In our brave new coalition government, it seems that there will be two strong, respected and thoughtful advocates for science and engineering. David Willetts has been appointed Minister of State for Universities and Science in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) with Vince Cable as Secretary of State for BIS. Cable studied natural sciences with economics at Cambridge and, while his background is not in the sciences, Willetts has often engaged well with science issues in his former roles as Shadow Secretary for Education and then Innovation, Universities and Skills.
As readers of our blog will know, CaSE has argued for the need to have the Minister responsible for science and engineering attending Cabinet meetings as was the case with the previous Science Minister, Lord Drayson. The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives did not commit to this before the election so we are delighted that Willetts will indeed be attending Cabinet. In his 2007 CaSE Annual Distinguished Lecture, he spoke eloquently of the relevance of science to all areas of society, as a basis for rational thought, and of how fundamental it is to our well-being. Willetts should therefore be the right man to ensure that everyone in the Cabinet appreciates the importance of science and engineering and how they relate to every government department.
It is vital that the Minister for Universities & Science works closely with the Department for Education. As former Shadow of this department, Willetts will be well positioned to do this. He has spoken about many issues affecting science and mathematics education, including the need for good career advice and for all students to be able to take separate biology, chemistry and physics GCSEs. Michael Gove retains his brief as the new Minister for Education and he has often spoken about improving science, mathematics, technology and engineering skills.
The other key department for our work is, of course, the Treasury. This now has George Osborne as Chancellor and David Laws as Chief Secretary. In the near future, we will be making a positive and strong case to them for funding science and engineering prior to the first budget.
I ended the last blog on what commitments the coalition might come up with for science and engineering, with the hope that the Science Minister would attend Cabinet. I will end this one with the hope that when the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his Deputy, Nick Clegg, draft the new Ministerial Code they include a version of the Principles for Scientific Advice. This version should not include the principle that scientific advisers must maintain the trust of their ministers.
All in all, this seems to be a positive line-up for science and engineering and we look forward to working with all those involved.