Parliamentary Links Day: placing science and engineering at the top of the political agenda

Jo Johnson MP minister for universities and science
Me with Jo Johnson MP

The post was originally published on the Biochemical Society blog on 1 July 2015.

Even though I started working as a Science Policy Assistant at the Biochemical Society and the Society of Biology less than a month ago, a lot has happened, and all of it very exciting. One might wonder how this joint position works (in the beginning so did I!)

The Biochemical Society channels its policy work through the (soon to be Royal) Society of Biology, therefore it is useful for the both organisations to have one person who coordinate the joint policy work.

One of the most memorable moments so far has been the Parliamentary Links Day. Every year the Society of Biology organises this event to strengthen the communication between Parliament and the science and engineering community. To add extra sparkle to this year’s event it happened to also be Women in Engineering Day!

The theme for this year’s event was “Science and the New Government”, with a focus on exploring current science priorities, government plans for science and identifying effective ways to work together to achieve those goals. The Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson MP, addressed over 200 MPs and representatives from the science community and highlighted the importance of science to the new government. Key priorities include facilitating collaboration between universities and businesses to ensure that the UK nurtures the best scientific talent in the world and that they can continue to inspire others to pursue science and engineering careers

Some issues, such as funding, will never leave the discussion table. And they shouldn’t. Jo Johnson MP welcomed the fact that there was strong cross party consensus for investment in science and reiterated the Government’s commitment to investing £6.9bn in science infrastructure capital by 2021.

In addition to the Minister, the speakers included Naomi Weir (Campaign for Science and Engineering), Nicola Blackwood MP (chair of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee), Dr Chris Tyler (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology) and Sir Venki Ramakrishnan (President Elect of the Royal Society), among others. A diverse range of speakers covered a great deal of ground – from science funding and the productivity crisis to diversity and the importance of supporting international talent.

Speakers and audience alike agreed on the fact that science should not be perceived as a niche area, instead, academic, enterprise and technological advances in STEM should go side by side.

Nicola Blackwood MP, the first female to be elected as the chair of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, urged the science community to make the non-scientists feel welcome and stressed the importance of collaboration and engagement between the Parliament and the scientific community. The Biochemical Society supports the promotion of diversity and inclusion in science through various activities and grants.

EU funding, immigration and diversity attracted a lot of attention during the day. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, stated that EU funding is crucial to UK science and this comment received a round of applause from the audience.

During the final remarks of the event, Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President Elect of the Royal Society, said that we should be as proud of UK science as we are of Shakespeare or the Magna Carta. I think that statement brought home a sense of pride in each of us.

This year’s Parliamentary Links Day was another great success, helping to lay the foundations for a close working relationship between new parliamentarians and the science community.

Don’t forget to check out Storify – it’s been a busy day tweeting!