The UK’s plan to become a “science and technology superpower” is so unfocused and packed with new organizational structures that the country risks becoming a “bureaucratic superpower” instead, an influential crossbench peer has said.
Professor John Krebs, co-author of the Lords report on the government’s global ambitions for science and technology, said that despite the laudable rhetoric, there was no clear strategy for how to deliver on the “superpower” ambition and there was no reason to doubt that it would. to succeed.
“The Superpower of Science and Technology: More Than a Slogan?” Speaking at a briefing on the report, Lord Krebs said he feared ministers could quietly reduce or reduce the financial commitments needed to meet the target. Meanwhile, the creation of a new National Science and Technology Council and Office of Science and Technology Strategy – on top of existing agencies such as Research and Innovation UK – threatens to make bureaucracy worse, he said.
“The government’s plan to become a science superpower is great, but right now it feels like running a marathon with shoelaces tied together and no signposts telling you how to get to the finish line,” Krebs said. “The UK is in danger of becoming more of a bureaucracy superpower than a science superpower.”
The Cabinet last year said cutting-edge science and technology was “vital” to the country’s prosperity in the digital age, and the UK aspired to be “core”.the superpower of science and technology” by 2030. The goal is based on a pledge to increase research and development funding to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. reversing the trend Between 1985 and 2019, financing fell from 1.84% of GDP to 1.74%.
Lady Brown, chair of the Lords Committee, said that while the government had “high ambitions” for science and technology, the review found “many strategies” in different areas with little to do with each other. At the same time, multiple official agencies had unclear or overlapping responsibilities, and it was often unclear who was responsible for what.
More than a dozen strategies and initiatives related to research and innovation were launched between 2017 and 2021 in life sciences alone, the inquiry heard, leading to what Krebs called a “confused picture” and doubts that the government could be better at writing new strategies. rather than delivering them.
The report urges the government to be specific about what it wants to achieve and publish a clear implementation plan with measurable objectives. It calls for closer work with business and the urgent appointment of a new science minister at cabinet level to meet the 2.4% of GDP target. The position has been vacant since George Freeman resigned early last month.
Peers continue to criticize England’s approach to international scientific collaborations there are major cuts in foreign aid and a Europe’s failure to join the £80bn Horizon Europe program because of the scandal over Brexit in Northern Ireland. “Cutting ourselves out of the largest international cooperation program is a very incompetent thing to do,” Krebs said. The UK got more money out of the previous Horizon program than it put in.
Tory leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have been “virtually silent” on science and technology, Krebs said, raising doubts about the government’s commitment to its superpower goal. “This report, its findings and recommendations should be on the desk of the next prime minister as soon as he takes office,” he said. “What I’m concerned about is the focus on tax cuts, even though it’s not something that the committee is looking at, some of those obligations could be quietly reduced or reduced to increase science spending.”
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