'Boy Scouts' at Defra seek independent adviser

October 22, 2004

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs may turn to another academic to chair its Science Advisory Council after losing Roy Anderson to the Ministry of Defence this month.

The council is the first of its kind, set up in April in the wake of politically embarrassing environmental crises, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy and the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic.

Its role is to give Howard Dalton, Defra's chief scientific adviser, independent expert advice on important scientific issues for the department.

"The group gives me advice on national emergencies such as foot-and-mouth to help me come to sensible conclusions," Professor Dalton said. "Like the Boy Scouts, we have to be prepared for all the nasty things that can happen."

And because the council was set up as a non-departmental public body, it is free to be openly critical if needs be and publish its advice.

Defra's council helps the department identify priorities for scientific funding, emerging challenges and opportunities. It uses the horizon-scanning process to identify potential issues and problems.

As such, Defra wants to appoint a chair with a broad understanding of the scientific fields relating to the department's remit and a commitment to improving the contribution of science to policy.

The post, advertised in last week's Times Higher , is for four years initially. The group meets four times a year, but the chair would be expected to commit more time than this.

Defra expects candidates to have a proven ability to chair and direct strategy discussions.

David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, has pushed for all departments to have a CSA reporting directly to the Secretary of State.

According to an Office of Science and Technology review last week, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is the only department yet to comply.

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