Battle lines up industrial drive

May 23, 1997

THE GOVERNMENT plans to make Britain more competitive by boosting a scheme that brings together scientists, businesses and the state.

John Battle, new minister of science, announced a Whitehall-wide review and audit of the four-year-old Technology Foresight Programme.

In one of his first interviews since taking office, Mr Battle said: "We are looking to give a boost to Foresight. We are looking at what has been done and where it's going."

This week Mr Battle began a nationwide tour of universities by visiting Leeds, his home city. He was shown developments in information technology at Leeds University. "I think I could see ministerial red boxes being phased out," said Mr Battle on hearing of the university's virtual science park. "We could deal with it all on screen."

As shadow science minister in 1994, Mr Battle visited more than 2,000 companies, universities and research institutes. He says that now he is minister, he plans to maintain this high profile in the community.

"It's not my intention to spend time in a glass box in Victoria Street," he said, adding that he had already been impressed with the ability of scientists to communicate complex ideas to him, a non-scientist. He added that a massive cultural change was needed to make the public more responsive to science ideas.

Though stopping short of promising more money for science, Mr Battle said: "We have more expertise in science than Parliament has ever had before. There are members of Parliament who have worked in Silicon Valley. Hopefully this will help massively with the budget. Science will be at the centre of the political debate."

With joint ministerial responsibility for science, energy and industry, Mr Battle added: "I am also looking within industry for greater commitment to research and development. I am looking for more partnership between academics and industry." He hopes to target small and medium-size businesses to link up with universities.

Refusing to be drawn, until after Dearing inquiry into higher education, on issues such as the future of dual funding and research selectivity, Mr Battle said that he understood the need for departments to keep up to date with research equipment. He also stressed the importance of multidisciplinary research teams which he sees as key to injecting dynamism into research.

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