Scientists greet Byers

January 1, 1999

Barely a week after launching his much-hyped Competitiveness white paper, Peter Mandelson, the trade and industry secretary, has gone, replaced by ex-academic Stephen Byers.

Mr Byers's arrival at the Department of Trade and Industry has been welcomed, but many in science are sad to see the departure of Mr Mandelson, who represented science in cabinet and whose influence and enthusiasm for the discipline were obvious.

Mr Mandelson viewed science as the key to British competitive advantage and saw in new money to replace university labs and boost science.

Since his election to Parliament in 1992 (he is now MP for Tyneside North), Mr Byers, 45 - known as a leading Labour moderniser and even tipped as a successor to Tony Blair as prime minister - has risen rapidly through the Labour ranks.

A law graduate from Liverpool Polytechnic (now Liverpool John Moores University), he lectured in the subject at Newcastle Polytechnic (now the University of Northumbria) for 15 years. He served as a local councillor, becoming deputy leader of North Tyneside borough council and chairman of the Education Committee of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, until he took the seat for Wallsend in 1992.

He worked his way through the opposition ranks first as a whip, and later as opposition spokesman for education and employment, becoming schools minister after the 1997 election. There he showed he was not scared of the unions when he pioneered the "naming and shaming" of failing schools. Mr Byers was rewarded with a move to chief secretary to the Treasury, a cabinet post, in the summer.

After just five months at the Treasury, Mr Byers has moved around the cabinet table to the DTI with responsibility for science, as well as business and such hot issues as the Post Office.

His arrival has been welcomed. Peter Cotgreave, of Save British Science, said: "We are very sorry not to see how Mr Mandelson's enthusiasm for science would have been translated into the real world." But he added of Mr Byers: "When he wrote to us as chief secretary to the Treasury he expressed an interest in science and its importance to the economy. We look forward to working with him and hope he is as enthusiastic about science as Mr Mandelson was."

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