The UK needs a bigger role for science in government, says its chief scientist

Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief science adviser, says every government department needs to take science to heart and invest more in research and development to boost growth

New Scientist Live

October 9, 2022

Patrick Vallance speaking on New Scientist Live

Tim Boddy

Science, technology and engineering thinking must be embedded at the heart of every government department, says Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief science adviser.

Placing a higher priority on science will lead to greater military security, greater resilience to future threats from pandemics and climate change, and will also boost the nation’s economy, Vallance told New Scientist Live on Sunday.

“The current government seems to be quite focused on development. And if you want growth, then you have to have science, engineering and technology,” he said.

“If you look around the world today, eight of the top 10 companies, the biggest, fastest growing companies, are science and technology companies. And if you look at the relationship between government R&D spending and productivity, you’ll see a positive relationship.”

Vallance asked all government departments to consult more experts in science, technology and engineering, and more graduates in these fields to be employed in the civil service.

“In every aspect of government, science, technology and engineering have a role to play: how our health care looks, every aspect of transportation, how cities are designed, how green spaces are used to improve our lives and the role of technology in ensuring justice.

“I think it’s impossible to think of a single area of ​​policy that couldn’t be influenced by science in some way.”

In 2019, a review of scientific capabilities ordered by Vallance found that in some government departments, the amount spent on scientific research had fallen over the past decade to less than 1 percent of the total budget.

“If you were a company and you said, ‘I’m going to spend 0.1 percent on R&D,’ you’ve essentially declared yourself a no-growth, no-innovation product. It cannot be what the government is supposed to be. Innovation must be important.”

The review also found that only about 1 in 10 undergraduates hired into public service “fast-track” careers had a science degree. The aim is to increase to half the total by 2024. “It cannot be right that the top 10 per cent of the graduate recruitment program has [science] points,” Vallance said.

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