On Wednesday 15th March, five of our ECS members travelled to Westminster to represent SfAM at the RSB-organised Voice of the Future event. Set in the middle of British Science Week, this unique Q&A session gave young researchers and students the chance to grill MPs and government officials on science and engineering policy. Our policy officer, Chris, reports on the day.
Raring to go
Spurred on by a brilliantly sunny morning, the mood in Portcullis House was one of excitement as scientists and engineers alike prepared to question the impressive roster of panel members:
- Chi Onwurah MP, Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation.
- Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientific Adviser.
- Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation.
- Commons Science and Technology Select Committee members.
— Iulia Gherman (@iulibob) March 15, 2017
Representatives took it in turns throughout the day to sit at the “horseshoe” table, taking over the seats of power usually occupied by MPs during their evidence gathering sessions. From this lofty position, the Voice of the Future directed questions to the panel opposite.
Sat on the horseshoe, so exciting and I feel so important! #VOF2017
— Jennie French (@jenniefrench95) March 15, 2017
Space is the place (but so is Europe)
The topics discussed throughout the day were as broad as you would imagine from an event attempting to cover all of science and engineering, but a few prominent themes came to the fore. As you would imagine, the implications of Brexit for science policy weighed heavily on the minds of those present, many of whom were EU nationals from outside the UK who have invested time and effort into advancing science in the UK. One of our representatives, Anton, asked:
“Will we expect a large change in UK legislation on genetic engineering, cloning and animal experimentation once the UK leaves the EU?”
Sir Mark Walport fielded the question by highlighting the heavy influence the UK has had in developing domestic and international regulations in these areas, voicing his confidence that the UK will remain to “regulate well” in the future.
However, the number of Brexit-related questions reflected the fact that the STEMM community’s younger members sorely desire more certainty from the Government on the prospects for science funding and international mobility.
Doom and gloom did not dominate the day though, not least due to the injection of excitement in the room brought by a question on commercial spaceflight in the UK. It seems that if you want to capture an MP’s attention, bring space in to the conversation!
Breaking the resistance
Among the specific topics broached during the Sci & Tech Select Committee panel session, our ECS member Ricarda brought AMR into view:
“How well is the five-year antimicrobial resistance strategy being implemented? Has it been effective?”
Perhaps gratifyingly, the Select Committee members agreed that the issue of AMR remains a “high priority” for them, acknowledging that much more work remains to be done. In particular, the committee called for stronger public engagement – a challenge for government, politicians and the science community at large – and better progress in assessing the implications for agriculture.
Overall, the day proved vastly successful in encouraging young researchers and students to see how seriously science is taken across the political landscape and to grasp the importance of maintaining the links between government, parliament and the scientific community. But don’t just take my word for it:
Thanks to all our members who attended and to the RSB for organising VOF 2017. A full video of the Voice of the Future hearing is available on the parliamentlive.tv website. Photos provided courtesy of the RSB.
Chris Brown, SfAM Policy Officer