Published: 2 March 2023

By Rohan Bundell, Senior Policy & Public Affairs Officer, AMRC

In early February, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak MP surprised the research community by restructuring the Government to create a new Department for Science, Technology and Innovation. DSIT, as it is now known, aims to bring the ‘technologies of tomorrow’ alongside life sciences under one Department.  

The establishment of DSIT means that the UK now has a dedicated Government Department to lead its research and development (R&D) agenda. It should enable a focus on the whole research ecosystem, working with all its diverse partners, including universities, industry and charities. We are hopeful that this is good news for UK’s vibrant research base.  

AMRC has long been calling for cabinet-level representation to ensure science has the political weight and influence it deserves. We now have a cabinet-attending  new Secretary of State for Science, Technology and Innovation in Michelle Donelan MP. She has been entrusted to lead the Government’s innovation-led plan for jobs and economic growth. While detail on the new department is still limited, we do know already that DSIT will have responsibility for overseeing the new £800 million Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) and for much of the £20 billion the Chancellor recommitted to investing in R&D by 2024/25.  

Importantly, George Freeman MP remains in post as Science Minister. His recent speeches have highlighted the importance of research clusters around the country and have emphasised his continued focus on levelling up and the role that research can play. It is not yet clear whether the Office for Life Sciences will report jointly to Freeman and Health Minister Will Quince MP. Rounding off the Department is new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Paul Scully MP. 

Our message to the Michelle Donelan and her team is this. We need a long term and coherent plan for R&D to the make the UK a science superpower. As AMRC submitted to the Lords Science and Technology Committee, this should be an “overarching strategy backed up by a sustained implementation plan that links up these strategies to translate them into action”.  

We urge DSIT ministers to put the life sciences at the heart of its plans for research, working with the Department of Health and Social Care to drive forward initiatives such as the Life Sciences Vision, the Future Vision for clinical research, and the genomics strategy.  

With progress on the Windsor Framework, we hope efforts can now focus on the UK’s association to Horizon Europe. This is vital to foster international collaboration in research, particularly for rare diseases where patient populations are small. And to ensure that we can attract and retain talented people.  

Government recently acknowledged the need for meaningful action to meet its ambitions for the UK to become an innovation nation and science superpower. The establishment of this new Department for Science, Technology and Innovation looks to be a welcome step along the road to getting there.