Science yet to feature on the general election agenda

29 April 2010

Despite its importance to the economy and the future well-being of the country, science has yet to play the important role it should in the election campaign, according to the chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Dr Richard Pike said: "Science has to be on the agenda because of its importance - it underpins our economy, jobs, our health service, and will safeguard our environment and provision of energy. It is all about, ultimately, the practical things that affect us individually: being in employment, knowing the lights won't go out in 2013, and being confident there will be better cures for age-related diseases, as we seek a better quality of life.

"Science has not really been on the agenda partly because it's seen as a means to an end," Dr Pike added. "That is the reason the RSC is hosting the only political science debate of this general election campaign between parliamentary candidates in a constituency - Loughborough - where science and education plays a pivotal role to the area."

In a radio interview this morning ahead of the debate, Dr Pike said the closure of AstraZeneca's Charnwood site in Loughborough, with the loss of up to 1,200 jobs, raised serious questions about political commitment to science and research in the UK.

"Loughborough is an ideal location for this debate. Loughborough University is the biggest employee in the constituency yet higher education faces tough times ahead. The chancellor's announcement last year that 600 million will be cut from the country's science research base will hit Britain both in the short- and long-term. Innovation depends on how our world-class research community is able to engage with the wider industrial and business sectors, to develop globally competitive products and services. We face a reduction in this community, the prospect of a brain-drain of our best academics to the United States and China - who are increasing their budgets - while at the same time secondary education is not providing the scientific knowledge and skills that employers need. We need to address all this in a transparent way, and know how politicians will respond.

"There are a number of industrial and educational issues that people are concerned about, especially with what's happening at AstraZeneca and at the university, which all relate to science. The public will get the chance tonight to query their prospective parliamentarian to hear what plans they have for science and education in this country."

Loughborough candidates Nicky Morgan (Con), Mike Willis (Lib Dem), and John Foden (UKIP) will take part in the Question Time style debate. Labour's Eric Goodyer, from neighbouring constituency Charnwood, makes up the panel. Andy Reed, Labour's incumbent MP for Loughborough is unable to attend so Eric takes his place for the evening's debate.

Robin McKie, the Observer's experienced science editor, will take the David Dimbleby role chairing the event, posing questions to the panel submitted by the audience and making sure the audience have ample opportunity to challenge the candidates. 

The event will be the only time that all of the candidates involved will have been together on one platform to field questions posed by scientists and the public. The seat is a Labour marginal and has been placed at number 18 on the Conservative's target list.

Whichever party makes up the Government on 7 May, massively important decisions will need to be taken about the future of science in the UK.  The RSC asserts that the country's future depends upon science and technology, insisting that Britain invests in these now to ensure that the nation is equipped to compete internationally. This is already happening in the USA, France, India and Germany. Why is Britain lagging behind?

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