Britain’s plan to become a “science and technology superpower” is so fuzzy and so fraught with new organizational structures that the country risks becoming a “red tape superpower” instead, said an influential Crossbench colleague.
Prof John Krebs, co-author of a Lords report on the government’s global science and technology ambitions, said despite commendable rhetoric, there is no clear strategy on how the “superpower’s” ambitions could be realised, and reasons why to doubt successful.
Speaking at a briefing on the report ‘Science and Technology Superpower: More Than a Slogan?’ Lord Krebs said he feared ministers might quietly cancel or cut the funding commitments needed to reach the target. Meanwhile, the creation of the new National Science and Technology Council and Office for Science and Technology Strategy – in addition to existing bodies such as UK Research and Innovation – threatens to make bureaucracy even worse, he said.
“The government’s plan to become a scientific superpower is great, but right now it feels like starting a marathon with your shoelaces tied and no signposts telling you how to finish,” he said Cancer. “There is a risk that Britain will become more of a bureaucratic superpower than a scientific superpower.”
The Cabinet Office said last year that cutting-edge science and technology is “essential” to the country’s prosperity in the digital age, and declared its aim to make Britain a “superpower science and technology” by 2030. The target builds on the pledge to increase research and development funding to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 reverse a trend As a result, funding fell from 1.84% of GDP to 1.74% between 1985 and 2019.
Lady Brown, the Chair of the Lords Committee, said while the Government had “high ambitions” for science and technology, the inquiry had found a “wealth of strategies” in different areas that were poorly connected. Meanwhile, numerous official bodies had unclear or overlapping responsibilities, and it was often unclear who was responsible for what.
In the life sciences alone, more than a dozen policies and initiatives related to research and innovation were launched between 2017 and 2021, the study said, leading to what Krebs called a “confusing landscape” and suspicion that the government might be better at writing new policies than delivering them.
The report calls on the government to say exactly what it wants to achieve and to publish a clear implementation plan with measurable targets. It calls for closer cooperation with business to reach the 2.4% of GDP target and the urgent appointment of a new science minister at cabinet level. The post has been vacant since George Freeman resigned early last month.
Colleagues continue to criticize the UK’s approach to international scientific collaborations Massive foreign aid cuts that came out of the blue and a Failing to join £80bn Horizon Europe Brexit dispute program in Northern Ireland. “Cuting ourselves off from the largest international collaborative program is a remarkably clumsy thing,” Krebs said. The UK received far more money from the previous Horizon program than it put into it.
Tory leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have been “virtually silent” on science and technology, Krebs said, casting further doubt on the government’s commitment to the superpower goal. “This report and its conclusions and recommendations should be on the next prime minister’s desk as soon as he or she takes the job,” he said. “What worries me — although the committee has not addressed it — is that some of these commitments to increase science spending may be quietly dropped or scaled back given the emphasis on tax cuts.”