Secretaries of State and their Chief Scientific Advisers

The answers to a series of parliamentary questions asked by the Shadow Conservative Minister for Science, Adam Afriyie MP, have revealed a worrying paucity of face-to-face meetings taking place between Secretaries of State and their Chief Scientific Advisers (CSAs).

Further to calls made by CaSE and others, CSAs have been appointed in nearly all government departments to ensure that robust, joined-up evidence is at the core of decision-making. The answers to a series of questions posed by Afriyie on the number of times the Secretary of State met with (i) the departmental CSA and (ii) the CSA during the twelve month period between December 2008 to December 2009 were extremely disappointing. The Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Secretary of State for International Development only met with their CSAs once during this period. Eight Secretaries of State admitted to having not met with the Professor Beddington at all. The full responses are set out below.

Department Number of times the Secretary of State met with the CSA in the past year? Number of times the Secretary of State met with the Government CSA in the past year?
DEFRA

“Regular”

0

MOD

“As required”

0

DH

3

4

DFID

1

0

DCFS

6

0

DFT

5

“Several”

DBIS

“Several”

1

DECC

“Regular”

“Regular”

DCMS

“Regular”

0

MOJ

NA

0

HO

1

7

DCLG

1

0

DWP

“Numerous”

0

Treasury

“Not the Government’s practice to provide details of all such meetings”

“Not the Government’s practice to provide details of all such meetings”

FCO

“Meet regularly within officials during normal course of business”

“Meet regularly within officials during normal course of business”

     

To have appointed a CSA, only to then hold sporadic meetings between them and the Secretary of State, indicates a ‘two steps forward one step back approach’ by the department in improving scientific advice.  It is vital that this situation is remedied by whoever forms the next government. Secretaries of State should have regular meetings with their Departmental CSA and should have at least met the Government Chief Scientific Adviser. Science and engineering impacts on the work of every government department, from climate change to transport infrastructure and military defence to school-age education. Without adequate interactions, Secretaries of State that do not see science and engineering as central to their mission may develop policies without consideration of their impact.

The same question asked by Adam Afriyie of the Cabinet Office, also revealed that the Minister for the Cabinet Office failed to meet with the Government Chief Scientific Adviser once during this same period, a particular damning statistic considering the crucial role Professor Beddington is suppose to play in providing direct advice to the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The Treasury does not have a departmental CSA, which needs to be corrected after the election. Since the Treasury did not answer the question we don’t know how many times the Chancellor met with the GCSA. The Treasury needs evidence and advice to inform the allocation of government support for research funding.

CaSE has proposed a series of action points designed to strengthening the position of the GCSA , as well as improving the performance and quality of CSA advice across government departments, as part of its election working paper Science in Government.  These include:

  • A strong set of Principles to be adopted by government to ensure the integrity of scientific advice
  • The Minister that represents science and engineering must continue to sit at the Cabinet table.
  • The Government CSA along with the Government Office for Science to be located within the Cabinet Office
  • Government departmental R&D budgets to be maintained to provide the evidence-base for policy development
  • HM Treasury to appoint a Departmental CSA
  • Government departments that would benefit from having a separate Departmental Chief Engineering Adviser to appoint one.

It is vital that the next government puts in place the proper guidelines,  structures and people to ensure high quality and independent science and engineering advice across government.

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