BIS

I am in Denmark on a study visit looking at how they do innovation. More on that in a few days time I hope.

In the meantime colleagues at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) sent me through the link to their revised vision, aims etc which was published on their website last week.

Here is the link: http://scienceandsociety.bis.gov.uk/blog/2012/12/06/bis-vision-and-objectives/

You’ll remember I let off steam about their original vision a few months ago.

It feels like a step forward. I am particularly pleased about the inclusion of public involvement in research governance as one of the aims, assuming they mean it in the sense of an active partnership between researchers and the public. I think they are continuing to want comments so please do send them in if you have time. It would be great to see a partnership developed to support public involvement in other scientific disciplines not just medical research.

I noticed that they had recently started a citizens council as well – not very large in number i think but it’s a beginning.

I’ve been meaning to post this ever since it came across my Twitter feed some weeks ago.

If you go on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Science and Society Strategy pages you’ll see that they have published updated action plans for each of the ‘Expert Groups’ set up in 2010.  These groups were tasked to identify and take forward work in specific areas: the media, careers etc.  Progress varies widely and in some cases – such as the group focusing on ‘Trust’ – things are in a bit of limbo (you’ll just have to trust me on that one!).  Anyway, here’s the link to the rather euphemistically called ‘Science for All’ group as it seems the most relevant to (y’all you) people who might read my blog.

Clearly there’s some good work embedded in all this detail and BIS is asking for comment and feedback on what has been achieved.  But it’s not entirely clear to me what the impact has been.  And that is sort of curious given the onus on everyone else to demonstrate the outcomes of their work.

Fundamentally, I have always thought that the decision to go down this route of ‘Expert Groups’ had a number of flaws – beginning with the lack of inclusiveness.  Most of all that it suffered from not having a clearly articulated over-arching strategy and philosophy which conveyed how it all hangs together.  So it tends to come across as being a disjointed programme even if it is not behind the scences.  Plus you can’t help but think the onus has been on working vertically downwards through existing communities of practice rather than on developing networks and partnerships that break down boundaries.  As I say, that’s how it seems to me.  Which is a shame because I have had a little indirect contact with the team there which suggests this is an area of interest.

I say this with some hesitation because it will likely betray my complete ignorance of the subject.  But, for all the many faults of the EU and what it does around science and innovation, I rather warm to its Science and Society ‘Responsible Research and Innovation’ framework which has just been published in leaflet format.  At least it conveys a sense of vision and ambition and focuses on areas that really do seem to be about bringing society and science together.

Perhaps the advent of a new Chief Scientific Officer in 2013 will see the whole programme given a new lease of life.

It was only this time last week that, as I mulled over ideas for this blog, I considered a post listing some interesting ‘facts’ about public engagement including the number of days since the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) had said anything about future policy initiatives in the area of science and society.

I should not have doubted my own powers of telepathy…because, on Friday, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, made a clutch of announcements about public dialogue to mark the start of National Science and Engineering Week.  These include the award of a £3.6 million contract to a joint bid from the British Science Association, AEA Technology, and Involve (that’s the other(!) Involve) to manage the next phase of the Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre for Public Dialogue in Science and Innovation project.  Bit of a mouthful that, isn’t it?

There’s more on the announcement on Vince Cable’s blog .  But for a a little insight behind the headlines, check out Simon Burrall’s blog – Simon is Director of the aforementioned ‘Involve’ and has written an excellent piece about what they will be doing.  The Citizens Group, involving people in the governance of the programme, looks a good initiative.  Neither the British Science Association or AEA Technology have anything up on their sites yet so I am tempted to say Simon has his work cut out (that sounds a lot meaner than it is intended to be).

I think the Science Minister, David Willetts, – who earlier today was opening a cold storage unit in Havant – has been saying more in a speech this afternoon at the Centre for Science and Policy(CSP) .  CSP will also have a hand in delivering ScienceWise  I believe (well, I did say on Saturday they were ‘the’ organisation to watch).

So let’s hope the ice has frozen and things really are moving again on the public dialogue front.

 

On his deathbed in November 1986 Harold Macmillan remarked ruefully on the fact that unemployment was 28% in his old parliamentary seat of Stockton-on-Tees and 29% sixty-three years before, when he was its MP. ‘It’s a rather sad end to one’s life,’ he said.

There seems to be a similar bleakness to the tone and style of some of the commentary about the current state of play in UK science. Forget the euphoria of the spending review settlement last year. Forget also the unseasonably mild autumn we are having with its key indicators of UK leadership in science as published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (see here for a good overview). A hoare frost of higher than expected inflation has set in making it sometimes feel painful to breathe.

With that in mind, I think this month could be a more important one than any other we have seen in the Coalition Government’s approach to science, certainly with regard to the life sciences anyway.

The question that remains unanswered from the spending review is how Ministers now intend to set things up for growth, our life sciences sector being no exception. Indeed, one of the consistent criticisms from the community has been the lack of a long-term plan equivalent to the 10-year framework that existed under a Labour Government.  Some of the initiatives that we have seen so far such as the NIHR translational partnerships are wonderful but they feel tactical and rather strategic without a narrative of how they all fit with the other bits.

This month’s anticipated unveiling of a ‘life sciences’ package by the Government and of other ‘growth’ measures in the autumn statement on 29th November make one hopeful that we may see an answer to the ‘growth’ question. That the Cabinet Office is supposedly showing a keen interest and involvement in putting these together is a promising sign that the message conveyed  ayear ago that No 10 and HM Treasury not only gets the economic and social return argument about research but is willing to follow-through on it. 

Nonetheless I’m still going to invest in some winter mufflers just in case.

LORD WILLIS, AMRC CHAIR, COMMENTS ON HEFCE FUNDING ANNOUNCEMENT

Reacting to today’s announcement of funding allocations for Higher Education Institutions by the Higher Education Funding Council For England (HEFCE) Lord Willis, Chair of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), said:

 “These are uncertain times for science and research with a tightening spending budget and considerable pressures on universities and a difficult business environment. Today’s announced reductions to research funding and capital spend in universities naturally raise concerns over the impact across science.  It emphasises the need for Government to work with all partners to support world-class science in the UK.

 “Last year AMRC’s 125 members spent £1.1 billion on medical and health research in the UK, over a third of all public expenditure, with 80% of this funding going to universities. 

 “However, we welcome the news that HEFCE has protected and maintained the Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF).  Our evidence is that charities are working in an increasingly difficult fundraising environment with cuts in public expenditure adding to the pressures on them. HEFCE’s announcement represents an important incentive to maintaining their investment in research going forward.  AMRC members look forward to continuing their valuable partnership with government as we find a way forward over the coming years.”

 Notes to Editors

 The Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF) is the funding stream through which government partners charities to support the full costs of research in universities.

The Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) is a membership organisation of the leading medical and health research charities in the UK. Working with our member charities and partners, we aim to support the sector’s effectiveness and advance medical research by developing best practice, providing information and guidance, improving public dialogue about research and science, and influencing government.

Formally established in 1987, AMRC now has 125 member charities that contributed over £1 billion in 2009-10 to research in the UK, aimed at tackling diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as rarer conditions like cystic fibrosis and motor neurone disease. Medical research charities contribute approximately one third of all public expenditure on medical and health research in the UK. www.amrc.org.uk

For further analysis please view our policy blog at: http://amrcpolicyblog.wordpress.com/

If you are looking for the detail of today’s announcement by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on the science budget allocations for the spending review period then please look at the excellent summary by our policy and public affairs manager, Becky Purvis, here.

Further perspective from me in due course.  But, given Breast Cancer Campaign’s letter on CRSF last week and our ongoing campaign on this issue, I am very pleased about the Government’s guideline to HEFCE that they allocate research funding to universities with the aim of protecting funding from external sources including that from medical research charities.  We’ll know more in the New Year.