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A shuffle of the Science Minister deck

20 Nov 2023

Camilla d'Angelo

Policy Officer

CaSE looks back at George Freeman’s tenure as Minister of State for Science, Technology and Innovation, and welcomes new Science Minister Andrew Griffith.

Farewell George Freeman

George Freeman held the role of Science Minister twice, first under former Prime Minister Boris Johnson from September 2021 to July 2022, then again under Rishi Sunak from October 2022 until his departure last week.

Freeman has been a long-standing champion for research and innovation. During his tenure he showed an unmatched dedication to the brief and was seen as a knowledgeable advocate for research and innovation.

George Freeman has been a consistent advocate within Government at a time of growing importance of science and innovation. This has included a boom in R&D investment, ambitions for the UK to become a ‘Science Superpower’, as well as the creation of a specialised Department for Science Innovation and Technology (DSIT). He also helped to establish the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, an independent body to fund high-risk, high-reward scientific research.

George Freeman started his ministerial role in science at a pivotal time, with the UK Government delivering significant increases to public investment in R&D in the 2021 Spending Review. The Spending Review saw commitments to increase public investment in R&D to £20bn by 2024/25.

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Following a former career in technology venture capital, Freeman was passionate about an entrepreneurial and innovation-driven economy. During his tenure, he announced new measures to boost private investment to support the commercialisation of the UK’s research.

He will be remembered for overseeing the negotiations of the UK’s association to the EU’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme. For two and a half years political deadlock prevented the UK from associating to Horizon Europe, which was a challenging time for the science and research community. During this time Freeman was responsible for handling the negotiations with Europe and led the development of Pioneer, the Government’s alternative programme to Horizon. Re-joining the EU-funded scheme has made a real difference to the future of science funding and collaboration.

Welcome to the new Science Minister

CaSE welcomes Andrew Griffith as new Science, Technology and Innovation Minister.

There will be much for Mr Griffith to consider in the science brief. He joins at an exciting time, with great political emphasis on the importance of science, innovation and technology to the UK’s future. We urge the new Science Minister to act as a champion for the R&D sector inside Government, making sure they follow through, and build on, progress in supporting R&D from successive Conservative Governments.

With a background in finance and experience of business and innovation, inside and outside of Parliament, Griffith will bring a fresh perspective on the UK science economy. He understands the importance of science and technology to addressing societal challenges and growing the economy, and in an initial comment talked about “unleashing capital to support these exciting opportunities.” There is an opportunity for the new science minister to focus on making the UK an attractive and competitive environment for businesses to invest in R&I.

Challenges that remain

Alongside funding, developing the science skills base will be essential to deliver the UK’s R&D ambitions. Earlier this year, the Government announced a major increase to immigration visa fees as well as the Immigration Health Surcharge, a move that will make it more expensive for skilled workers to come to the UK. CaSE urges the Science Minister to work with the Government to ensure that the immigration and visa system, and associated costs, do not act as a barrier to attracting international talent to the UK. This will require balancing priorities between DSIT and the Home Office.

On Horizon Europe, although a deal is done, it is important that the UK Government together with the UK sector work hard to encourage applications and drive participation rates back up, and re-establish links with the EU.

We look forward to working with Andrew Griffith to ensure science and engineering is at the heart of the UK’s future.

About Andrew Griffith MP

Andrew Griffith has been the Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs since 2019. He was previously the Economic Secretary to the Treasury before being appointed Minister of State for the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology. Before that he was the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and before that Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for International Trade.  

Griffith has been a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee since his election. He was also Adviser on Sustainable Infrastructure Investment for 3 months at the end of 2021, and was chosen by Boris Johnson to be “the UK’s Net Zero Business Champion” from late 2020 until the COP26 UN Climate Summit.

Andrew Griffith’s pre-parliamentary career included roles at Rothschild & Co, PwC, and Sky.

You can also read our updated list of other Ministers and spokespeople with briefs that impact on UK science and engineering policy.