Parliamentary Links Day is the largest science event in Parliament. Now in its 30th year, the event aims to bring together the scientific community and MPs to discuss the most pressing issues in science policy. With a jam-packed schedule and a venue to match, the theme of this year’s Links Day was “Science and the Industrial Strategy”, and I was very excited to be invited along by the Microbiology Society.
The Industrial Strategy, published in November 2017 by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, sets out the UK Government’s plan to boost productivity in four leading areas: artificial intelligence and big data; clean growth; the future of mobility; and meeting the needs of an aging society.
Links Day regular (this was his tenth!) and Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, kicked things off with a warm welcome and the first of several calls for more scientists and engineers to enter the House of Commons. He also proposed the creation of an annual lecture at Speaker’s House to facilitate further dialogue between scientists and parliamentarians.
The first keynote address was delivered by Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy. Drawing on her experiences of working in both politics and engineering, which she describes as the “twin engines for progress”, she called for greater investment in Research and Development, improved access to talent in the UK and abroad, and increased diversity in science.
The newly appointed Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Dr Patrick Vallance, discussed the importance of using scientific evidence to both inform and assess policy. He argued that evidence synthesis should be inclusive – involving policy makers from the outset, rigorous, transparent and accessible.
The Right Honourable Norman Lamb, Chair of the House of Commons Science & Technology Select Committee, questioned whether the Government’s plan to increase R&D investment was sufficiently ambitious in a post-Brexit world and highlighted the importance of the Brexit negotiations on the success of the Industrial Strategy.
Rebecca Endean, Directory of Strategy at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), described how UKRI aims to become greater than a sum of its constituent research councils and echoed earlier comments that funding should be more equally distributed across the UK. Currently, 46% of UK Research Council and Higher Education Funding Council for England funding is spent in the “golden triangle” of Oxford, Cambridge and London.
In the final keynote address of the day, Rt Hon Claire Perry MP, Minister of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, focused on the potential of the Industrial Strategy to transform local economies by building on their existing strengths.
Two panel sessions, chaired by BBC Science Correspondent, Pallab Ghosh, drew together parliamentarians and sector leaders from across the scientific community. Panel members seemed positive about many aspects of the Industrial Strategy but highlighted several challenges, including the need to increase diversity in science, potential stumbling blocks in the innovation process, loss of science teachers to other sectors, acceptance of poor numeracy skills by society, and the need for greater support of technicians.
As an early career researcher with a keen interest in science policy, Links Day provided a fantastic opportunity to hear more about the challenges and opportunities currently facing science and scientists in the UK, first-hand from some of the country’s leading policy figures. I’d like to thank the Royal Society of Biology for organising the event and the Microbiology Society for inviting me to attend.