Chief scientific advisers ignored by UK government
02 March 2012
Chief scientific advisers (CSA), tasked with providing UK government departments with evidence-based policy advice, are often overlooked or bypassed completely, according to a new report. The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee says that CSAs need to be given direct access to ministers and a formal role in signing off new policies to be effective.
A House of Lords committee has said chief scientific advisers should be given their own budget to carry out research to support their aims of supplying government departments with evidence-based policy advice
'We are pleased that all ministerial departments now have a CSA post,' said Lord Krebs, chairman of the committee. 'However, if all CSAs are to do their job effectively they need expertise, independence and resources. We have found examples where CSAs were not able to have a proper say on a policy during its development, but with the changes we recommend, including a seat on the departmental board and enhanced resources, the role of CSAs will be strengthened and the process of policy making improved across government.'
One of those examples is Paul Wiles, a former Home Office CSA, who gave evidence to the committee on how he first heard about proposals to introduce ID cards on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme. As a result, he couldn't offer advice on the error margins relating to biometrics and existing technology before the policy was announced. Brian Collins, a former adviser to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Transport, described how, when off-shore wind policy was being developed, he lacked access to decision makers and so was not able to offer engineering advice to the relevant discussions.
'The independence of CSAs, as well as their standing within their own departments, are key issues and we're delighted to see that the committee shares our view,' said Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering. 'We need a scientific advisory system which empowers outside experts to challenge civil servants and politicians on issues of science and evidence.'
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Also of interest
06 December 2011
Aberdeen microbiologist Anne Glover will provide the European commission with advice on science and technology
07 April 2010
The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has called on the UK government to clarify its research funding commitments
11 February 2010
UK scientists raise concerns over changes to principles governing the independence of science advice in government
House of Lords Science and Technology Committee
Strengthening the role of chief scientific advisers to increase the impact of science advice in government
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