Memorandum submitted by the Campaign for
Science and Engineering (CaSE) (SAGE 27)
1. The Campaign for Science & Engineering
(CaSE) is a member organisation aiming to improve the scientific
and engineering health of the UK. CaSE works to ensure that science
and engineering are high on the political agenda and that the
UK has world-leading research and education, skilled and responsible
scientists and engineers, and successful innovative business.
It is funded by around 750 individual members and 80 organisations
including industries, universities, learned and professional organisations,
and research charities.
2. We would like to restrict our comments
to general points on the mechanics of scientific advice in emergencies,
rather than the specific case studies.
Question 3. What are the obstacles to obtaining
reliable, timely scientific advice and evidence to inform policy
decisions in emergencies? Has the Government sufficient powers
and resources to overcome the obstacles? For case studies (i)
and (ii) was there sufficient and timely scientific evidence to
inform policy decisions?
3. While the Government has access to scientific
advisers, MPs have fewer resources with which to scrutinize the
scientific basis of Government responses to emergencies. The Parliamentary
Office of Science and Technology (POST) provides independent advice
to parliament to inform parliamentary debate. Its work includes
publishing short briefing notes and more lengthy reports on current
issues, supporting select committees, and horizon scanning. However,
it does not have the remit to provide information as a rapid response
to an emergency.
4. The House of Commons library has a science
and environment section that can respond to MPs' requests for
information, briefings and analysis. The library also produces
reports and standard notes on bills and other topics of public
concernbut it did not publish anything on either the swine
flu pandemic or the Icelandic volcanic ash eruptions. Responses
to MPs requests are confidential so it may be that many requests
for information were made regarding such emergencies, possibly
with much duplication.
5. We recommend that a system is put in
place to provide MPs with rapid independent scientific and expert
briefings on emergencies or other rapidly-developing policy subjects.
This should help to make sure that any relevant debates are suitably
informed and reduce the possible duplication or overlap of requests
submitted to the library.
Question 4. How effective is the strategic
coordination between Government departments, public bodies, private
bodies, sources of scientific advice and the research base in
preparing for and reacting to emergencies?
6. The government can seek scientific advice
in an emergency through its Chief Scientific Adviser and network
of departmental scientific advisers and scientific advisory committees.
Unfortunately the Treasury has still failed to appoint a departmental
scientific adviser, although all other Government departments
now have one and will be able to gain from their insights and
7. Government departments fund research
and development (R&D) out of their departmental budgets to
support their policy analysis, evaluation and development. It
is this capacity for research that is likely to be drawn upon
in developing the scientific background to responses in an emergency.
Unfortunately, this capacity has seriously diminished in recent
yearswith civil departments spending just £1.25 billion
on R&D in 2007-08, compared to £2.08 billion in 2003-04a
decline of over a third.
8. Chapter 3 of the House of Lords Science
and Technology Select Committee's Third Report of Session 2009-10,
Setting Priorities for Publicly Funded Research (HL 104-I),
further makes the point that such departmental spending could
be evaluated better than it currently is. We are not aware that
there is currently an agreed definition of what each department
treats as its "research budget". Given that such spending
forms an important part of the UK's national emergency response
capability, this is a serious concern.
9. Because departments independently allocate
their funds for R&D, there is no mechanism or oversight to
guard against dramatic drops in R&D across the whole. It is
a real risk that departments will see their R&D budgets as
an "easy cut" under the current financial pressures,
leaving the UK vulnerable to future crises needing scientific
input. There should be a mechanism to oversee government departmental
R&D spending to make sure that its capacity does not fall
below minimum levelsthis would also help deal with the
problem of research that does not fall directly into a specific
departmental remits. The Government Office for Science, and in
particular the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, should be
given this role.
10. A possible mechanism would be a central
governmental "research budget", overseen by the Government
Office for Science, which other departments would make bids for,
for specific research projects. This would prevent duplication
of research, raise research standards, allow for strategic planning
and evaluation of research (including inter-departmental priorities),
and provide a guaranteed capacity for research into an emergency
Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE)
14 September 2010