'Science must be applied'

September 4, 1998

The government should overhaul its schemes to encourage university researchers to collaborate with industry, according to the new science minister, Lord Sainsbury.

The initiatives should be appraised and the best ones strengthened. "We need to have more evaluation of these schemes," he said.

The success of the Foresight Challenge scheme, which aims to identify future markets and the science required to exploit them, has been patchy, added Lord Sainsbury. "There probably isn't a magic formula that you can apply (to the less successful areas). It is a question of making certain that the right people are brought together and are given the right terms of reference," he said.

Lord Sainsbury himself chaired one of the Foresight panels on the food chain. "It was a positive experience and there was a very interesting dynamic," he said. The next round of Foresight is due to begin in April 1999.

He praised University Challenge, a Pounds 50 million venture capital fund that aims to help commercialise promising research. The Gatsby Foundation, one of the Sainsbury family's charitable trusts, contributed Pounds 2 million to the fund, which is due to make the first awards of up to Pounds 4 million in April 1999.

Lord Sainsbury's other priorities as science minister include maintaining the excellence of the science base and increasing public awareness of the use of science within Whitehall.

"The government has recognised the importance of the science base and the need to maintain excellence by putting extra funds in," he said. As science minister, he will campaign to maintain the level of investment in science.

He pointed to the continuing public consultation on developments in the biosciences as providing a model for involving the public in science policy-making.

"We need to make sure that (the use of scientific advice in policy-making across government) has the highest levels of integrity and openness," said Lord Sainsbury.

"I was absolutely delighted to be offered the job of science minister because I am very interested in business and competitiveness, and I also have an interest in science policy through my charity, the Gatsby Foundation", he said.

"I have a real belief in the importance of science and technology for wealth creation and improving the quality of life in this country.

"I see it as one of my jobs to communicate, both politically and more generally, that the science base is a real asset to this country," added Lord Sainsbury.

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