Ministers will not deliver on their promise to turn the UK into a “science and tech superpower” by 2030, according to a group of multi-party colleagues who described the government’s science policy as “inconsistent and unclear”.
The House of Lords science and technology committee said the commitment risked becoming “an empty slogan” without a “laser focus on implementation”.
The colleagues also expressed concern that the government had failed to appoint a new science minister after George Freeman resigned and left the post on July 7. A replacement is not expected to be appointed until the Conservative Party has elected a new prime minister.
They called on Boris Johnson’s successor, to be announced early next month, to prioritize the appointment of a cabinet-level minister for science, research and innovation.
The colleagues concluded that the government’s international science policy has been “somewhat incoherent”, making the UK “seem untrustworthy and unwelcome”. They added: “There is an urgent need to rebuild international relations.”
In a report entitled Science and technology superpower: more than a slogan?, the politicians also said that failure to associate with Horizon Europe “risks further damaging the UK’s reputation and jeopardizing the quality of its science base.” “.
Membership in Horizon Europe, which previously entitled British scientists to essential funding and research grants, was agreed in principle after the UK’s departure from the EU, but has now been postponed.
The UK is currently blocked from participating in the £82bn research program over the dispute over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade.
Amid these delays, new programs and research grants in the UK have stalled.
Leading European scientists are no longer seeking jobs in UK labs, while the 44 UK scientists who have received Horizon grants have been told they will no longer be funded unless they move to an EU country.
Commission chair and colleague, Baroness Brown of Cambridge, said the government’s “science policy is far from perfect”.
“On the international stage, the failure to associate with Horizon Europe and the recent cuts in official development assistance have damaged the UK’s reputation,” she said. “The UK cannot be an isolated scientific superpower; relationships need to be restored.
“British science and technology remain strong and respected worldwide, but they will not live up to their full potential for the UK with inconsistent and unclear government science policies. A new board must maintain the ambition for science and technology and develop a clear plan for delivery.”
Speaking in a personal capacity during an online briefing on the report, crossbench peer Lord Krebs told the PA news agency: “People work in teams all over the world and so it is remarkably inconvenient to cut ourselves off from the largest international cooperation program. does it have to do with Brexit? Yes, that’s clear.”
He added: “There is a danger that the UK will become a bureaucratic superpower rather than a scientific superpower.”
Colleagues’ report acknowledges that the government has “increased public funding for research and innovation in the UK, administrations and other research funders” and “established the National Science and Technology Council as a cabinet committee and established a new body , the Office of Science and Technology Strategy, to prioritize science and technology”.
But it added: “Despite welcome moves and commendable rhetoric, we are concerned that the government is not on track to deliver on its ambitions. Evidence of continued focus, implementation and delivery is lacking. Moreover, it is not clear how value is added by the many layers of bureaucracy.”
The report also noted that the government “appears to lack an overarching strategic development plan” for UK science and technology and has “failed to identify the areas of science and technology in which it wants the country to specialize”.
Colleagues warned of the effect of inflation on eroding the increase in government funding for research and development, adding: “History tells us that research and development budgets are often cut in times of economic hardship. This should be avoided.
“A clear and consistent science and technology policy can bring significant benefits to the UK, and many of the elements are in place to deliver on the government’s ambitions. But there has to be a laser focus on implementation, otherwise science and tech superpower will become an empty slogan.”