The government “is not on track” to turn the UK into a “science superpower” by 2030, colleagues say

The government “is not on track” to turn the UK into a “science superpower” by 2030, colleagues say

A visitor takes a photograph of a large image of the Large Hadron Collider at the London Science Museum (Getty)

A visitor takes a photograph of a large image of the Large Hadron Collider at the London Science Museum (Getty)

Ministers are doomed to fall short of their promise to turn the UK into a “science and technology superpower” by 2030, according to a cross-sectional group of colleagues, who described the government’s science policy as “inconsistent. and unclear “.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee said the engagement risks becoming “an empty slogan” without a “laser focus on implementation”.

Colleagues also expressed concern over the government’s failure to appoint a new science minister after George Freeman stepped down and left office on July 7. There is no provision for the appointment of a replacement until the Conservative Party elects a new prime minister.

They asked Boris Johnson’s successor, which is expected to be announced early next month, to prioritize the appointment of a minister for science, research and innovation to a cabinet-level position.

Colleagues concluded that the government’s international science policy “has been somewhat inconsistent”, making the UK appear “unreliable and unwelcoming”. They added: “There is an urgent need to rebuild international relations”.

In a report titled Superpower Science and Technology: More Than a Slogan ?, politicians also said that failure to associate with Horizon Europe “risks further damaging the UK’s reputation and jeopardizing the quality of its science base.”

Membership of Horizon Europe, which previously authorized British scientists for vital funding and research grants, was agreed in principle after the UK left the EU, but has now been postponed.

The UK is currently blocked from joining the £ 82 billion research program due to the post-Brexit trade dispute in Northern Ireland.

In the midst of these delays, new research programs and grants in the UK have stalled.

Leading European scientists are no longer looking for positions in UK labs, while the 44 UK scientists who have received grants under Horizon have been told they will no longer be funded unless they move to an EU country.

The committee chair and peer, Baroness Brown of Cambridge, said that “the government’s science policy has been far from perfect.”

“On the international stage, the lack of association with Horizon Europe and the recent cuts in public development aid have damaged the reputation of the UK,” he said. “The UK cannot be an isolated scientific superpower; relationships need to be repaired.

“UK science and technology remain strong and respected around the world, but they will not express their full potential for the UK with an inconsistent and unclear science policy from the government. A new administration must maintain the ambition for science and technology and develop a clear plan for delivery. “

Speaking in a personal capacity during an online briefing on the report, Lord Krebs told the PA news agency: “People work in teams all over the world and so cutting ourselves off from the largest international collaboration program is an extraordinarily inept thing to do. and is it related to Brexit? Yes, it clearly is. “

He added: “There is a danger that the UK could become a bureaucratic superpower instead of a scientific superpower.”

The peers’ report acknowledged that the government “increased public funding for UK research and innovation, government departments and other research funders” and “established the National Council for Science and Technology as a committee of cabinet and created a new body, the Office for Scientific and Technological Strategy, to give priority to science and technology ”.

But he added: “Despite the welcome steps and laudable rhetoric, we are concerned that the government is not on track to fulfill its ambitions. There is a lack of sustained focus, implementation and delivery evidence. Furthermore, it is not clear how the value is added by the many layers of the bureaucracy ”.

The report also noted that the government “appears to lack a master plan for the strategic development” of UK science and technology and “has not identified the areas of science and technology in which it wants the country to specialize.”

Peers warned of the effect of inflation in eroding the rise in public funding for research and development, adding, “History tells us that research and development budgets are often cut in difficult economic times. . This must be avoided.

“A clear and consistent science and technology policy has the potential to unlock significant benefits for the UK and many of the pieces are ready to meet the government’s ambitions. But there has to be a laser focus on implementation, or the superpower of science and technology will become an empty slogan. “

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