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MPs: Government needs chief engineer to advise

Lack of a coherent science and engineering strategy has reduced science and engineering to: “a political bargaining chip” the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills committee of MPs said today.

The committee’s report: “Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy” suggestes a permanent home for the Government Office for Science in the Cabinet Office, and the creation of two new posts - a Government Chief Engineer and a Government Chief Scientist.

Committee chairman Phil Willis said: “My Committee does not underestimate how important the Government believes the role of science and engineering advice to be. We were impressed by evidence demonstrating that significant progress is being made, such as the increasing use of Chief Scientific Advisers.

“We ask that a tangible and ambitious strategy for UK science and engineering policy is developed. The Government has committed to placing science and engineering advice at the heart of policy formulation and now it is time to do so: scrutiny of policy must be strengthened and a clearer vision for the future must be developed,”m he said.

Not all the information the committee found was disheartening - the committee said many of the proposals made in a previous report, “Engineering: turning ideas into reality” had been adopted, but:

“We were disappointed that some key recommendations were not accepted. For example, the Government will not be calling departmental engineering advisers ‘Chief Engineering Advisers’, nor will it move the Government Chief Scientific Adviser and his Government Office for Science into the heart of Government, the Cabinet Office,” reads the report.

However: “A broad vision is missing.”

The committee said that: “The failure to find a stable home for the Government Office for Science has reduced science and engineering advice to, at best, a peripheral policy concern, and, at worst, a political bargaining chip. The Committee directly appeals to the Prime Minister to bring GO-Science into the Cabinet Office and it urges the creation of a Government Chief Engineer and a Government Chief Scientist.”

Government advisor independence should be protected, they said, citing the experience of Professor David Nutt, who was criticised by the Home Secretary for his comments on use of the drug ecstasy. They said such treatment could deter experts from serving on advisory committees.

To conclude, the committe say when the Government: “Turns its attention to updating the Science Framework, we recommend that the Government consult widely with a view to producing a successor ten-year science and engineering strategy that is both tangible and ambitious.

“We suggest that built into this strategy — in the spirit of scientific and engineering endeavour — should be an assessment of what benefits, if any, are delivered by putting science and engineering at the heart of Government policy,” it reads.

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