Defra chief makes Whitehall take note

November 29, 2002

Howard Dalton was well aware of the challenge when he agreed to become the first chief scientific adviser for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Although Defra was a relatively new department, it had a bad name in scientific circles, largely inherited from the now defunct Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with its year-on-year research budget cuts, demoralised staff and poor track record of dealing with catastrophes such as BSE.

Yet the appointment of the Warwick University professor of biological sciences to such a high rank has sent a signal across Whitehall that science matters. Almost 12 months on, and with the backing of ministers, Professor Dalton is confident that the message is getting through.

"Things are beginning to change," he said. "We are taking science and the underpinning of science much more seriously than we maybe have in the past and, while there are not going to be massive budget increases for anybody, I'm reasonably hopeful that the settlement will be better than it has been."

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