Chief scientific adviser eyes Fast Stream to boost civil service expertise

Patrick Vallance says new Whitehall role is ‘like being 13 again and being interested in science’


Sir Patrick Vallance Credit: Civil Service World

By Jim.Dunton

13 May 2019

Twelve months into his tenure as government chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has revealed his new role is making him “progressively more generalist” and youthfully interested in subjects again.

Vallance said his work on embedding science across the civil service remained a priority, and that he was targeting the Fast Stream graduate programme as well as other development initiatives to deliver the transformation.

In an interview with professionals’ union Prospect, Vallance said he had learned an enormous amount about the machinery of government since joining the civil service following several years at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. Prior to that he was a research professor at University College London.


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Vallance said he was conscious that there was a counter-intuitive aspect to the way his professional life was developing compared with his peers from outside government.

“What I’ve enjoyed most is the extraordinary breadth and diversity of the role,” he said of the past 12 months.

“In a scientific career, you often become progressively more specialist and I’ve actually become progressively more generalist.

“Somebody asked me the other day what’s it like, I said: ‘It’s like being 13 again and being interested in science!’”

Vallance said there had been a lot to absorb since he took up professional residence at the Government Office for Science headquarters in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in April last year. He also accepted there was a lot to do, particularly in relation to embedding science across the civil service.

“I’ve learned an enormous amount and I’m incredibly impressed by the areas that need to be covered and how they can impact on government thinking and policy,” he said.

“It’s a key priority of mine to get that science embedding to happen because we need science everywhere across government, just as there are economists and policymakers everywhere across government.

“I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about the chief scientific advisers’ network, making sure that we get the right chief scientific advisers in place with the right diversity, the right backgrounds and the right ability to influence.

“I’m working on Fast Stream and the other civil service development programmes so that they are properly populated with science and engineering people.”

Vallance said he had also been advising science minister Chris Skidmore on the impact for UK science of the government’s proposed £30,000 post-Brexit minimum salary requirement for visas.

“I’ve been bringing in people from business and academia to hear what they want from science funding mechanisms, science approaches to Europe and internationally as we go forward,” he said.

“Part of my role is to make sure all that is then articulated in a way that’s meaningful and actionable by ministers, and that that voice is clearly heard.”

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