‘Science superpower’ plans risk making UK bureaucracy a superpower, says Peer | Science principles

Britain’s plans to become a “science and technology superpower” are so lacking in focus and so full of new organizational structures that the country risks becoming a “bureaucratic superpower” instead, an influential crossbench peer has said.

Professor John Krebs, co-author of the Lords report on governments’ global ambitions for science and technology, said that despite the laudatory rhetoric, there was no clear strategy for how the “superpower” ambitions might be realized and there was reason to be skeptical. successful

Science and Technology Superpowers: More Than Slogans? Speaking at a briefing on the report, Lord Krebs said he feared ministers could quietly drop or scale back the funding commitments needed to reach the targets. Meanwhile, the creation of new National Science and Technology Councils and the Office of Science and Technology Strategy – on top of existing bodies such as UK Research and Innovation – threatened to worsen bureaucracy, he said.

“The government’s plan to become a science superpower is great, but right now it’s like tying your shoelaces together and running a marathon with no signposts telling you how to get to the finish line,” Krebs said. “There is a danger that the UK will become a bureaucracy superpower rather than a science superpower.”

The Cabinet Office said last year that cutting-edge science and technology was “vital” to the country’s prosperity in the digital age and announced its ambitions for the UK to “Science and technology are superpowersBy 2030. The target makes a commitment to increase research and development funding to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. This is required A trend reversal That has seen funding decline from 1.84% of GDP to 1.74% between 1985 and 2019.

Lady Brown, chair of the Lords committee, said that while the government had “high ambitions” for science and technology, the inquiry found “a plethora of strategies” in different areas and little to bring them together. 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, in what Krebs called a “confusing landscape” and doubts the government might be better off writing new strategies to deliver them. than

The report called on the government to be specific about what it wants to achieve and publish a clear implementation plan with measurable targets. It called for working closely with business to reach the 2.4% of GDP target and for the urgent appointment of a new science minister at cabinet level. The position has been vacant since George Freeman resigned earlier last month.

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Peers continue to criticize the UK’s approach to international science collaboration Massive cuts in foreign aid coming out of the blue And Europe’s £80bn Horizon failed to join Europe program due to the Brexit dispute in Northern Ireland. “To cut ourselves off from the largest international cooperative program is a remarkably inefficient thing to do,” Krebs said. The UK received much more money than the previous Horizon programme.

The Tory leadership candidates, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, have been “virtually silent” on science and technology, Krebs said, raising further doubts about the government’s commitment to the superpower goal. “This report and its conclusions and recommendations should be on the desk of the next prime minister as he takes office,” he said. “What worries me — although it’s not something the committee looked at — is that by emphasizing tax cuts, some of those promises to increase science spending may be quietly dropped or dialed back.”

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