June 8, 2023

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Nazir says ‘scientific superpower’ plan risks making British bureaucracy a science policy superpower

Britain’s plan to become a “science and technology superpower” is so lacking in focus and so full of new organizational structures that the country risks becoming a “bureaucratic superpower” instead, as one influential peer put it.

Professor John Krebs, co-author of the Lords report on government’s global ambitions in science and technology, said that despite the commendable rhetoric, there was no clear strategy on how to achieve the “great power” ambition, and reasons to doubt it. succeed.

Briefing about the report, The Superpower of Science and Technology, Lord Krebs said: More than just a slogan? Meanwhile, the creation of the new National Science and Technology Council and the Office of Science and Technology Strategy – on top of existing bodies such as UK Research and Innovation – threatened to make bureaucracy worse, he said.

“The government’s plan to become a scientific superpower is fantastic, but right now it’s like you’re running a marathon with your shoelaces tied together and there are no signs telling you how to get to the finish line,” Krebs said. “There is a danger that the UK will become a bureaucratic superpower rather than a scientific superpower.”

The Cabinet Office said last year that cutting-edge science and technology were “essential” to the country’s prosperity in the digital age, and announced its ambition to become the “UK”.A superpower in science and technologyby 2030. The target is based on a pledge to increase research and development funds to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. This requires opposite direction which saw financing fall from 1.84% of GDP to 1.74% between 1985 and 2019.

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Lady Brown, chair of the Lords Committee, said that while the government had “high ambitions” for science and technology, the investigation found “a large number of strategies” in different areas with little linkage between them. Meanwhile, many official bodies had undefined or overlapping responsibilities, and it was often unclear who was responsible for what.

More than a dozen strategies and initiatives linked to research and innovation in the life sciences alone were launched between 2017 and 2021, the inquiry heard, creating what Krebs called a “puzzling landscape” and doubts that the government might be better at writing new strategies than handing them over.

The report urges the government to be specific about what it wants to achieve and to publish a clear implementation plan with measurable goals. It calls for closer work with the business sector to reach the 2.4% of GDP target and the urgent appointment of a new science minister at the cabinet level. This position has been vacant since the resignation of George Freeman early last month.

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Peers criticize the UK’s approach to international scientific collaboration, with Massive cuts in foreign aid come suddenly and Failure to join Europe’s £80 billion Horizon Europe The program is due to a dispute over Brexit in Northern Ireland. “Cutting ourselves off from the largest international collaborative program is remarkably inept,” Krebs said. The UK from the previous Horizon program got a lot more money than it put in.

Krebs said Tory leadership candidates, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, had been “almost silent” on science and technology, raising further doubts about the government’s commitment to the superpower goal. “This report, and its conclusions and recommendations, should be on the office of the next prime minister as soon as he takes office,” he said. “My concern – although not something the committee has considered – is the focus on tax cuts, that some of these commitments to increase science spending may be dropped or quietly reduced.”