On Tuesday 20 June 2023, the BSI attended this year’s Parliamentary Links Day, an annual event organised by the Royal Society of Biology (RSB). Held in the Houses of Parliament, it aims to build links between parliamentarians and policymakers and the scientific community. This year’s theme was ‘science and economic development’ and the event featured discussions on the importance of the life sciences in growing the UK economy and how government can support this.
We had a strong presence at the morning session including two members of our BSI Member Representative Forum, Dr Edoardo Prediletto (Early Career Representative) and Dr Federica Villanova (Industry Representative) who had the opportunity to pose their questions on the effects of Brexit on the UK’s ability to attract and retain scientific talent to an expert panel.
The event featured an array of speakers from across the political spectrum and beyond. The morning was opened by Stephen Metcalfe MP (Con, South Basildon and East Thurrock), who chairs the Parliamentary & Scientific Committee, followed by speeches from George Freeman MP (Con, North Norfolk), the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, and Chi Onwurah MP (Lab, Newcastle upon Tyne Central), the Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, who laid out their parties’ policy pitches on supporting science and using it to grow the economy.
“Science is a cross-party good”
In his opening address, Stephen Metcalfe gave a call to strengthen links between scientists and policymakers, saying that “as science transforms our society, parliamentarians must respond”. He stressed that policymakers must keep abreast of the latest scientific advancements in order to harness opportunities for rapid development.
Referencing the turbulent past 12 months for government, George Freeman started his talk by reaffirming his strong relationship with the Shadow Minister, saying that there is no place for partisan politics when it comes to science. This was echoed by Chi Onwurah, who said that science is a cross-party good.
Britain as a scientific superpower
The Minister and Shadow Minister both stressed the enormous strength and potential of the UK when it comes to science, with Onwurah saying “UK scientific giants bestride the world”, while Freeman stated that science is one of our great sources of soft power.
Science for economic sustainability
Onwurah emphasised the importance of sustainable and green jobs in science, saying that sustainable growth can only come from a STEM-based economy. George Freeman was in agreement, asserting his view that a science-based economy is the only way to overcome the current boom-and-bust cycle of economic growth, allowing us to break free from a London-centric, service industry-based economy.
Translation is the endpoint
A panel of academics chaired by Dr Jo Reynolds, Royal Society of Chemistry, then examined how science and the economy interlink, speaking from their expertise across diverse areas of STEM. Plant biotechnology pioneer Professor Jonathan Napier, Rothamsted Research, stressed that translation must be the endpoint of research, not an addendum. He emphasised that the UK is great at discovery research, but struggles to turn this innovation into products or tools that deliver economic and societal benefits.
Professor Dame Angela McLean, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, then gave a keynote address on the government’s commitment to becoming the most innovative science-driven economy in the world. Professor Dame McLean’s speech centred on the UK Science and Technology Framework published in March this year, which sets out ten steps to support and harness the UK’s research strengths, to ensure that the brilliant ideas created in our labs get turned into great products and services that generate prosperity and better health for all.
The event was a huge success in bringing parliamentarians and the scientific community closer together and we look forward attending next year’s event.
Marketing & Communications Officer, British Society for Immunology