CaSE has today welcomed the appointment of Professor Robin Grimes as the new Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but urged the department to improve the oversight and support mechanisms surrounding to the role.
Science and engineering impacts on the work done across the Foreign Office and it is therefore crucial that independent scientific advice should be at the heart of the FCO’s policy-making.
As CSA, Professor Grimes will provide advice to the Foreign Secretary, Ministers and officials on science and innovation in foreign policy, as well as drawing on the support of the Science and Innovation Network – a network of Science Officers based in UK consulates overseas – and working with other Departmental CSAs across government.
As part of its ongoing monitoring of scientific advice in government, CaSE compiled a scorecard to rate the suitability of each departmental CSA across six key criteria. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office scored two out of six.
1. Was the departmental CSA appointed externally from the civil service?
Yes. Professor Grimes is currently Professor of Materials Physics at Imperial College, Director of the Centre for Nuclear Engineering at Imperial College, and Director of the Rolls-Royce University Technology Centre for Nuclear Engineering. The FCO role is part-time, allowing Professor Grimes to continue his academic work.
2. Does the departmental CSA have academic or other expertise relevant to the department’s mission?
Yes. He is a Fellow of several learned societies including the Institution of Nuclear Engineers and the Institute of Physics. As a nuclear energy specialist, Professor Grimes has advised the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into nuclear research requirements, and was part of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) which provided official advice on the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
3. How many times has the departmental CSA met the Secretary of State or relevant ministers between June 2010 and June 2011?
The department did not publish details for this period. CaSE recommends that in future Secretaries of State and relevant Ministers must hold regular meetings with their departmental CSA and should publish relevant records.
4. Has the department appointed a Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) to support the work of the departmental CSA?
No. CaSE recommends that every government department should create a Science Advisory Council to support the work of the departmental CSA.
5. Is there a seat on the department’s management board for the departmental CSA?
No. In order to fulfil their duties and scrutinise policy thoroughly, CSAs need to have sufficient oversight powers. CaSE recommends that every CSA should therefore have a seat at their departmental board.
6. Does the departmental CSA have full control over the department’s science, research, or evidence budget?
No. This comes despite recommendations by the Government Office for Science that a senior analyst should sit on the executive board of each government department to ensure that decisions on strategy and resources are fully evidence-based, and that CSAs should be consulted by departmental strategy and finance teams on strategic and budget proposals. CaSE therefore recommends that every CSA should have oversight over the department’s R&D budget.
Recent analysis of budget changes between 2009/10 and 2010/11 by CaSE has found that many departments, including the FCO, cut R&D spending harder than overall spending. CaSE is currently seeking clarification on these cuts and what advice the departments took before making their decision, and will report on this in the near future.
For further analysis of the CSA network across government see the following CaSE briefing, published ahead of a House of Lords debate on CSAs at the end of last year.