MHCLG reopens recruitment for chief scientific adviser

Written by Beckie Smith on 30 November 2018 in News
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The department's top scientist, who will advise on fire safety post-Grenfell, must have an engineering background, government CSA Patrick Vallance said.

Grenfell Tower lit to mark the anniversary of the tragedy. Photo: PA

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has reopened recruitment for a chief scientific adviser in a second attempt to fill the role, which has been empty for six years.

The chief scientific adviser will provide scientific evidence to inform policy and decision-making in the department. One of their key responsibilities will be to support MHCLG's building safety programme, which was introduced following the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people last year, according to a job advert posted today.

MHCLG initially advertised for a CSA in May but no appointment was made.


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The CSA will earn up to £120,000 and occupy “one of the most senior and influential positions within the department”, the job ad said. They will be accountable to ministers and the permanent secretary, Melanie Dawes, and report to Jeremy Pocklington, director general for housing.

They will provide “an independent challenge function to the department, ensuring that science and engineering evidence and advice for departmental policies and decisions is robust, relevant and high quality and that there are mechanisms in place to ensure that policy making is underpinned by science and engineering,” according to the advert.

They will also support MHCLG’s arms-length bodies, particularly Homes England, and work alongside its resilience and emergencies division to respond to local and national crises.

Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, told CSW in a recent interview that the successful candidate “needs to be someone with an engineering background” to enable them to meet the department’s needs.

“That’s a broad term and I’m very open to different types of engineering, but it needs to be an engineer of some sort – somebody who can deal with the big issues and problems that are going to come up there,” he said.

He also stressed that the appointee, as with all chief scientific advisers in government, must be able to “work effectively in Whitehall”.

“It needs somebody who is able to listen – properly listen – to the policy concerns of the department to find out where they should accumulate advice and give it. It needs to be somebody who’s able to interact clearly and succinctly with civil servants and ministers,” he said.

“That person needs to be an integrator of scientific and engineering knowledge and therefore needs to be well connected, know how to pull the right people in, know how to probe and ask the right questions of the people they bring in in order to give the right advice into the system.”

Since taking up his post in April, Vallance has written to perm secs to say he wants all departments to have a chief scientific adviser.

However, he told CSW he would not be rushed into making any appointments because they were highly specialised roles.

“I’m not going to be pushed on timelines of saying ‘we must have someone in place by next Wednesday in any department', because it’s not the right way to do it,” he said. “It’s not a tick box exercise, it’s got be done the right way.”

The department’s last chief scientific adviser – Jeremy Watson, now a professor of engineering at University College London – stepped down at the end of 2012 and was never replaced.

Last November Science and Technology Select Committee chair Norman Lamb wrote to Sajid Javid – then communities secretary – asking him to appoint an appropriately qualified chief scientific adviser as a matter of urgency. The department has said it has taken scientific advice from a range of sources within and outside government.

At the time Stephen Aldridge, DCLG’s director for analysis and innovation, was incorrectly named as the department’s CSA on the government’s website. Although an “excellent chief analyst”, Chris Whitty, then interim government chief scientific adviser, told the committee Aldridge was not “a scientist of the kind of science that I think that department needs” and would not wish to be seen as such.

MHCLG is also advertising for a head of architecture, who will advise the department on design matters and “champion the importance of good design outcomes to the construction industry, architectural practices, house builders and planning departments, to raise the design standards of new housing schemes”.

The head of architecture job will pay between up £61,083 in London or £55,290 outside the capital, the job ad said.

About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets Beckie__Smith.

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