Q: Do you feel that a new wealth creation policy is urgently needed based on scientific & technological innovation? If so, how do we build on what we've already got and how can we provide further stimulus?
I want Britain to be the best place in the world for science and innovation. New ideas, new technologies and new jobs – and the jobs and prosperity they bring – will all be driven by advances in scientific and technological research and innovation. Britain has a rich history in science and innovations and I'm proud of what the last Labour Government achieved for science too, especially increasing science spend through the research councils and attracting investment in science, after years of neglect under the Tories
To stimulate scientific innovation, we need to increase the amount we spend as a country on R&D. Other countries knows the importance of supporting science and innovation. That's why they spend more on R&D than we do. We also need a long-term approach. Not all ideas or investments work out. Often, it's only by seeing what doesn't work, that we learn what does. So the ideas and innovations and products that will make us healthier, happier or wealthier in the future need nurturing with a policy framework that encourages long-term thinking.
Of course, government can't do everything. But it can see the big picture and support the ideas that individual companies on their own sometimes aren't able to. So the job of government is to set the conditions for scientific success, with the right framework to encourage companies to invest in science and innovation. That has been exactly the approach I have taken leading on Labour's energy policy for the last four years. Investment in a low carbon future will create jobs throughout the UK. But the market needs long-term certainty to develop the new technologies that will power us our country in the future, which I why committed Labour to a decarbonisation target for the power sector for 2030. Since the election I have continued to fight for the scientific consensus on the existence of climate change to be reflected in a political consensus on the need to take strong action to limit carbon emissions both domestically and internationally.
Q: How would you support the right public science and the right innovation and shape paths from early education through to later career structures in a way that utilises a nation’s talent, fills STEM shortages, drives small innovative businesses and leaves none of the public isolated from a future that is increasingly reliant on scientific thinking and technology?
We are facing a massive skills shortage across the sectors that require STEM skills. This isn’t helped by the numbers of children who leave primary school lacking skills in literacy and numeracy and secondary school without qualifications that add up to much in the world of work. Add to that the lack of girls studying STEM subjects in an already small pool - is it any wonder we are not tapping into the potential of our children?
So despite the best efforts of individual specialist interventions we know there aren't enough young people studying the STEM subjects or applied technical and vocational qualifications in our schools, colleges and universities.
We need to make sure that more children have the basic skills to enjoy and use their education with confidence when they come to choose their options at Year 9. Often when that time comes there aren’t enough quality choices in one secondary school and few pupils undertaking STEM courses. I believe there should be more collaboration between secondary schools to extend choice and the opportunity to meet other young people with similar interests.
As Deputy Leader I would like to focus on social mobility. Too many children miss out on the fantastic opportunities in science-based jobs simply because they're never told about them or don’t know anyone who works in that field or the benefits – and yes, that includes the pay. I visited a Further Education College working with the nuclear power station in Anglesey recently. They told me about how they targeted mums for their campaign to get more girls and boys to take up courses that could get them a job at the power station or in the supply chain.
We need more vocational pathways to work, more apprenticeships, and more integration between the worlds of work and education, with proper work experience and high quality careers advice becoming an integral part of every child's education. I do think getting rid of polytechnics hasn’t helped the profile of vocational education and its visibility. We need to establish a better climbing frame of qualifications in STEM subjects rather than a ladder to enable more people to pursue the subjects at an early edge and keep learning.
In particular, we need to get more young women into science. Nearly half of secondary schools in our country don't have a single young woman studying physics at A Level. That's one of the reasons why women are a small minority when it comes to skilled and well paid jobs across this sector. In fact, the gender balance in the sciences hasn't changed in 25 years. Women still only make up 31% of researchers, 11% of professors and we have the lowest proportion of female engineers in the EU. That has to change.
Often the media coverage surrounding shortages is centred on the arguments for enabling more overseas scientists to come into the UK. I understand that concern and how science is international and collaboration key to outcomes. But I would like to hear more about how very practically we could nurture home grown talent too.
Having campaigned for equality all my life, the inequality of access to technological and science innovation that enhances our lives economically and socially is an ever present challenge. How we provide for health and social care, design public services, build our homes, create employment determines people’s life chances and quality of life. As Deputy Leader I want the best of what science can offer to be for the many not the few.
Q: How would you ensure that future government policy making is evidence-based? Do you feel the civil service is adequately skilled to advise here?
As a Minister in five different departments during the last Labour Government, I always endeavoured to make sure that the decisions I took were informed by the best and most robust evidence available.
As a Home Office Minister I had responsibility for a number of areas where science and technology played a huge part: high tech crime, forensic science, organised crime and drugs. I also worked on the framework for the use of animals in science and protecting scientists working with animals. I introduced drug testing on arrest because the evidence showed that more than half of those arrested for acquisitive crimes test positive for class A drugs – they were carrying out these crimes to feed their drug habit. So if we could tackle their drug habit, fewer would have to carry out these crimes – rather than leaving treatment to once addicts had been convicted and sent to prison. The evidence shows that testing on arrest, as opposed to on charge, has successfully increased the numbers being tested and engaging in treatment
We shouldn't just use evidence when we're making policy, we also have to use it when we're evaluating whether policies have worked as we wanted them to. I don't believe our political system does anywhere near enough post-legislative scrutiny, and I think public policy – and public confidence in the policies we enact – would be a lot stronger if we took the time to look at what's worked and what hasn't. One of my proudest achievements came as Public Health Minister when I introduced the smoking ban. All the evidence shows that not only has it become one of the country's most popular policies, but it has delivered real public health benefits, with significant drops in non-smoking adults’ exposure to second hand smoke, and hospital admissions for heart attacks and asthma. Fewer admissions to hospital of children with respiratory conditions has been cited as a result of the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces.
I was proud to chair several Foresight projects in Government where we examined an important public policy issue where science might be part of the solution, or a scientific topic where potential applications and technologies are yet to be realised. This model enables Whitehall to think more scientifically and creatively, brings outside experts to the discussion and looks way beyond the electoral cycle.
As Deputy Leader, I want to use my experience of designing and implementing successful and evidence-based policies in government to develop a credible and winning policy platform for our party for the next election.
Q: Will you support the appointment of a Science Minister of cabinet rank in the next Labour government?
Any decisions about Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet appointments are always, ultimately, up to the Leader. But I think the role of the Deputy Leader is to be at the heart of all the important decisions our party takes – on campaigning, communications and policy. I want science to be central to our policy making because so many of the issues I care about, and so many of the challenges we face in the future, whether climate change or health and well-being with an ageing population, depend on it.
What every member of the Shadow Cabinet should be mindful of is how science and technology affects all our portfolios and how we make sure it is used in line with our values and what’s good for our country and the world.
So as Deputy Leader, the commitment I make is to ensure our party listens to the science community and continues to work with Scientists for Labour.
Scientists For Labour: This article was provided by Labour Deputy Leadership Candidate Caroline Flint in response to questions put to all candidates by Scientists for Labour.
The candidates were told to respond in any format and Caroline responded as a Q&A, with the questions acting as headings for her views. We have retained this format here.
This article first appeared on www.scientistsforlabour.org.uk