Engineering in government: follow up to the 2009 report on Engineering: turning ideas into reality - Science and Technology Committee Contents


2  Engineering in Government

3.  We chose to focus on two key areas in this short follow-up report: engineers in the civil service and Chief Scientific Advisers to Government. However we begin by briefly examining changes in the professional engineering community. The 2009 Engineering report noted the Government had many organisations to which it could turn for specialist engineering advice and recommended that:

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.[4]

We invited Philip Greenish, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, to comment on whether the Government viewed the Academy as its first port of call for engineering advice and he stated:

In reasonably large measure, yes. [...] we have seen quite a substantial change in how the Government looks to the engineering profession and, perhaps even more so, how the engineering profession organises itself so that it can support and respond to Government's needs. At about the time that that report was being concluded, we set up two particular groups across the whole of the professional engineering community in order to provide that single point of entry for those in Government who wish to access engineering advice through the professional engineering community. [...]

We called the two bodies we set up Engineering the Future, which is the entry point and the body for general policy advice and public affairs activities that we do jointly, and E4E, which means Education for Engineering, which we set up specifically to provide co-ordinated advice from the engineering profession on all education matters that are relevant to the formation of engineers. In the last three to four years, those two bodies have started to work, I believe, very effectively and are being used by people in Government. The Academy is being used as the entry point through those mechanisms for advice.[5]

The Engineering the Future (ETF) alliance comprises 37 professional engineering institutions and associated bodies, with a combined membership of around 450,000 engineers.[6] Sir John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA) told us that the Royal Academy of Engineering was generally the first port of call for engineering advice, but added that "a particular issue might be a civil engineering or mechanical engineering matter, and we might at some levels go directly to the appropriate institution".[7]

4.  We commend the work of the Engineering the Future alliance in coordinating engineering advice for government.

The civil service

5.  A key focus of the 2009 Engineering report was the need for government to act as an intelligent customer for engineering advice. This means "having civil service staff who are able to understand and evaluate engineering advice".[8] The report stated that, with the focus strongly on evidence-based policy, the civil service should have amongst its staff engineers who were able to source and assess technical evidence.[9]

6.  Unfortunately, at the time of the previous inquiry, our predecessor Committee found that nobody knew how many civil servants had scientific or engineering backgrounds because, in contrast to the economist and statistician classes, government had "kept no central record of engineers in Government since the mid-1980s".[10] The report recommended that the Government maintain records on specialist staff in order to identify their qualities and experience,[11] and since 2009, the GCSA has been developing a cross-government community of scientists and engineers: the Government Science and Engineering (GSE) community. The Government's written submission to this inquiry stated that there are currently around 1,100 people in GSE with an engineering background, out of a total of about 3,500.[12] However, the GSE community is self nominating[13] and therefore cannot be taken as an accurate count of the number of engineers in the civil service.

7.  The roles of engineers in the civil service are as important as the numbers, and a particular concern during the 2009 Engineering inquiry was that engineering did not feature highly enough in policy development.[14] Despite government guidelines stating that departments should ensure they had sufficient in-house scientific and engineering capability to act as an intelligent customer of research and advice, the ETF alliance of professional engineering organisations had "yet to see the results of a shift in culture and practice being implemented across government, especially in the case of engineering advice relating to project management and policy delivery".[15] Imperial College London considered that engineering expertise and advice should be built into policy formulation processes at all levels of Government and government agencies and suggested that this could be achieved by the use of secondments of engineers from academia and industry.[16] Sir John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA) considered that seconding engineers from academia and industry into government was "a really interesting idea and one that we should follow up".[17]

8.  In October 2011, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) advertised for a new Head of Engineering, a post that would report to its Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA).[18] DECC was also recruiting: nine further engineers; a Chief Technology Officer; a Technical Architect; and two engineers or scientists to work in the Office of Renewable Energy Deployment.[19] The ETF alliance welcomed this progress, and in particular the requirement for the Head of Engineering to be a chartered engineer, explaining that "the experience of Chartered Engineers in delivering projects and their ability to think at a systems level mean that engineers in the civil service can make valuable contributions right through the policymaking and policy delivery cycles".[20] The ETF alliance stated that chartered engineers were, at the time of the previous report, "predominantly employed in agencies tasked with policy delivery, rarely in central departments able to advise on policy development".[21] Imperial College London stated that while posts such as DECC's new Head of Engineering "can provide some assurance to senior Ministers that the advice they receive makes scientific and engineering sense, these posts cannot plausibly scrutinise all the engineering decisions taken by central Departments and their many agencies".[22]

9.  We asked Philip Greenish, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, whether the Government acted as an intelligent customer for engineering advice and he replied:

In parts, but it has been hampered by reductions in numbers in Government Departments, so they have not been free to recruit large numbers of engineers to enable them to fulfil that role since the last report. Progress is being made.[23]

In response to the same question, Chris Aylett, Chief Executive of the Motorsport Industry Association (MIA), praised the work of the Ministry of Defence.[24] In relation to spending cuts to departments, Sir John told us that, although there had been cuts in individual departments, they had not been disproportionate and the numbers of engineers were not being disproportionately cut compared with scientists or general policy officials.[25]

10.  Mr Greenish told us that while there was "undoubtedly, a much greater recognition" within Government of the importance of engineering, he was not "entirely happy" that "the follow-through does not quite match the rhetoric yet".[26] For example, he was critical of the Government's recent policies on higher education reforms and expressed concerns that they would provide disincentives for universities to recruit students to engineering degrees.[27] Both Mr Greenish and Mr Aylett were additionally concerned about the possible removal of design and technology from schools' curriculums as a result of the English Baccalaureate[28]—a new performance measure introduced in the 2010 performance tables that recognises grades across a specified number of core GCSE subjects, not including Design and Technology.[29] Given that the 2009 Engineering report concluded that "the key to solving sector-specific shortages of engineers will ultimately lie in the UK's ability to train the next generation of generalist engineers",[30] this could be a concern for the future of UK engineering. We note that the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee is currently conducting an inquiry on Higher Education in STEM subjects.[31] We plan to revisit the topic of engineering skills in future.

11.  Since the 2009 Engineering report it would appear that progress has been made in recognising the importance of engineering in the civil service. We are pleased that the Government has begun identifying engineers in the civil service, albeit through a self-nominating group. However, it is not clear whether enough engineers in the civil service are being employed in policy development as well as policy delivery and we invite the Government to provide us with a breakdown of the roles of engineers in the GSE community as an indicator.

12.  We welcome the recruitment of a Head of Engineering to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. However, given that few other examples of good practice were highlighted during our inquiry, we are concerned that DECC's recognition of the need for engineering expertise may be the exception rather than the rule across Government Departments.

Chief Scientific Advisers

13.  A key route for engineering advice into Government is through its network of Chief Scientific Advisers (CSAs) to Departments. The 2009 Engineering report examined the role and effectiveness of CSAs in detail. In summary, our predecessor Committee concluded that:

a)  Some departments should have Departmental Chief Engineering Advisers (DCEAs), some Departmental Chief Scientific Advisers (DCSAs), and some should have both.[32]

b)  the Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA) should be renamed the Government Chief Scientific and Engineering Adviser (GCSEA), and would be the head of profession for science, engineering, social science and statistics, with a more senior role in the Government with direct access to the Prime Minister.[33]

c)  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.[34]

14.  To date, these recommendations have not been adopted by the Government. We asked Philip Greenish, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, whether he considered the current system provided sufficient engineering advice to departments, and he stated that "we have moved on a long way and very positively since that report".[35] He commended Sir John Beddington, the current GCSA, who had "taken great care to make sure that engineers are well represented at the level of Departmental Chief Scientific Advisers" and "clearly views himself as a Government Chief Engineering Adviser as well".[36] However, the Royal Academy of Engineering thought it would be very beneficial to have a Government Chief Engineering Adviser, and that the structure proposed by the previous Committee "had a lot to commend it".[37] The Government's written submission pointed out that a number of CSAs were professional engineers and stated:

It remains the case that the Government is not persuaded of the need to introduce Chief Engineering Adviser positions alongside CSAs. Engineering advice, which is distinct from and complementary to science advice, is an important element of the role of the GCSA and of departmental CSAs. The role of CSAs is to ensure both are fed in to policy and operations as necessary. [...] specific engineering adviser posts exist where there is a requirement.[38]

Sir John Beddington stated that "if a Department has a Chief Scientific Adviser who is an engineer, then replication will not be necessary. It is very much for the Department's chief scientific adviser and permanent secretary and the departmental board to take a view" and added that "the entire community of chief scientific advisers recognises how important engineering is".[39]

15.  We reiterate our predecessor Committee's view that the Government Chief Scientific Adviser should be a Government Chief Scientific and Engineering Adviser, overseeing a Government Chief Engineer, a Government Chief Scientist and a Government Chief Social Scientist. The Prime Minister should give consideration to this proposed structure when considering Sir John Beddington's successor in the post of Government Chief Scientific Adviser.

16.  Our predecessor Committee concluded that "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".[40] While we support this recommendation, we recognise that it may be economically unfeasible or risk a duplication of effort to appoint Chief Engineering Advisers alongside Chief Scientific Advisers in all departments. However, we consider that in departments where engineering advice is routinely required, the Government should consider appointing a Chief Engineering Adviser instead of, or in addition to, a Chief Scientific Adviser.

COUNCIL FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

17.  During our follow-up inquiry we discussed scientific advisory committees (SACs), in particular the Council for Science and Technology (CST), a committee that advises the Prime Minister and is co-chaired by the GCSA. There are currently seven engineers on the CST (out of a total of 20, including Co-chairs and ex officio members).[41] In response to criticisms that policies are too often developed without consideration of the engineering perspective, Sir John stated "I don't think that it is a problem" and gave the example of the President of the Royal Academy of Engineering being an ex officio member of the CST.[42] We delved further into the membership of the CST and asked Sir John how the balance of expertise was decided. He responded that there was no decision as to the balance of expertise:

[A shortlist of 12] went to the Prime Minister, because it is his council, and he chose the final 11 members. As it happened, quite a few of them [six] were eminent engineers. [...] We did not set out by saying that that was what we wanted [...] It would be really pernicious to formalise it. The criterion has to be excellence.[43]

We were slightly surprised by this response, given that the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees (CoPSAC) states that:

The SAC Chair, secretariat and Departmental CSA (or relevant senior official for non-departmental sponsors) should discuss and agree areas of expertise required in advance of appointments. These should be reflected in Person Specifications produced and checked to ensure consistency with the committee's Terms of Reference.[44]

When we asked Sir John about the CoPSAC's requirement that members' areas of expertise should be agreed in advance of appointment, he replied:

For science advisory committees, that is relevant, but the CST is rather special. [...] I chaired Defra's science advisory council for a while, and it was very clear that we needed an epidemiologist—someone who could comment on some of the key issues of livestock disease that Defra has. [...] When recruiting, we specified that we wanted someone with that background. [...] in the science advisory councils you are seeking particular expertise and it is therefore sensible to do it. [...] I believe that the Council of Science and Technology is different. It would be an odd composition if that council did not have a number of people from business, no one with engineering or a mainstream science background, and did not have anyone with a social research background. But the actual balance is not there.[45]

18.  We are satisfied that the Council for Science and Technology (CST) has sufficient representation of engineers amongst its membership. However, it is unclear whether the CST adheres to the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees (CoPSAC). The Government should clarify this immediately. If the CoPSAC does not apply to the CST, the rationale must be made clear and a code of practice for the CST should be published.


4   Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Fourth Report of session 2008-09, Engineering: turning ideas into reality, HC 50-I, para 272 Back

5   Q 2 Back

6   "Partners", Engineering the Future, engineeringthefuture.co.uk Back

7   Q 30 Back

8   Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Fourth Report of session 2008-09, Engineering: turning ideas into reality, HC 50-I, para 255 Back

9   Ibid. Back

10   Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Fourth Report of session 2008-09, Engineering: turning ideas into reality, HC 50-I, paras 274-275 Back

11   Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Fourth Report of session 2008-09, Engineering: turning ideas into reality, HC 50-I, para 281 Back

12   Ev14 para 10 Back

13   "Government Science and Engineering (GSE)", Government Office for Science, bis.gov.uk Back

14   Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Fourth Report of session 2008-09, Engineering: turning ideas into reality, HC 50-I, HC 50-I  Back

15   Ev29 para 1.1 Back

16   Ev w2 para 9 Back

17   Q 41 Back

18   Ev 14 Back

19   Ev 15 para 19 Back

20   Ev 29 para 1.1 Back

21   Ibid. Back

22   Ev w1 para 7 Back

23   Q 19 Back

24   Ibid. Back

25   Q 40 Back

26   Q 9 Back

27   Q 10 Back

28   Q 11 Back

29   "The English Baccalaureate", The Department for Education, 26 January 2012, education.gov.uk Back

30   Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Fourth Report of session 2008-09, Engineering: turning ideas into reality, HC 50-I, para 331 Back

31   "Higher Education in STEM subjects", House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, parliament.uk/hlscience Back

32   Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Fourth Report of session 2008-09, Engineering: turning ideas into reality, HC 50-I, para 307 Back

33   Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Fourth Report of session 2008-09, Engineering: turning ideas into reality, HC 50-I, para 313 Back

34   Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Fourth Report of session 2008-09, Engineering: turning ideas into reality, HC 50-I, para 313 Back

35   Q 13 Back

36   Ibid. Back

37   Ibid. Back

38   Ev14 para 9 Back

39   Q 44 Back

40   Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Fourth Report of session 2008-09, Engineering: turning ideas into reality, HC 50-I, para 305 Back

41   "Members", Council for Science and Technology, bis.gov.uk/cst Back

42   Q 33 Back

43   Qq 46-47 Back

44   "Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees", Government Office for Science, 2011, bis.gov.uk Back

45   Q 48 Back


 
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Prepared 30 April 2012