HM Treasury has finally appointed a chief scientific adviser: James Richardson, until now director of public spending in the department’s public services and growth directorate.
The Treasury was the only government department without a CSA, and the issue became something of a cause celebre among the UK science policy community in the run-up to the 2010 election and the campaign to spare science funding from cuts last autumn.
A spokeswoman for HM Treasury said in an email to Nature: “Dr James Richardson, as Director of Public Spending at HM Treasury is a prominent and very active member of the Government Economic Service (GES) Board. For example, leading on the GES cross-cutting analytical development of appraisal techniques to inform spending decisions. The GES is headed by Dave Ramsden, the Chief Economist to HM Treasury, and supported by the Government Economic and Social Research (GESR) team based at HM Treasury. James is therefore well placed to ensure joined-up natural and social science policy advice. James holds a PhD in economics from the London School of Economics.”
Interestingly, the spokeswoman added: “I would like to stress that the post of Chief Scientific Advisor will be taken on alongside James’ current responsibilities as the Director of Public Spending and the Chief Micro economist at the Treasury.”
Presumably this is because government departments are still operating under a hiring freeze. But it does raise some doubts about how independent his advice to Chancellor George Osborne will be.
Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, welcomed the long-awaited appointment. “It’s great news that HM Treasury have finally caught up and recognised the importance of having a [departmental] Chief Scientific Adviser. We desperately need someone within the department who can talk about how critical a long-term investment strategy for science and engineering is for the UK’s future. Without that, we’re going to lose out in the international knowledge-economy race,” he said in a statement.
But Richardson’s civil service background raises some red flags. “Now we need to ensure that the new post-holder is independent enough from the civil service – and has sufficient oversight powers – to make an impact,” said Khan.