Science investment a step in the right direction


Science investment a step in the right direction

The union for government scientists today (Tuesday) applauded the Chancellor’s recognition of the importance to the nation of increased investment in science and innovation, and the increase in the science budget.

On behalf of 61,000 scientists and technologists, Prospect welcomes the government’s admission that more needs to be done to promote public confidence and engagement in science, engineering and technology (SET).

But Sue Ferns, head of Prospect research, said concerns remain that:

  • Tighter targeting of funding priorities and the performance management system to be developed by the Office of Science and Technology does not squeeze basic/blue skies research out of the system.

  • The desire to increase income from business for contract research does not compromise the integrity of public science. (Union evidence shows that in the past increased reliance on contract funding resulted in pressures to narrow the scope of research, to produce results quickly, or not to publish findings in full – either for commercially sensitive reasons or to suppress inconvenient findings.)

  • Although there is a package of measures for schools and teachers, there is nothing to enhance the conditions and career prospects of scientists already in employment. The government has still not implemented Roberts’ recommendation to bring together SET employers to consider and implement ways of improving SET careers.
Ferns said: "This announcement is only one step in the right direction towards undoing the damage done to the base of expertise on which government relies. Specialists in the civil service have been cut by more than 35% since 1991 and this knowledge pool continues to be decimated by decisions such as the withdrawal of core funding from the biological and engineering Silsoe Research Institute, announced in April, and the privatisation of horticultural and defence research, to name but a few.

"However we are encouraged that the government intend to work with others on its science strategy. The contribution of trade unions – including their ability to reach beyond the usual bounds of public consultation exercises – must not be overlooked."