Memorandum submitted by the National Physical
Laboratory (SAGE 03)
Input to the Science and Technology Committee
Inquiry on: Science advice and evidence in emergencies
The National Physical Laboratory welcomes the
opportunity to make an input to the Science and Technology Committee
inquiry on Scientific advice and evidence in emergencies.
We respond to just one of the Inquiries questions, question 4
about strategic coordination.
The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is the
UK's national measurement institute (NMI) and sits at the intersection
between scientific discovery and real world application. Its expertise
and original research have underpinned quality of life, innovation
and competitiveness for UK citizens and business for more than
NPL develops and maintains the nation's
primary measurement standards, supporting an infrastructure of
traceable measurement throughout the UK and the world to ensure
accuracy and consistencya necessary foundation for a technologically
NPL provides companies with access to
world leading support and technical expertise, inspiring the absolute
measurement confidence required to realise competitive advantage
from new materials, techniques and technologies.
NPL has a GOCO structureGovernment
owned, contractor operated.
It is estimated by government economists that
the UK's National Measurement System, of which NPL is the main
provider, generates benefits of up to £2 billion p.a. to
On the strength of its NMI capabilities, NPL
also plays a broader national role, supporting the policy objectives
of BIS and other government departments with leading edge science.
For example it is a partner in more than 30 Technology Strategy
Board collaborative R&D projects and manages two of the national
Knowledge Transfer Networks, supporting the Technology Strategy
Board's aim to make the UK a global leader in innovation. It also
provides Defra with a suite of scientific services concerned with
How effective is the strategic coordination between
Government departments, public bodies, sources of scientific advice
and the research base in preparing for and reacting to emergencies?
At present BIS and other government departments
make relatively little use of NPL except for its core purpose
of delivering the NMS. This is a missed opportunity, not matched
by our competitors in Europe and the USA. For example:
In the USA our sister laboratory, the
National Institute of Standards and Technology, supports the US
government well beyond measurement, including policy development
where there is a strong science and technology component. It is
located within the Department of Commerce but is funded directly
by other US government departments who exploit its capabilities
for their own purposes. For example it led studies that investigated
the cause of the collapse of the World Trade Centre in New York
after the terrorist attack on 9/11.
NPL is just one of about 160 UK Public Sector
Research Establishments (PSREs) that provide expert and independent
advice to government. These PSREs provide an under-utilised and
strategically poorly-coordinated source for expert scientific
advice for government, which could be organised to provide essential
advice to government in times of emergency. However, currently
the body of PSREs is poorly coordinated so that it is difficult
for government to identify quickly from where appropriate advice
can be obtained. The PSREs are generally associated with a particular
government department, hindering the access of advice that in
emergencies often needs to cross-departmental boundaries.
Our view is that a core group of these PSREs
should be developed as National Laboratories becoming an
effective network enabling pan-government solutions to strategic,
economic, social and environmental problems of vital national
and international importance, including providing expert scientific
advice for national emergencies.
National Physical Laboratory
26 August 2010