Press "Enter" to skip to content

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

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

New Scientist Live 9 October 2022

Patrick Vallance

Patrick Vallance speaking at New Scientist Live

Tim Boddy

Considerations of science, technology and engineering need to become embedded in the heart of every government department, says Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser.

Placing greater priority on science will lead to greater military security, more resilience to future threats from pandemics and climate change and will also boost the country’s economy, said Vallance at New Scientist Live on Sunday.

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

Advertisement

“If you look around the world today, eight out 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 spend and productivity, you see a positive relationship.”

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

“In every single aspect of government, science, technology and engineering has a part to play: what our healthcare looks like, every aspect of transport, how towns 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 policy area that couldn’t be impacted by science in some way.”

In 2019, a science capability review ordered by Vallance found that in some government departments, the amount of spending on scientific research had fallen over the past decade and was less than 1 per cent of the total budget.

“If you were a company and you said, ‘I’m going to spend 0.1 per cent on R&D’, you’ve effectively declared yourself to be a no-growth, no-innovation commodity. That can’t possibly be what government is supposed to be. Innovation has got to be important.”

The review also found that only about 1 in 10 undergraduates recruited to the civil service “fast stream” career pathway had a science degree. The aim is to increase this to half the total by 2024. “It can’t be right that 10 per cent of the premier graduate intake scheme have [science] degrees,” said Vallance.

More on these topics: