Jeremy Hunt showing a worrying lack of interest in science

12 July 2012

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is ignoring the advice of his government's science committee by refusing to appoint a Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA), the Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry said today.

Dr Robert Parker added that he was disappointed the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is refusing to appoint a CSA and instead selecting a "middle manager" to "lead on issues of scientific advice".

Dr Parker said: "This middle manager position will not even be in place until the autumn so the Culture Secretary is showing a worrying lack of interest in science at the moment, which is very disappointing." 

In a written question to parliament last week, Adam Afriyie, Conservative MP for Windsor and shadow science minister until May 2010, asked what plans the DCMS had for appointing a full-time CSA and whether the department would consider appointing a part-time CSA.

John Penrose, minister for tourism and heritage, replied that the DCMS "expects to have a new head of analysis (at civil service grade 5 level), who will lead on issues of scientific advice and cover the principle functions of a chief scientific adviser (CSA), in place by autumn 2012. The Department is working with the Government chief scientific adviser and the Government Office for Science to establish mechanisms for the post-holder to draw on the advice and varied expertise of the chief scientific advisers' network."

Mr Afriyie also discovered Mr Hunt has not had a single meeting with his department's Scientific Research Advisory Committee since the general election.

The government's science and technology committee recommends that "all CSAs should be graded at either Permanent Secretary level or the level immediately below Permanent Secretary (that is, Director General or departmental equivalent) to ensure that they have the authority and ability to work across the whole department."

Dr Parker said: "The DCMS is failing on three counts: it does not have a permanent CSA; it does not even currently have an interim CSA; and when that person is finally appointed, they will be several grades below Permanent Secretary or Director General - effectively a middle manager - going completely against the recommendations of the science and technology select committee."

The government's science and technology select committee report of May this year, Science and Heritage: a follow-up, recommended a Chief Scientific Adviser should be appointed by the DCMS "without further delay" to "inform and challenge policymaking and to champion heritage science".

The report added: "Given the contribution heritage makes to the tourism economy and the current economic climate, failure to appoint a CSA would be nothing less than negligent short-termism."

Dr Parker said: "Despite having more Nobel Prize winners in the UK than anywhere in the world bar the United States, our scientific heritage was not thought important enough to be part of the Cultural Olympiad. Our investment in sports science to make Team GB take home as many medals as possible at London 2012 is reason enough to make sure there is proper scientific advice at the DCMS.

"In addition, as a rapidly changing media environment means few can predict the impact of new technology, it is surely essential that the Secretary of State is getting high-quality scientific advice across his desk. It is therefore not only negligent short-termism but potentially disastrous that the cabinet minister in charge of our investment in these areas places such a worrying lack of emphasis on scientific advice."

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Link icon Chief Scientific Advisers
Conservative MP for Windsor Adam Afriyie asks when the DCMS is going to employ a Chief Scientific Adviser

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