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Friday, 6 December 2013

My week in Westminster: Part 2

Wednesday 4 December 2013
Alan Pitt
After two days of being in the ‘classroom’ learning about science in Parliament and Government it was time to go and shadow my civil servant, Alan Pitt, the Secretary to the Council for Science and Technology (S&T) who advise the Prime Minister directly on science related issues.  Alan is based in the Government Office for Science (Go-Science), which is located in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills! My morning began by visiting Portcullis House to hear the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Mark Walport, be quizzed by the House of Commons S&T Select Committee, which consists of cross-party MPs. Their job is to scrutinise Government on S&T to ensure the policy making process is robust.  Mark Walport, gave an overview of his vision for Science in the UK which included infrastructure in terms of energy and climate, qualitative and quantitative scientific evidence used in Government and a prominent leadership role for science.  This session was followed by an inquiry on Horizon Scanning including what this entails and how it operates!

Sir Mark Walport
Next stop was BIS where I was introduced to various members of Go-Science who explained their roles as civil servants including defence and resilience, coordinating all the different scientific committees, groups etc.  I learnt about the complexity of science organisation in the civil service.  For example, every department bar one has a Chief Scientific Advisor and a team beneath them. They report to Ministers who report to the Prime Minister.

Alan was particularly busy organising the CST quarterly meeting to be held at the Royal Society! Mid-afternoon I went with him over to the Royal Society building to help set up for the evening meeting and dinner.  The CST consists of members appointed by the Prime Minister who have extremely impressive credentials.  Chaired by the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, other members include Vice Chancellors, the President of the Royal Society, and prominent scientists in business.

After a busy but thoroughly enjoyable day it was time to go and see a show in the West-End!

Thursday 5 December 2013
On my final day of shadowing I was lucky enough to be able to sit on the CST meeting and hear what they get to discuss and consequently some of the content that goes into a letter directly written for the Prime Minister! It was a fascinating if little surreal experience!  I finished my time in London by having a tour of the Royal Society with the opportunity to see the original scribblings of Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke.

The Royal Society Pairing scheme has been an action-packed and fun experience and a real eye-opener to how science is used in Parliament and Government.  Everything is far more scrutinised then I ever envisaged and I hope that the scheme will help to enhance this process by building relationships between the policy makers and the scientists.
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This blog has been written by Dr Emma J Stone, Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol.
Emma is visiting civil servant Alan Pitt, secretary to the Prime Minister's Council for Science and Technology, at the House of Commons for a ‘Week in Westminster’ commencing Monday 2 December as part of a unique pairing scheme run by the Royal Society.  Read more.

Dr Emma J Stone

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