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Time to speak up

27 Jun 2016

Following the result of the EU Referendum, CaSE Director Dr Sarah Main calls on the scientific community to make their voice heard in the upcoming negotiations.

Is your office frantic with phone calls or stunned into silence today? Talking to a friend in the civil service a few weeks ago, she said they would be heads down, turned upside down, facing a mountainous task of work if the vote came out as it has done today.

I think it’s fair to assume there will be a great deal of work to be done by civil servants and politicians in the coming months to come to untangle, review and consider all that has to be done, let alone start negotiating. The lawyers, I believe, will be busy.

And in this pit of activity to come, how will we make sure that science raises itself in the consciousness of our new leaders? How can we make the case that the raft of new policies, regulations and deals to be struck should be as conducive as possible to helping UK science and engineering thrive?

Parliament is a noisy place, with many competing voices. It’s only going to get noisier. We need to make sure science is present at the Cabinet Office table and on the floor of the House. I often hear that we in the science community are ‘too nice’, ‘too polite’. I feel that now is the time to make a strong, united case for what makes UK science great, so that we can ensure the system that is set up is one that works as well as it possibly can.

I’ve had a go at setting out some principles. If we can hammer out points of agreement between us all, we stand half a chance of making sure the interests of science are heard in the negotiations to come. Then we can work on the detail.

(Health warning: I mean ‘science’ very broadly, encompassing research in its widest sense in every setting.)

  • Science is global. Free exchange of talent and ideas is essential. For UK science to thrive, migration policy must make it easy for talented people to visit, work and stay here. Similarly, UK national scientists should be able to visit, work and stay abroad. Further, a clear message must be sent to convince our international colleagues, here and abroad, that they are welcome and valued.
  • Science helps us thrive. Science and innovation drive prosperity in its very widest sense. Policies that support science support society. They will deliver benefits to our economy, employment, environment, health and wellbeing.
  • Science is a positive investment. Yes, science is expensive. Yes, it requires funding directly from the public purse. But it delivers in spades, returning growth to the economy and foreign direct investment from abroad. Treasury have recognized this. We need to make sure the new Government recognizes this too.
  • The UK is great at science. It is one of the things we are best at. We all know it, we’ve all seen the stats. Make sure everyone in Government knows it too.

This article was originally published on the Research Fortnight website.

Read CaSE’s initial response to the result of the EU referendum