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Who is the new Science Minister? and what’s in her in-tray?

04 Oct 2022

We have a new Science Minister! Nusrat Ghani has been appointed Minister for Science and Investment Security. Our Assistant Director, Daniel Rathbone, takes a look at her background and what she might find in her in-tray.

Nusrat Ghani was previously Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport from January 2018 to February 2020, during which time she was also Minister for the Year of Engineering. The Year of Engineering was a national campaign to increase awareness and understanding among young people aged 7-16, their parents and their teachers, of what engineers do. Her time working on the Year of Engineering will have given her an insight into parts of the sector as well as the importance of increasing diversity and supporting STEM skills right across society. This will stand her in good stead coming into her new role. Ghani was also a Government Whip between July and December 2019, and an Assistant Government Whip from January 2018 to July 2019.

Ghani was elected Conservative MP for Wealden in 2015. She has been part of the UK delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly from 2020 to 2022 where she was the Rapporteur of the Science and Technology Committee. She has also been a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee.

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

Change in portfolio

The role has been elevated from Parliamentary Under Secretary to Minister of State, a step up in the ministerial ranks. The science minister was last a Minister of State when Chris Skidmore held the role jointly with the Universities brief. It is a welcome recognition of the importance of science, and the key role it can play in the challenges we face as a society. However, the title does not matter so much as the individual in the role – some of the most effective science ministers of years past were ‘just’ Parliamentary under-Secretaries.

It is also important to note that there have been some changes to the portfolio from when George Freeman held it. The minister will now no longer be solely responsible for, but will ‘support’ the Secretary of State on, UKRI and ARIA. This seems to suggest that Jacob Rees-Mogg wants to play more of a role in overseeing these two agencies, what that means in practise, I think we will have to wait and see.

What is in her in tray?

We’ve been without a dedicated science minister since George Freeman resigned in July so the new minister faces a number of issues, the most critical of which is securing association with Horizon Europe.

Collaboration through international programmes is vitally important for science – if an agreement can be reached on association it would be a win-win for both sides and a great first step towards a productive relationship with our nearest international research partners. It presents a great opportunity for Nusrat Ghani to make a real difference to the future of science funding and collaboration by working alongside the PM to push for association.

Having R&D at the heart of the UK’s future is one of the best ways to grow the economy and benefit society as a whole. The new administration is pursuing a strategy of disruptive change in an attempt to secure more growth in the economy. The merits of this strategy are of course up for debate, however, even at a time of economic uncertainty, R&D has the potential to secure growth in the medium to long term. 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, previous R&D commitments. This will provide stability for the R&D sector at a time when a change of course would damage the UK’s reputation as a leading place to invest in research and innovation, and harm the sector at a time when it is vital to achieving many of the nation’s priorities like Net Zero.

There has been good progress in supporting R&D from successive Conservative Governments, including a three-year spending review allocation for R&D, a long-term settlement for UKRI, and a significant increase in wider Departmental R&D budgets. We want to see the new administration stay the course already plotted and allow the country to reap the benefits. Cuts to R&D budgets would present a real threat to growth.

Other re-shuffle news

We are now without a dedicated Universities Minister – with the Secretary of State for Education, Kit Malthouse, now having responsibility for Higher Education and Andrea Jenkyns having responsibility for the skills parts of the previous Universities portfolio. I hope this does not signify a de-prioritisation of the Higher Education sector, which is going to be crucial if we are to become a more research intensive country. We will continue to highlight the importance of Universities as we engage with the new Government.