Brexit policy series – State of play
In the first in a series of articles laying out the Royal Society of Chemistry's Policy teams’ plans for 2020 and beyond, Policy & Evidence Manager Tanya Sheridan looks at the political landscape for the next 12 months.
In some ways, UK politics looks less uncertain than it has for a while. A Government with a sizeable majority means we can expect faster decision making within Government and, if the talk coming out of No. 10 is to be believed, science will be front and centre in many areas of Government thinking. This should present opportunities for the RSC to advise and influence Government policy on a range of issues.
In other ways, there are still uncertainties. The UK leaves the EU tomorrow: the negotiations on future trade arrangements that will follow seem set to be complex. If the UK Government and EU fail to reach an agreement on the future relationship by the end of the year, there is the potential for a ‘no deal situation, something which greatly concerns the chemical sciences community. Government will also conduct a range of other trade negotiations, whilst examining a range of domestic legislation and policy.
Against this backdrop, we have written to key ministers, seeking dialogue with them on the key issues facing the chemical sciences. Of course, we will continue to build on our work in 2019 to ensure our voice is heard with key policy-makers and a recent survey of the chemical sciences community has helped us shaped our plans for 2020 and beyond.
A new regulatory era?
Changes to UK policy and relationships as a result of Brexit raise key issues for the chemical sciences. In particular, we continue to make the case to parliamentarians on the need for data-sharing with the European Chemicals Agency during the transition period that starts on 1 February, to ensure the best data informs decisions. It is vital that well-evidenced standards of human health and environmental protection from hazardous chemicals in the UK are at least maintained. This will have numerous benefits, which we will report on in our second article on chemicals regulations.
The UK Government is developing its chemicals strategy. Any chemicals strategy must promote high standards and environmental protections whilst allowing room for creativity and innovation. Such world-leading high standards can only be achieved and enhanced through applying robust scientific evidence. The RSC will be looking to influence this strategy to ensure science and innovation are at its heart.
Global policy to match a global challenge
Another key area where the chemical sciences contribute to policy is global challenges linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals particularly around the environment and health. 2020 brings 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the UK, presenting opportunities for the RSC to lead the debate around climate change. We will continue our circular economy work on electronic wastes, building on our elements in danger campaign and promoting our policy position on critical raw materials in electronic waste. We will also continue to highlight the role of chemistry in developing sustainable plastics. In addition, we will develop and advocate for policy positions on climate change and sustainable water.
Investing in the future
Investment in chemical sciences research and education are of course needed to enable our science to help tackle global challenges, inform good regulation and develop new knowledge. We will continue to advocate for research funding that is transparent, based on merit, independent of political priorities and timescales, meets the needs of chemistry and supports collaboration. This should cover collaboration internationally, across all disciplines and academia and industry, as identified in our Science Horizons report. We continue to make the case for the UK’s full and continuing association to Horizon Europe, the next EU research and innovation programme, which is a key vehicle for collaborations.
The first public opportunity for impact is the Spring Budget on 11 March. We will report more on this in the run up to the March Budget statement. Meanwhile, we continue to advocate for research collaboration and for a balance of research, including curiosity-driven ‘discovery’ research, by participating in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial High Level Stakeholder Working group on EU Exit, Universities, Research and Innovation.
We will also continue with our well-developed education policy programme, which includes developing a vision for curriculum from primary education through to post-16 (including vocational). We will be talking about these ideas more throughout 2020, as well as using them wherever possible to influence curriculum and qualifications throughout the UK and Ireland. We will also begin a programme of work to develop curriculum recommendations for undergraduate level.
Of course, no curriculum will live up to its potential without high quality teachers to implement it, and we are very concerned about the shortages of chemistry teachers in much of the UK. Our diverse programme of work in this area ranges from engaging with Government initiatives to improve teacher recruitment and retention, through developing our own recommendations for supporting teacher expertise, to background research to understand factors that affect retention of chemistry teachers. We also continue to deliver a teacher training scholarships programme in England, in partnership with the Department for Education. We will report more on all our education policy work in a few weeks’ time.
People are vital to scientific advances, scientific education and international collaboration. Association to Horizon Europe needs an immigration system with science at its heart, including mobility arrangements for scientists and researchers to travel as easily as possible for both long and short term collaboration, no matter where they are form. Removing operational barriers, lowering costs and nurturing a welcoming attitude can help ensure this. This week’s Government announcement on visas for top scientists is very encouraging, helping to bring to the UK the specialist skills we need to advance science. We would like to see changes to arrangements for skilled workers, so that industry, particularly SMEs, can attract the specialist scientists they need from an international talent pool.
One area we would like to understand more about is the contribution of the UK’s chemical sciences workforce to the economy and regional development, so we have started a research project on this. The ultimate aim is to develop a set of policy recommendations that will link to the education policy programme and work will continue throughout 2020.
There is much to work on and we look forward to working with our community on these vital issues. Next week: we will report on our work around chemicals regulations in 2020 and beyond.