CaSE and others in the R&D sector have long called for science to be represented at the Cabinet table and now we have a brand new department, which will give the R&D sector a clearer and stronger voice in Government – what should its focus be and how should they work?
The new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology has a fantastic opportunity to focus on the big issues facing the UK R&D sector from a position of influence in Government. At CaSE we would like to see the department prioritise:
Finalising UK association with Horizon Europe.
Ensuring that there is sufficient support for innovative small businesses.
Co-ordinating skills policy across Government.
Making sure all parts of Government have the R&D capability they need.
- Finalising UK association with Horizon Europe, to ensure access to world-leading R&D collaborations – especially now the political block caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol is lifting.
- Ensuring that there is sufficient support for innovative small businesses following changes that could make the R&D tax credit less generous, as part of a wider environment that is supportive to innovative businesses and incentivizes investment in R&D in the UK.
- Co-ordinating skills policy across Government, so that the UK attracts and trains the most talented scientists and researchers to work in the UK, a vital component of a productive and growing economy.
- Making sure all parts of Government have the R&D capability needed to address the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
How should it work?
A dedicated department can enable a more strategic focus on science and innovation to achieve the aim of a more research intensive UK. DSIT can clearly set out what the UK priorities for science and innovation should be – what problems need solving and which areas will be prioritised. And not just what but why – why priority areas are selected, including how they relate to the UK’s economic strengths or address societal needs.
Furthermore, the new department should be an exemplar for the use of evidence and R&D for the rest of Government while enabling other Government departments to make the most of R&D to meet their policy goals through the CSA network. However, in this regard, it is important that the department doesn’t lose sight of the good work done so far on building science capability across Government by Patrick Vallance and GO Science and on R&D strategy by BEIS.
The new department must make sure it champions the R&D sector across Government and continues to use the coordinating power of the Office for Science and Technology Strategy, which it now encompasses. While the department now has many of the levers that affect R&D policy, not everything is there – for example skills requires all of Government, Universities are still in Department for Education and business regulation is in the new Department for Business and Trade.
DSIT should take the benefits of the R&D sector to the rest of Whitehall. It will be essential to continue to take a joined up approach across Government departments to ensure that R&D does not become ‘siloed’ in DSIT.
The new department should build a strong relationship with UKRI, ensuring there is good co-ordination between the new department and UKRI as an arms-length body. What we don’t want is rival centres of R&D policy – therefore, it will be critical for each to have well-defined roles to avoid potential confusion or duplication.
The Government has created a new Department for Science Innovation and Technology
Our policy team give their take on the formation of a new governmental Department for Science Innovation and Technology.