Sainsbury's review role raises questions

November 17, 2006

Sector welcomes appointment of Malcolm Wicks to science post as praise pours in for his predecessor's achievements. Claire Sanders reports

Lord Sainsbury, whose resignation last week shocked higher education, is to lead a major review of science and innovation, a role that is prompting questions about how much power will be transferred to his successor, Malcolm Wicks.

MPs, scientists and vice-chancellors paid tribute to Lord Sainsbury, who stepped down as Science Minister after eight years. He said his decision was due entirely to personal reasons.

But while Lord Sainsbury hands over the reins to Mr Wicks, who was Energy Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, he remains in charge of the science review for the Treasury that is due to report next summer.

Phil Willis, chair of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, praised Lord Sainsbury's record.

Mr Willis described him as a "tremendous ambassador for science", and added: "Lord Sainsbury united the science community and linked them to Government."

But Mr Willis said he was "bemused" by the decision to leave Lord Sainsbury in charge of the review, which will report to the Treasury.

"He has resigned as minister, yet is trying to carry on as normal. Lord Sainsbury cannot pull strings from behind the scenes. If so, what is the point of the ministerial team?" he asked.

The Treasury insisted that the review would benefit from Lord Sainsbury's experience, would be cross-departmental and would feed into the work of the new Science Minister and into the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.

A Treasury spokesman said the review would take a look at what needs to be done to ensure the UK's continued success in wealth creation and scientific policymaking. Lord Sainsbury will report to the Chancellor and the Trade and Industry and Education and Skills secretaries.

Peter Cotgreave, spokesman for the Campaign for Science and Engineering, welcomed the fact that science now had a minister in the Commons and not the Lords.

"Although Lord Sainsbury did go before the science and technology committee every three months, this is not the same as being able to ask questions on the floor of the House," he said.

Mr Willis has written to Mr Wicks asking him to organise a science question time in the Commons. Mr Wicks, who was Minister for Lifelong Learning from 1999 to 2001, was formerly a lecturer in social administration at Brunel University.

Mr Willis said: "With his social science background, he will be good at communicating science to the general public. He has overseen some complicated areas, such as the energy review, and managed them well."

Lord Sainsbury was one of 48 people questioned by police in the cash-for-peerages probe. He insisted last week that his resignation had nothing to do with the inquiry. "Now is the time to get back to all my other business and charitable activities," he said.

Baroness Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "David Sainsbury has been a great champion of research in higher education. He will be a serious loss to UK science and the university sector."

claire.sanders@thes.co.uk

SCIENCE MINISTER: MALCOLM WICKS

Malcolm Wicks was educated at Elizabeth College, Guernsey, North West London Polytechnic and the London School of Economics. He has a BSc in sociology.

He began his career as a fellow in the department of social administration at York University, then worked in the Urban Deprivation Unit of the Home Office. He was director of the Family Policy Studies Centre before becoming MP for Croydon in 1992.

Tony Blair promoted him in 1999 from chair of the Commons Education Select Committee to Junior Minister in the Department for Education and Employment.

Mr Wicks moved to the Department for Work and Pensions in 2001. In 2003, he was promoted to Minister for Pensions and was appointed Minister for Energy in the Department of Trade and Industry after the last election.

He is married and has three children.

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