Challenges and Opportunities for the
Incoming Science Minister


As I was reflecting on this specific role, it struck me that it has a unique place within the political system and certainly as a senior minister. To become a science superpower a nation-state must take a long-term view and articulate a mid-to-long-term strategic vision. And this must be translated into a robust plan over the next two to three years combined with a dedicated commitment to implementation. The plan really consists of crosscutting themes that span and touch many different aspects of society. And of course, therefore, require this role to interface and interact with multiple different stakeholders and specifically a broad range of departments within government. It is clear that the strategy and plan must align with the agendas of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Treasury, Education, Home Office and others. Thus, at its core, this all requires long-term joined-up thinking and consistent and sustained commitment to deliver. This is a critical broad agenda for UK Plc.

We have seen very clear examples of papers addressing certain components of this agenda. The Life Sciences strategy that was initially authored a few years ago and recently updated certainly sets a clear compelling vision and set of priorities, and it has clearly resulted in positive momentum in certain sectors. But what we’re talking about here is the broader science and technology agenda that touches all of us every day and that will define our position in the world within the coming 20 years.

So, what does it take to become a science superpower and thus by definition to be competitive and win? Well, the first thing it takes is a consistent allocation of resources both human and financial, operating within an aligned and sustained policy framework that’s consistent with the overall ambition. This can’t be a year-to-year exercise. This must be within the context of a bold 5-year and 10-year plan. And this is what we are seeing if you look, for example, at China. We have seen for many years a consistent dedicated focus on driving forward their ambition in science technology and health. And they have consistently allocated resources against priorities with a goal to compete and win over the longer term for instance in telecommunications, digital technology, battery technology etc.

What David Cameron started, and what I believe continues to require attention, is to identify a number of key areas that will be critical to our position in the world of the future and thus require an investment strategy and policy framework to enable the broader science ecosystem.

The first, of course, is that we need to be able to grow, attract and, importantly, retain the leading brains and intellect in this space. Whether we’re talking about energy transition, life science innovation, the digital revolution, space and health care. We must deliver a workforce strategy that is aligned with our long-term ambition.

Secondly, we need to ensure that our regulatory environment is enabling and accelerating the translation of ideas into practical applications and meaningful value creation. Our legal and regulatory frameworks must be aligned and fit for the future.

Thirdly, we need to ensure that we nurture the right public, private, and civil society science ecosystem that creates the appropriate incentives, both the push and the pull in the system. To ensure that the public and private sectors are resilient and strong and seek to develop their IP, create jobs, and attract foreign investment. The government does not need to pay for this, but it does need to ensure that it is removing barriers and articulating a strong agenda that for the UK science and technology is an opportunity. Foreign direct investment in the UK Plc in this space needs to be attractive because it will offer meaningful returns to investors but also advance important technology with an impact globally.

As I noted, the science superpower agenda is a crosscutting theme with broad consequences. The new minister will need to be able to navigate the system by engaging and energising many stakeholders and aligning political colleagues to ensure that this agenda is high on everyone’s priority list.

This blog was first published in as part of a longer interview with Dr Annalisa Jenkins, conducted by Alena Gorb & David Stanistreet.

The full interview also includes discussion on

  • How successful is the UK in goal of becoming a science superpower
  • SEIS/EIS tax relief value in fuelling investment into start-ups
  • Challenges facing the incoming Science Research & Innovation Minister
  • What strategies should new Minister bring to achieve becoming a scientific superpower

Read the full interview here

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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