sector in areas such as life science and adult apprenticeships,
which suggest it has a strong understanding of the particular
needs of the sector.
Should the views of the science and engineering
community be central to the formulation of government policy?
18. As the SSC for science, engineering,
and manufacturing technologies, Semta is convinced of the value
of employer engagement in the formulation of government policy.
Science and engineering skills are utilised in occupations across
the economy. The importance of these engineering and science
skills to the UK economy as a whole means that the views of those
working in these sectors and subjects must be considered.
19. In addition, the contribution of the science
and engineering sector companies to the economy is significant.
For example, engineering companies are continuing to invest in
the apprenticeship programme which helps individuals become highly
skilled technicians and managers, who are able to contribute to
those areas of manufacturing where the UK is leading the world.
20. If the government accepts that science
and engineering is essential to the future success of UKplc, consideration
must be made of the needs of the community. It would be helpful
if legislation and proposals could be assessed at an earlier stage
for their impact on science and engineering, so that there are
no unintended consequences.
21. The Sector Skills Councils which cover
science and engineering have already formed themselves into clustersthe
SSC Science Cluster and the Manufacturing Skills Alliance. We
hope this will make it easier for government to engage directly
with all the SSCs in a particular area, and for us to speak with
a single voice where appropriate on policy.
How is the success of any consultation assessed?
22. Where formal submissions are made, SSCs
naturally monitor the effectiveness of these. We are in contact
with government departments and officials regularly on particular
issues relating to our sector.
23. Unfortunately, we are sometimes faced with
a disparity between ministerial opinion, which is usually very
positive and supportive, and the practical implementation of policy.
For example, Semta remains concerned that the apprenticeship
reforms are being introduced to support and encourage non-traditional
apprenticeship sectors. The proposals suggest a single approach
across the economy to address the needs of non-traditional sectors,
which does not meet the needs of engineering. Despite ministerial
assurances that the measures will not interfere with existing
arrangements where they are working well, there are still concerns.
As the sector with one of the largest and most successful apprenticeship
frameworks, the views of our employers must have a significant
influence on the development of apprenticeships as a whole.
The case for a regional science policy (versus
national science policy)
24. Semta has contributed to the SSC Science
Cluster submission on this issue.
Does the Haldane principle need updating?
25. Semta has contributed to the SSC Science
Cluster submission on this issue.
Engaging the public and increasing public confidence
in science and engineering policy
26. Semta has contributed to the SSC Science
Cluster submission on this issue.
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
27. Sector Skills Councils, with their remit
to provide expert analysis of the needs of companies in their
sector, are already providing evidence of skill demands across
all the science and engineering industries. The new SSC Science
Cluster will be drawing together the ongoing work to ensure that
coherent science priorities emerging from the Sector Skills Agreements
are established, and that appropriate actions to address these
priorities are put in place. The Manufacturing Skills Alliance
has already come together to work on key projects, and will continue
to investigate joint working where appropriate.
How should government science and engineering
policy be scrutinised?
28. The Innovation, Universities, Science and
Skills Committee itself is clearly an integral part of the scrutiny
of policy in science and engineering. It has already examined
key areas such as science budget allocations and the future of
the engineering industry. It should continue to hold government
and government bodies to account for their actions which affect
29. The SSC Science Cluster and the Manufacturing
Skills Alliance will be considering all aspects of government
policy which impact on our companies.
30. As an individual SSC, Semta will continue
to respond robustly to consultations and inquiries, drawing on
the views of our companies and our in-house technical expertise.
It is our role to communicate government policy to employers,
to represent their views in a coherent manner to government, and
provide channels of communication between government and business.