Decision-making in government has suffered since the loss of its chief social scientist in 2010, according to outgoing chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington, who this week called for the post to be restored.
Speaking on Tuesday to the Commons’ Science and Technology Committee, Beddington said that although the role has been filled on an interim basis by civil servants, the departure of Professor Paul Wiles has been a “real loss”. He added that the current situation is “unsatisfactory” and discussions are being held on how to restore the post.
“The need is there for someone there at the highest level in social research,” he said. “It is not to say that we don’t get advice and that the advice is not good, but the senior challenge is missing and I miss it.”
Beddington said that a new chief scientific officer at the Department of Communities and Local Government could be in a strong position to take over the role of chief social scientist. The DCLG is drawing up a job specification for a replacement for Professor Jeremy Watson, the department’s chief scientific adviser until November 2012
Beddington noted that the DCLG post will be for just three days a week, and said that if a social researcher is appointed, he will strongly recommend they take on the government-wide role.
In 2011, the government said it would give “careful consideration” to the appointment of a new chief social scientist.
In other evidence, Beddington said that he was not consulted before the government announced in December 2010 that it was going to close the Forensic Science Service.
“I was told that the decision had been taken to close it down or privatise it, and that was after that decision had been taken,” he said. “I wasn’t asked. With 2020 hindsight, maybe I should have been.”