The role and functions of departmental Chief Scientific Advisers - Science and Technology Committee Contents

CHAPTER 5: Conclusions and Recommendations

Functions and recruitment of Chief Scientific Advisers


122.  Each department has a different organisational structure and arrangement for the management of science: some departments manage research and evidence gathering in a central team, others manage it within policy programmes. This variation in arrangements for the management of science across departments, alongside the different remit of each department, has led us to conclude that some flexibility should be afforded to departments to allow them to tailor the CSA post to their individual needs (paragraph 27).

123.  There are a number of "essential characteristics" which we have concluded must be present, irrespective of a department's structure and science management arrangements, if a CSA is to discharge his or her core functions effectively. These include personal characteristics of a CSA (see Recommendation 1 below) and characteristics of the institutional arrangements in relation to the post itself (see Recommendations in Chapters 3 and 4 below) (paragraph 28).


124.  The primary essential characteristic of all CSAs is that they must have standing and authority within the scientific community, nationally and internationally. This will, amongst other things, help ensure that the CSA is able to access a wide range of expertise. In addition, a CSA should be able to demonstrate the following:

  • an ability to engage in effective dialogue with internal and external stakeholders, including academia, industry and the wider public;
  • an ability to work in and manage a multi-disciplinary team;
  • an understanding of the policy environment;
  • an ability to evaluate evidence and to weigh up conflicting evidence from a wide range of disciplines; and
  • an understanding of project delivery.

We recommend that all departmental recruitment processes for CSAs should be designed to ensure that candidates selected possess these characteristics (paragraph 37). (Recommendation 1)


125.  We considered whether recruitment of a candidate who is able to demonstrate the characteristics described in Recommendation 1 necessarily excludes internal candidates and entails appointment of either an external candidate or a candidate with a substantial and recent background based outside the civil service. We have concluded that it does and recommend accordingly (paragraph 45). (Recommendation 2)


126.  We recommend that:

(a)  Subject to paragraph (b) below, CSAs should be employed by their departments on a part-time basis to afford them the opportunity to maintain their links with academia, or industry, or both.

(b)  Exceptionally, some CSAs are required to undertake major management or professional functions. In these circumstances it is likely that their appointments will need to be full-time. None the less, provision should be made to enable them to maintain their links with academia, or industry, or both.

(c)  CSAs ought to work exclusively in their role as CSA for the equivalent of at least three days a week.

(d)  CSAs should be appointed for a three year period, with the possibility of renewal (paragraph 54). (Recommendation 3)

127.  There are, at present, a small number of CSAs who combine their role as CSA with other significant departmental roles (see paragraph 47). Having concluded that CSAs should work at least three days a week exclusively in their capacity as CSA, we question whether combining such significant roles in this way can be appropriate. In raising this issue, we mean no criticism at all of the current incumbents. We recommend, however, that the GCSA and Head of the Civil Service, at the earliest opportunity, review these arrangements in consultation with the relevant Secretaries of State and departmental Permanent Secretaries (paragraph 55). (Recommendation 4)


128.  We recommend that the GCSA (as Head of Profession for Science and Engineering across government) should sit on all CSA interview panels. We also recommend that an external scientist should sit on these panels (paragraph 57). (Recommendation 5)

Engagement with the policy process and departmental evidence quality assurance


129.  We share the view of those witnesses who argued that CSAs should be involved early and throughout the policy process. CSA involvement in the policy submission sign-off chain would be a useful method for ensuring that this happened. We recommend therefore that in all departments CSAs should be consulted by policy officials early and throughout the policy process, and that all CSAs form part of the departmental policy submission sign-off chain (paragraph 64). (Recommendation 6)


130.  We recommend that CSAs should have a right of direct access to ministers to ensure that they can challenge effectively at the highest level. By direct access we mean that CSAs should be able to see ministers at the prompting of the CSA and as often as judged necessary by the CSA (paragraph 68). (Recommendation 7)


131.  In order to assist CSAs in expressing disagreement with policy decisions, we recommend that a set of guidelines for CSAs be developed by the GCSA and Head of the Civil Service, similar in content and aim to The Principles of Scientific Advice to Government and The GCSA's Guidelines on the Use of Scientific and Engineering Advice in Policy Making. These guidelines should contain a protocol for CSAs to follow in circumstances where they disagree with ministers or civil servants regarding a departmental policy decision (paragraph 73). (Recommendation 8)


132.  We recommend that all CSAs should be graded at either Permanent Secretary level or the level immediately below Permanent Secretary (that is, Director General or departmental equivalent) to ensure that they have the authority and ability to work across the whole department (paragraph 76). (Recommendation 9)

133.  The CSA post in the MoD has been downgraded from Permanent Secretary level to Director General (the equivalent in military terms of a downgrade from a four star to a three star post). Whilst we have concluded that, generally, a CSA can discharge his or her functions effectively at Director General level (see Recommendation 9), we share the view of a number of witnesses that, in the particular circumstances of the MoD, the re-grading is likely to make it more difficult for the CSA to exercise influence both within the department and in the broader scientific and commercial communities (paragraph 78).


134.  We recommend that, in addition to membership of key departmental committees, the post of CSA should carry with it a seat on the departmental Board on the grounds that membership would:

  • enable oversight of the department and knowledge of its future plans;
  • provide an opportunity to challenge policy with evidence;
  • provide a mechanism to assure the use of scientific evidence across their department; and
  • give CSAs the authority to work across the department (paragraph 86). (Recommendation 10)

Support and resources for CSAs


135.  We recommend that all CSAs are allocated a dedicated, ring-fenced fund by their departments to enable them, where they judge necessary, to commission research or to convene groups of experts. The size of the fund should be determined in consultation with the GCSA and should be evaluated as part of the proposed annual assessments by the GCSA (see Recommendation 16 below) (paragraph 91). (Recommendation 11)

136.  CSAs have a valuable contribution to make to the process for prioritising and allocating research spend. We recommend therefore that CSAs, where they do not manage departmental research spend, should have a formal role in decision making about departmental research spend (paragraph 96). (Recommendation 12)


137.  We recommend that each department should evaluate whether the departmental CSA has adequate staff to give the CSA the capacity to discharge his or her functions effectively. The adequacy of the staff provision for each CSA should form part of the proposed annual assessments by the GCSA (see Recommendation 16 below) (paragraph 98). (Recommendation 13)


138.  We commend CSAs and the Chief Scientific Advisers Committee (CSAC), under the leadership of Professor Sir John Beddington, for building effective working relationships with the Academies and encourage them to continue building on these relationships. The relationship between CSAC and industry is also important. We recommend that, as a priority, CSAC should develop similar links with industry (paragraph 101). (Recommendation 14)


139.  We commend Professor Sir John Beddington and CSAC for their cross-departmental work to date. We would encourage the GCSA, as part of his or her oversight of scientific advice to government, to take steps to ensure that the full range of expertise within CSAC is used effectively, to continue to promote cross-departmental collaboration through CSAs, and to inform the scientific community, and wider public, of these efforts (paragraph 104).


140.  We welcome the GSCA's commitment to promote engagement with the engineering community, and note with approval that the GCSA is Head of both the Science and Engineering Profession. We also welcome the recent appointment of engineers to the post of CSAs to BIS and DfT (paragraph 107).


141.  We welcome the Government's positive, albeit tentative, response to our recent recommendation in our report on behaviour change that they should appoint a Chief Social Science Adviser. Given the all-pervasive importance of social science advice to policy making in all departments, we remain of the view that at the earliest opportunity the Government should appoint a Chief Social Scientist, reporting to the GCSA, to ensure the provision of robust and independent social scientific advice. The Chief Social Science Adviser should meet the same criteria we propose for CSAs in Recommendation 1 (paragraph 114). (Recommendation 15)


142.  We recommend that the GCSA, GO Science and the Head of the Civil Service undertake an evaluation of departmental scientific advisory bodies with overarching responsibility (described in paragraph 102), consider whether they offer the most effective mechanisms for external critique and review of departmental use of science, and make proposals for improvement (paragraph 116). (Recommendation 16)

143.  We consider the chairmanship of the Home Office Scientific Advisory Committee (HOSAC) by the departmental Permanent Secretary to be inappropriate. We recommend that, instead, the chairman should be an external, expert appointee (paragraph 116). (Recommendation 17)


144.  We recommend that departments should publish follow-up reports on steps they have taken to address issues identified in SEA reviews (paragraph 117). (Recommendation 18)


145.  We recommend that the GCSA should undertake annual assessments of the performance of CSAs, to feed into the annual appraisal report undertaken by the Permanent Secretary. We recommend that the assessments should cover the following:

  • development and maintenance of effective links by the CSA with the relevant science and industrial communities;
  • frequency and efficacy of CSA engagement with the policy process;
  • CSA efforts to promote the value of the use of quality scientific evidence across his or her department;
  • contribution of the CSA to the work of CSAC and consultation with other CSAs on relevant issues;
  • sufficiency of CSA's staff and budget;
  • the CSA's work to provide scrutiny of departmental research budgets; and
  • external critique offered to the CSA's work (paragraph 121). (Recommendation 19)

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