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The politicians are only catching up

The technology bandwagon has just picked up some new first-class passengers. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on June 21 that he is to establish and chair a new National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) whose aim will be to consolidate the UK’s status as a ‘global science superpower’. Wow!

In addition to that, Sir Patrick Vallance – already the country’s Chief Scientific Adviser and regular media spokesman – is to head up a new Office for Science and Technology Strategy (OSTS) which will be based in the Cabinet Office itself. As the official blurb says, to put science and technology “at the centre of policy and public services.”

While this all sounds very dynamic, critics have been quick to point out that, first, it is about time; second, it has taken a pandemic and successful vaccination programme for Government to seize the moment and take the necessary action; and, finally, that, exciting as the rhetoric sounds, it would be even more encouraging if ‘engineering’ was to be seen as part of the mix. One commentator described the news as “Another exercise in grand vision, great words and less money.”

However, although such sentiments are understandable, they seem unduly harsh; politicians of all parties will always ‘milk’ situations that enhance their popularity. But, whatever the motives, surely what is most important is that it is happening.

According to the Government statement, one of the OSTS’s first tasks will be to review the ‘technology bets’ the UK should prioritise for strategic advantage. The Government is currently investing £14.9bn in R & D in 2021-22, the highest level in real terms for 40 years. In addition to producing vaccines to tackle COVID-19 and its variants, resources will go towards developing the technology to reach net zero, boost cancer research and help keep UK citizens safe at home and abroad.

Of course, most ambitious engineering companies (including UnitBirwelco) have not been waiting for Boris to make a move. They have been leveraging the brilliant research already conducted by our excellent academic institutions – in our case, working with universities in Swansea and Birmingham – to move towards a greener world. We achieved net zero two years ago.

We have also partnered with like-minded overseas businesses – for example, Hydrogen Technology Inc and its parent company Jericho Energy Ventures – to provide engineering support for harnessing alternative sources of energy like Hydrogen. The world is wide open to new ideas, and has been for some time.

The politicians are only catching up on what is already happening.