With the campaign to recruit her successor underway, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell reflects on her time as Independent Co-Chair of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology.
The Council for Science and Technology (CST) is an expert committee, advising the Prime Minister on science and technology policy issues across all areas of government activity. It is jointly chaired by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser and an Independent Co-Chair.
As the Independent Co-Chair of CST it has been my pleasure and privilege to work alongside Sir Patrick and members of CST over the last decade; colleagues who are senior figures in the fields of science, engineering and technology across industry and academia. This breadth of membership is a real strength of CST and ensures a diversity of thought and perspective is brought to bear on the advice we provide.
CST advice has real influence and our recommendations are almost always enacted. Particular highlights for me include the establishment of the Alan Turing Institute, following CST’s advice in 2013 which recommended the creation of a National Centre to promote advanced research and translational work in algorithms and the application of data science. More recently, CST advice on achieving net zero carbon emissions through a whole systems approach has focussed attention on the importance of strong cross-government leadership and a cohesive national strategy. This has led to the establishment of new government structures designed to drive progress towards the UK’s commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
The Council engages directly with Ministers and senior Departmental officials, and my experience has been that our advice is always welcomed and positively received. Though we have to recognise that policy-makers need to take account of multiple considerations at the same time as our scientific advice.
The work programme for CST is driven by the priorities of the Prime Minister and Government and by areas that CST itself considers important. Recent advice on the principles for science and technology ‘moon-shots’ follows discussions with the Prime Minister in March on his vision to cement the UK as a science superpower. Members may also suggest topics drawing on insights from across a diverse range of fields and careers in academia and industry. For example, CST is currently looking at the role of technology in improving the sustainability of the health and social care system. Our work began at the start of the year, but the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted some of the challenges for the system. The pandemic has also catalysed a rapid shift in ways of working and adoption of technologies such as remote consultation, which have enabled the health system to continue to provide high-quality care during the pandemic. Council members are supported by a secretariat in GO-Science and benefit from the connections across Government of Sir Patrick and colleagues in GO-Science.
Science and technology will be at the forefront of the post-Covid-19 recovery and in tackling the policy challenges of the next decade. This is a time of great opportunity, and I am sure also challenge, for the next CST Co-Chair. I hope they enjoy the role as much as I have done.
The campaign to recruit the next Independent Co-Chair of CST is open for applications until 22 November 2020. More details can be found here, on the Cabinet Office Public Appointments website.
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