Science, innovation and technology takes top seat at Cabinet table

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Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology visits the Rosalind Franklin Institute at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus. Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

Newly appointed Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan given dedicated seat at the Cabinet.

Innovation has been placed at the heart of the government’s agenda and given a dedicated seat at the Cabinet table, the newly appointed Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said today (Friday 10 February 2023).

Visiting a leading medical research centre in Harwell, Oxford, the Secretary of State set out her plans for stronger growth, better jobs and bold discoveries to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Long called for by the tech and science sectors, the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) has been created to deliver on the clear mission set by the Prime Minister, to ensure the UK is the most innovative economy in the world and a science and technology superpower.

The move will bring together the five technologies of tomorrow – quantum, AI, engineering biology, semiconductors, future telecoms – along with life sciences and green technologies, into one single department for the first time.

On the visit to the Rosalind Franklin Institute, the Technology Secretary set out how the new department will draw on the innovative power of science and technology to kickstart rapid economic growth, create high-skilled jobs as well as improving the public sector and the lives of British people.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said:

Science and technology has the potential to change our world beyond recognition and improve all our lives. 

A brand new and dedicated department for Science, Innovation and Technology is key to the Government’s plan to grow the economy – generating better, well paid jobs and driving improvements in health, education and transportation.

The new department has received a warm welcome from the science, tech and business communities and it’s now my job to use the department to build on our world leading strengths in AI, life sciences, quantum, fintech, and green technology to deliver tangible and positive change across the UK.

The Rosalind Franklin Institute, based at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire, is at the forefront of efforts to develop new technologies to address major health research challenges. It opened in September 2021, following a £103 million government investment in 2018.

As part of this visit, the Secretary of State announced £40 million additional funding for the institute, provided through UK Research and Innovation’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. 

The technologies under development at the Franklin will be used to address major challenges in health – such as spotting the early signs of degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers have already made great progress in some areas, including identifying antibodies from llamas which could be used as a treatment for COVID-19.

In the future, using real patient tissue samples will enable disease dynamics, drug effects and diagnostics to be carried out with atomic level insight.

Sir Adrian Smith, President, Royal Society, said:

A dedicated Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and secretary of state with a seat in cabinet is a clear signal that research and innovation sit at the heart of the Prime Minister’s productivity and growth agenda.
The Royal Society has long called for such a cabinet level position. Michelle Donelan’s first job must be to secure association to Horizon Europe and other EU science programmes. These schemes support outstanding international collaboration and without being part of them we are undermining the Prime Minister’s stated ambition for the UK to be at the forefront of science and technology globally.

Hetan Shah, Chief Executive, British Academy, said:

The creation of a new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology sounds a clear message about the value of research and development towards the long-term prosperity, health and security of the UK and the world.

We urge the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology to forge close and collaborative links with the newly refocused Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The UK’s creative industries are world leading and draw heavily from disciplines across the humanities as well as the broader science base. These subjects and those within the social sciences play an equally important but often overlooked role in unlocking innovation and new solutions.

This is a critical time for science and research, with urgent live issues such as association to Horizon Europe on the agenda – which we hope will be a priority for the new Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology. We welcome this Government’s ongoing commitment to research and development. Remaining a world-leader in the social sciences and humanities will ensure we deliver economic, social and cultural benefits for the whole nation.

Prof John Hardy, Professor of Neuroscience, UCL, said:

It is good to see a dedicated post of science minister again and good too that it is someone with experience of this area as previous Universities’ minister.  She is undoubtedly aware of the problems Brexit has caused higher education and science and the importance of encouraging foreign students and staff to come to the UK.  What we need, as well as an understanding of these problems, is a period of stability: ministers need to be able to learn their brief and the science and research portfolio in particular needs stable leadership rather than musical chairs.

Tom Grinyer, Chief Executive, Institute of Physics, said:

The new department for science, innovation and technology with a Cabinet seat is very good news for the UK and puts science and innovation exactly where they should be – right at the heart of government. We are entering an exciting new era powered by science, engineering and technology at a time when there are great opportunities and important choices facing the country.
The IOP’s work shows there is great untapped potential in physics-powered businesses, university departments and specialist research organisations – just as there is in other scientific communities across the country – offering solutions to our greatest challenges and developing new sources of growth and prosperity. 
The new Secretary of State can and must use their Cabinet seat to work with the scientific community to take these opportunities and make sure that the Government’s science superpower vision stays on track. It is vital that the new department works hand-in-hand with other departments to make sure that science doesn’t become siloed and that there is a genuinely joined-up approach to science across government.

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