Rishi Sunak creates new science and tech government department
Rishi Sunak has appointed Michelle Donelan as the Secretary of State for the newly created Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, indicating the Prime Minister’s intention to put science at the heart of his political agenda.
The move, which comes as part of a government reshuffle, sees Ms Donelan move from her post at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). That department loses its digital brief to the new science post, while Lucy Frazer takes it over. A dedicated energy ministry has also been set up, which will take responsibility for the UK’s energy policy and the transition to net zero.
According to the government’s briefing documents, the science department “will drive the innovation that will deliver improved public services, create new and better-paid jobs and grow the economy. Having a single department focused on turning scientific and technical innovations into practical, appliable solutions to the challenges we face will help make sure the UK is the most innovative economy in the world.”
“The decision to create a dedicated department for science, innovation and technology recognises the value of our sector and its importance to growing the economy” – Dr Tim Bradshaw
The Prime Minister highlighted six “priority outcomes” for the new department: increase the level of private research and development to make the UK the most innovative in the world; deliver gigabit broadband, make the UK the best place to start a tech business, and attract and develop the best talent; put public services at the forefront of innovation, with in-house science and technology capability; strengthen international collaboration on science and technology; deliver key legislative and regulatory reforms such as the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill and the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill; and pass the Online Safety Bill. The new department also comes amid concerns mounting about delays to a long-awaited semiconductor strategy. It has broadly been welcomed by many tech lobby groups and science bodies, many of which have called for science to have its own Cabinet position for years.
Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, an association of 24 public research universities, said: “The decision to create a dedicated department for science, innovation and technology recognises the value of our sector and its importance to growing the economy, creating jobs and solving major challenges such as energy security, inequalities and net zero.”
Sir Adrian Smith, president of the 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.
“We are entering an exciting new era powered by science, engineering and technology” – Tom Grinyer
“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.”
Commenting on the establishment of the new department, Tom Grinyer, chief executive of the 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.”