Engineering: turning ideas into reality: Government Response to the Committee's Fourth Report - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Engineering in Government

The Government welcomes the Committee's focus on engineering in Government. Engineering advice is key to good policy and delivery in a huge range of areas from tidal power generation to medicine. The Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA) is working to ensure the good management and use of engineering across Government, and has the Government's full support and confidence in doing this. In doing this he works closely with Departmental Chief Scientific Advisers (DCSAs), a number of whom are engineers.

The Government largely agrees with the Committee's analysis of engineering in Government. In general terms, the Government shares the Committee's view that, although considerable progress has been made, more work is needed to improve the availability, quality and impact of engineering advice.

33. We conclude that engineering advice and scientific advice offer different things to the policy formulation process and that the benefits of both should be recognised. Further, it should not be assumed that a scientific adviser can offer competent engineering advice or even know when it is needed. (Paragraph 248)

The Government agrees that it is important that engineering advice is reflected alongside scientific advice in the formulation of policy and the delivery process. The two are interlinked and complementary.

We respond further to this recommendation together with recommendations 44-48 below.

34. We conclude that the Government, in several policy areas of several departments, does not have sufficient in-house engineering expertise to act as an intelligent customer. (Paragraph 257)

The Government agrees that in-house expertise is an important element of ensuring that Government decision making is informed by the best engineering advice. It is clear that there are insufficient visible and appropriate engineering skills available within Government at present. The Government is determined to find more effective ways to increase the visibility and impact of civil servants with engineering skills and expertise.

The GCSA, in his capacity as Head of Science and Engineering Profession (HoSEP) across Government, is currently consulting OGDs about a Skills Framework for the Science and Engineering Profession within the Professional Skills for Government (PSG) initiative. This Framework will be published by the end of July, and then adopted by all Departments. It will outline the job related professional expertise that scientists and engineers at all grades are expected to have, including whether or not they should have chartered status. We expect this to include requirements to maintain and develop expertise, apply technical knowledge, and improve the profile of engineering and science within departments.

Another key strand is the GCSA's efforts as HoSEP to raise the profile of the Science and Engineering Profession across government. The Government Science and Engineering (GSE) Community was formally launched in January this year and already has around 1,600 members drawn from across Government, but this is not enough. The Government has set a target to increase this number to 5,000 over the next 2 years.

While the PSG and HoSEP agendas will provide a structured way for thinking about engineering capacity and capability within departments, importantly, they will also address policy makers' understanding and appreciation of engineering. We believe that this two-pronged approach is essential to ensuring the effective use of engineering in Government.

That said, the Government is of the view that external advisory bodies are a necessary complement to in-house expertise in ensuring that science and engineering are used effectively across government.

A number of the Government's top-level advisory bodies include prominent engineers within their membership. These include the Council for Science and Technology (CST), Lead Expert Groups on Foresight projects and the Chief Scientific Adviser's Committee (CSAC). Four of the current group of CSAs are engineers by background.

Like the Committee, the Government welcomes the significant improvements made to the effectiveness of the CSAC network under the current GCSA, whose role includes making sure that high quality, wide-ranging engineering advice is sought and used appropriately in policy development.

More widely across government, Departmental Scientific (including Engineering) Advisory Committees and Councils (SACs) provide departments with independent expertise and advice to inform all stages of the policy process and the evidence used to support it.

An important element of delivering engineering advice across government is through ensuring that these SACs operate effectively in all relevant areas. To facilitate more effective management and use of these committees, GO­Science has a programme of events (seminars and workshops) for their Secretariats. In addition the GCSA recently held a networking event for Science Advisory Committee Chairs and Secretariats, which will be repeated annually.

As part of its independent advisory role, the Royal Academy of Engineering provides advice on the membership of Government committees to help ensure that policy debate is informed by the best engineering expertise. This includes formally nominating one member of the Home Office's Science Advisory Committee.

We are currently working on baseline data for the number of engineers working in Government (see response to recommendation 39 below). Once the position is clearer, the GCSA as HoSEP will work with departments to encourage them to ensure that their workforce has sufficient engineering expertise to deliver their department's requirements for both in-house expertise and for engagement with external engineering advisors.

35. The Guidelines on Scientific Analysis in Policy Making should explicitly include engineering advice. We are pleased that Professor Beddington has already agreed to review these guidelines, and suggest that the research and engineering community be consulted on the content of the guidelines. (Paragraph 260)

The Guidelines on Scientific Analysis in Policy Making will be reviewed in 2009­10, taking account of the Committee's comments. This will involve consultation with the science and engineering community.

36. Engineering advice should be sought early in policy formulation and before policy is agreed, not just in project delivery. We recommend that the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Minister for Science and Innovation act as champions in cabinet for the early engagement of engineers in policy making. Further, this issue should also be central to discussions in the Science and Innovation Cabinet Sub-Committee. (Paragraph 265)

The Government agrees that engineering advice should be sought early in policy formulation. The early identification of issues needing specialist advice is a key message of the Guidelines on Scientific Analysis in Policy Making. It is an issue also shared by the other analytical professions and is therefore being looked at in parallel by the Heads of Analysis group, part of whose remit is to improve the effective use of analysis and evidence.

The Minister for Science and Innovation already acts both in public and in Cabinet as an enthusiastic champion for science and engineering, in all aspects of Government. The Minister is personally committed to working continuously to improve the availability, quality and impact of engineering advice within Government. As an engineer himself, he feels very strongly about this issue, and will continue to press his colleagues in Cabinet to ensure it receives the attention that it deserves. As chair of the Science and Innovation (ED(SI)) Cabinet Sub-Committee, he will work to improve not just the engagement of engineers in policy formulation, but the profile and importance of all science and engineering within Government. He will personally ensure that progress is made on this issue as rapidly and effectively as possible.

37. For engineering advice, the Government should consider the Royal Academy of Engineering as its first port of call. The Academy can then bring together the relevant experts, including representation from the relevant professional institutions, to provide impartial, expert and timely input to policy formulation. (Paragraph 272)

The Royal Academy of Engineering is a major source of authoritative, impartial and coherent advice for Government on issues with an engineering dimension, and the Government agrees that it should generally be seen as the first port of call for engineering advice. On issues where there is a good understanding of where to seek advice and where effective working relationships already exist, the Government reserves the right to consult particular Engineering Institutions directly.

38. The Government should set up a Working Group with the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the British Academy and the Academy of Medical Sciences to explore how and whether the relationship between Government and the Academies could be formalised so as to improve policy making. We reiterate the 2006 Science and Technology Committee recommendation that strong consideration should be given to the US model. (Paragraph 273)

The Government accepts that we should continue to strengthen links with the Academies. The advice and guidance provided by the National Academies is invaluable to Government, and there are many examples of that advice improving policy making. Nevertheless, better use could be made of the National Academies, and we will continue to work with the Academies to ensure that our relationships with them are as effective as possible. The Government will be exploring how it can make greater use of these bodies in its response to recommendations made in the CST's 2008 report on How academia and government can work together.

However, the Government is not convinced that formalising these relationships is necessarily likely to improve them. The key challenge, which the Government accepts, is the timely identification of when advice is needed, and what advice is required, on a case-by-case basis. An overly formal relationship could even hinder the flexible and responsive way in which Government needs to work with the Academies to meet this challenge.

39. We reiterate the 2006 Science and Technology Committee's previous recommendation that: "the Government implement the 2002 recommendation of the Cross-Cutting Review of Science and Research to maintain records on specialist staff in order to identify their qualities and experience". (Paragraph 281)

Government shares the Committee's concern that engineers should be more visible, better utilised and better developed in the civil service. Government is working as a matter of urgency to address these problems.

One key issue highlighted by the Committee is the need for collection of better data on the numbers of engineers (and scientists) in the civil service, and on their skills and experience. Without knowledge of what expertise is available, it is not possible to make best use of it—or to plan properly to secure the right level of such expertise in future. Government accepts that the current data are not adequate and must be improved.

In March this year Government Skills launched a Skills Survey that will be a significant step forward in obtaining professional workforce data across Government. The Skills Survey will report in the autumn and, in particular, it should aid identification of staff with engineering and science backgrounds who are currently working in areas such as policy or operational delivery.

Although the Skills Survey will improve the data available in this area, it was not specifically designed to gather information on engineering and science or other specialist qualifications. The then Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) launched on 3rd June a more detailed and comprehensive Skills Audit of its staff against PSG criteria, as part of which every member of the former DIUS has been asked to record their highest academic or professional qualification and its subject. In addition, this survey allows members of all professions to highlight details of their engineering and science experience. This information will be personal and will be shared with line managers. Aggregated data will be available to others. This audit of former DIUS staff builds on a similar exercise carried out by the Department for Children Schools and Families, which achieved a 99% return rate. Completion of the audits of SDCFS and former DIUS staff should demonstrate the value of recording this sort of information to other Departments.

Once the data are clearer, the GCSA will work with the HoSEP network to ensure that departments have plans in place to ensure that they have access to an appropriate level of both in-house and external engineering expertise to deliver their remits. We will report back to the Committee's successor with proposed next steps later in the year when the results of both the Government-wide Skills Survey and the Skills Audit of former DIUS staff are available.

On the specific issue of the number of scientists and engineers in the Senior Civil Service (para 285), the GCSA stands by his interpretation of the Cabinet Office figures that, as a starting point, the number of scientists and engineers compares reasonably with other professions (whether one considers the 2007 as he used in his evidence or the 2008 data that that Committee used). The data does not allow accurate comparisons to be made between professions, given the substantial numbers in the "policy delivery", "operational delivery" and "unknown" categories are likely to include unknown numbers of individuals with engineering, science and other qualifications.

40. The Government could promote the importance of professional accreditation in engineering by insisting that staff and consultants in technical roles are chartered. Additionally, the Government should keep proper records of the professional qualifications of its staff so as to improve its human resources information and continuing professional development. (Paragraph 284)

Each role within the Civil Service requires a particular set of skills. In some cases, a Chartered Engineer will be required. At least six departments have posts for which chartered status is a prerequisite; there are over 700 such jobs in the MoD alone. However, other roles might require a different skill set. While the Government fully recognise the benefits and value of this qualification, it would not seem sensible to exclude a well-qualified candidate with valuable engineering experience on the grounds that they were not chartered if the role did not require someone qualified to Chartered Engineer status.

Where appropriate, Government departments support their staff in maintaining their professional memberships and qualifications. Decisions on this are made a local level, based on both business objectives and the individual's needs, which may mean that chartership (either Chartered Scientist or Chartered Engineer) is required for some posts but not others. As Head of Science and Engineering Profession, the GCSA is currently refreshing and extending (to grades below Grade 7) the Skills Framework for Government Scientists and Engineers, which forms part of the PSG initiative. This document emphasises the importance of continuing professional development, with a suggestion that chartership is a reasonable goal.

The new Science and Engineering Assurance exercises (which replace the Science Review Programme) will look at departments' science and engineering capacity and capability and will help departments to focus on areas where improvements might be made. Drawing on these, Lord Drayson and the GCSA will work with colleagues on the ED(SI) Cabinet Sub-committee to establish where in Government additional engineering resource is needed and how best to provide it.

41. The Government claims that the Science and Engineering Fast Stream is highly valued, yet only four departments recruit from it. We ask the Government to explain why this situation has arisen and what steps it plans to take to ensure that all Departments recruit from the Science and Engineering Fast Stream. (Paragraph 287)

42. There should be more trained and experienced engineers in the civil service at all levels. One way of helping to achieve this would be to expand and adapt the Science and Engineering Fast Stream (SEFS) so that more scientists and engineers are recruited, more departments recruit from this cohort and SEFS recruits have the option to pursue careers as policy specialists. We also recommend that the Government prioritise training in the civil service to improve the ability of generalist civil servants to identify issues where engineering advice will be critical to the viability of a policy. (Paragraph 291)

[Combined response to recommendations 41 & 42]

The Government agrees the there is great value in bringing in talented staff who have engineering experience. The Science and Engineering Fast Stream (SEFS) is one of doing this, and it is indeed highly valued.

The Cabinet Office recruits Science and Engineering Fast Streamers (SEFSers) through the Graduate Fast Stream (GFS) scheme in response to requests from departments, and it is for individual departments to decide whether they need to recruit SEFSers and how many they need each year. It is open to all Government departments to recruit to SEFS if they wish; currently four departments do so and other departments have done so in previous years.

The Committee recommends that SEFSers should have the option to pursue careers as policy specialists. This is already available to them through SEFS. SEFS is an option within the GFS for people with science and engineering degrees who do not wish to pursue a career as a scientist or engineer, but who would like to put their scientific or engineering background to use while working in Policy Delivery or Operational Delivery like other Graduate Fast Streamers. There are other schemes operated in individual departments, such as MoD, for graduate scientists and engineers who wish to work in their specialist disciplines.

The GFS—including the SEFS—is a highly effective way of bringing high calibre, high performing graduates into departments. As part of the GCSA and HoSEP's objectives to raise the profile of science and engineering across Government, GO-Science will be talking to the Cabinet Office this year to explore how they can better promote the SEFS. The Government would welcome a wider distribution of SEFSers across departments for the particular skillset they bring and will continue working to ensure the scheme attracts the best applicants and to encourage more departments to take SEFSers.

More broadly, GO-Science has also been working with the other analytical professions and the National School of Government to ensure that generalist civil servants are able to identify when engineering advice is needed and how to obtain it. As part of this ongoing effort, a short guidance document Analysis and Use of Evidence (Research and analysis in government) has recently been published.

43. The Government should seek ways to improve the career flexibility between industry and the public sector. Both sides would benefit: engineers from the private sector would improve their understanding of Government, and civil servants would improve their understanding of industry; additionally, the public sector would benefit from using the skills of engineers who have managed major projects in the private sector. (Paragraph 295)

The Government strongly favours the career flexibility proposed by the Committee. Departments already operate a range of schemes for secondments to and from the private sector, which are complemented by schemes for academics to work in departments.

As one example, engineers, scientists and surveyors on the Defence Engineering and Science Group's Graduate Trainee Scheme to undertake secondment to MOD's Trading Funds and Agencies; industry and other Government Departments, as well as international secondments (US DoD and NATO). 42 MoD staff were seconded to industry on this scheme during 2008.

GO-Science and the Royal Society launched a new Civil Servant-Scientist pairing scheme in January 2009. The aim of the scheme is to support and promote wider understanding of science and how this feeds into the policy process. GO-Science will explore the potential to expand this scheme with the Royal Academy of Engineering.

This issue is being looked at further in the response to the CST's 2008 report on How academia and government can work together

44. We share our predecessor Committee's concern that the Treasury does not have scientific or engineering advice at the highest level. The Treasury should appoint both a Chief Scientific Adviser and a Chief Engineering Adviser. (Paragraph 299)

45. The Government could easily support its claim to recognise the importance of engineering and engineers by appointing Chief Engineering Advisers, at a minimum in positions where existing Chief Scientific Advisers act as Chief Engineering Advisers. (Paragraph 305)

46. The Government has argued on several occasions that 'science' includes engineering, and therefore there is no need for a Chief Engineer. But it also argues that 'science' includes social science and statistics, yet there is a Chief Social Scientist and a National Statistician. The Government's position is illogical. (Paragraph 306)

47. Some departments should have Departmental Chief Engineering Advisers (DCEAs), some Departmental Chief Scientific Advisers (DCSAs), and some should have both. The Government Chief Scientific Adviser should liaise with Departments to determine which arrangement is most appropriate. (Paragraph 307)

48. The role of the GCSA should be altered. We suggest that the GCSA should be renamed the Government Chief Scientific and Engineering Adviser (GCSEA). This person would be the head of profession for science, engineering, social science and statistics and should have a more senior role in the Government with direct access to the Prime Minister. The GCSEA would head up the Government Office for Science and Engineering, which should be placed in the Cabinet Office. Beneath the GCSEA should be a Government Chief Engineer, a Government Chief Scientist and a Government Chief Social Scientist. We recommend that the Government implement these changes as a priority. (Paragraph 313)

[Combined response to recommendations 33, 4-48]

The Government accepts that, although considerable progress has been made ensuring that appropriate scientific and engineering advice is available to Departments, there remains room for improvement and it is fully confident in the ability of the GCSA to take this forward within the newly formed Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

It is the central responsibility of each departmental CSA to ensure that appropriate scientific advice is taken into account by their Department when it is required. The GCSA oversees this capability for Government as a whole. The nature of the advice required will vary between situations, and may include engineering advice, as it might include advice on social science, statistics, economics, medicine or any other scientific discipline. Each of these disciplines has its own features. The DCSA does not provide all of this advice personally; it would be impossible for any one person to have expertise in all relevant areas. Rather, the role of the DCSA is to consult with experts both within Government and outside to identify what advice is needed, and to obtain it.

Nearly all major science-using departments now have departmental CSAs in place, or are recruiting them. GO-Science are in discussion with Treasury over the role that a Treasury CSA might take. DCSAs cover both science and engineering as part of their remits; it is part of this role to ensure that each department has sufficient expertise and capacity to manage and use the engineering advice it needs. It is also noteworthy that the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Department for Transport (DfT), the Department for International Development (DFID) and Communities and Local Government (CLG) currently have engineers and/or Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering (FREngs) in the DCSA role. And past GCSAs have included Sir John Fairclough and Sir Robin Nicholson, who were engineers.

There many individuals within the Civil Service who are specifically appointed for their expertise in a particular area. The Committee rightly identifies some of these: for example the National Statistician for statistics. Examples for engineering would include the many holders of posts for which Chartered Engineer status is a prerequisite. The Government recognises and values the contribution made by the holders of these specialist posts. The role of the GCSA and of departmental CSAs are fundamentally different. They are not appointed for their personal specialist expertise (although this may often be valuable), but rather for their ability to marshal advice from all of the other specialists, both inside and outside Government, to provide whatever scientific advice their Department requires across the full spectrum of science and engineering.

The Government does not therefore accept the case for separate Chief Engineering Advisers at Government-wide or departmental levels. The Committee's proposals would involve additional management layers and complication which would likely be counter-productive and confusing. The Government does however accept the need to build stronger links between the different parts of the evidence base: this is a priority for departments and DCSAs. The GCSA works through the Chief Scientific Advisers Committee (CSAC) and its sub-committees to facilitate interdepartmental working and knowledge sharing, and seeks to improve interdisciplinary working with the other analytic professions through GO­Science's Foresight Programme and his active participation in the Heads of Analysis group.

Having said that, the, title and responsibilities of the GCSA and the GO­Science are a matter for the Prime Minister and will be kept under review.

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