Science, innovation and technology takes top seat at Cabinet table

  • Newly created Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) will spur stronger growth, better jobs and bold new discoveries, says new Secretary of State
  • Brings responsibility for the 5 technologies of tomorrow under one roof for the first time
  • Technology Secretary kicked off her tenure with visit and award of £40 million in funding to Rosalind Franklin Institute – just one part of a record £20 billion annual investment backing world leading innovators

Innovation has been placed at the heart of the government’s agenda and given a dedicated seat at the Cabinet table, the newly appointed Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said today (Friday 10 February 2023).

Visiting a leading medical research centre in Harwell, Oxford, the Secretary of State set out her plans for stronger growth, better jobs and bold discoveries to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Long called for by the tech and science sectors, the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) has been created to deliver on the clear mission set by the Prime Minister, to ensure the UK is the most innovative economy in the world and a science and technology superpower.

The move will bring together the five technologies of tomorrow – quantum, AI, engineering biology, semiconductors, future telecoms – along with life sciences and green technologies, into one single department for the first time.

On the visit to the Rosalind Franklin Institute, the Technology Secretary set out how the new department will draw on the innovative power of science and technology to kickstart rapid economic growth, create high-skilled jobs as well as improving the public sector and the lives of British people.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said:

Science and technology has the potential to change our world beyond recognition and improve all our lives. 

A brand new and dedicated department for Science, Innovation and Technology is key to the Government’s plan to grow the economy – generating better, well paid jobs and driving improvements in health, education and transportation.

The new department has received a warm welcome from the science, tech and business communities and it’s now my job to use the department to build on our world leading strengths in AI, life sciences, quantum, fintech, and green technology to deliver tangible and positive change across the UK.

The Rosalind Franklin Institute, based at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire, is at the forefront of efforts to develop new technologies to address major health research challenges. It opened in September 2021, following a £103 million government investment in 2018.

As part of this visit, the Secretary of State announced £40 million additional funding for the institute, provided through UK Research and Innovation’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. 

The technologies under development at the Franklin will be used to address major challenges in health – such as spotting the early signs of degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers have already made great progress in some areas, including identifying antibodies from llamas which could be used as a treatment for COVID-19.

In the future, using real patient tissue samples will enable disease dynamics, drug effects and diagnostics to be carried out with atomic level insight.

Notes to editors

Further stakeholder comments can be found below: 

UK Research and innovation Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said:

The establishment of the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology is an incredibly exciting development, signalling the Government’s commitment to building a fully joined up research and innovation system.

This initiative will capitalise on our world-class talent and skills to deliver excellent public services, a vibrant innovation-led economy and high-quality jobs for citizens across the UK. UKRI looks forward to working with all our stakeholders across government and the sector to make this ambition a reality, transforming tomorrow together.

The work of the Rosalind Franklin Institute is a great illustration of how we will deliver on this ambition. The advanced technologies being developed at the institute are transforming our understanding of life, and as a result helping us to address a wide range of health challenges.

The investment in the underpinning engineering and physical sciences research that we are announcing today will help us to diagnose conditions such as Alzheimer’s earlier and arm us against the threat posed by emerging diseases.

Sir Paul Nurse, Director, Francis Crick Institute, said:

Creating a stand-alone department for Science, Innovation and Technology is a highly welcome move in support of the government’s ambition to secure the UK’s position as a science superpower, and is necessary to bring about economic growth and societal good.

Michelle Donelan and her team should be supported to deliver the objectives of embedding science across government departments and the Cabinet, championing sustainable R&D funding, and delivering more effective support of the UK research endeavour.

A first step will be to deliver Government policy to safeguard our long standing and valuable research relationships with the rest of Europe through association with Horizon Europe, which will be possible if there is agreement over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive, Russell Group, said:

The decision to create a dedicated department for science, innovation and technology recognises the value of our sector and its importance to growing the economy, creating jobs, and solving major challenges such as energy security, inequalities and net zero.

 >“We hope the new Secretary of State will take the opportunity provided by the Spring Budget to back the development of more innovation clusters to create jobs and investment across the UK, built around the talent and research of our world-leading universities.

Global research collaboration will also be high on their list of priorities and we hope they will continue to push for the UK’s association to Horizon Europe and work with the sector to ensure the funding set aside for this or alternative schemes delivers the biggest impact for the UK.

A Universities UK spokesperson said:

UUK welcomes the establishment of a new UK Government Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).

UK research is world leading and internationally excellent and is carried out in universities of many different types – from big universities with broad subject areas to small, specialist institutions. This research makes a real difference to people’s lives and supports our national interests, develops new technology, economic growth and jobs, and a better understanding of the world we live in.

We look forward to working with DSIT, as we look to deliver joint ambitions on boosting growth and opportunity across the whole of the UK. UUK’s recent report Higher Education Research and Innovation in Facts and Figures underlines how university research and innovation activity will help deliver these ambitions by attracting investment and talent, making world-leading discoveries, generating knowledge, and creating and nurturing new, innovative businesses and jobs across the UK.

As its priority, the Department should continue engagement and dialogue between UK and EU counterparts with the aim of securing full UK association to Horizon Europe; enabling UK and EU researchers to continue to work with one another on critical and mutually beneficial research projects.

Nicola Perrin, CEO, Association of Medical Research Charities:

We are glad that the Government has heard calls from the sector for a new department focusing on Science, Innovation and Technology. Having a single science department means that there can be a focus on the whole research ecosystem, working with all the diverse partners including universities, industry and charities. We are looking forward to seeing a new joined up approach to science and innovation from Government.

Sir Adrian Smith, President, Royal Society, said:

A dedicated Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and secretary of state with a seat in cabinet is a clear signal that research and innovation sit at the heart of the Prime Minister’s productivity and growth agenda.

The Royal Society has long called for such a cabinet level position. Michelle Donelan’s first job must be to secure association to Horizon Europe and other EU science programmes. These schemes support outstanding international collaboration and without being part of them we are undermining the Prime Minister’s stated ambition for the UK to be at the forefront of science and technology globally.

Dr Daniel Rathbone, Assistant Director, Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), said:

We would like to congratulate the new Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan MP, on her appointment and welcome the announcement of a new specialised Department for Science Technology and Innovation.

This is another sign of the importance Government places on science and innovation. It is vital, however, that the practicalities of making changes in Whitehall aren’t allowed to take away from the time and resources needed to drive forward the promising agenda the Government has previously set out.

This new Secretary of State position can help ensure cross-Governmental buy in and support by championing science at the cabinet table, whether that is in investment, skills development, or from elsewhere. This support will be essential in tackling the big issues and uncertainty currently facing the sector, such as reform of R&D tax relief system and access to European research programmes.

Peter Ellingworth, CEO, Association of British HealthTech Industries, said:

As an organisation representing the research led HealthTech sector, ABHI welcomes this announcement and the focus it will bring on some fundamental and critical enablers of economic growth. We look forward to working with new Department, not least to realise the ambitions of the Life Sciences Vision to build on the world class science and research capabilities that already exists in the UK, and to make the NHS the most powerful driver of innovation on our country.

Hetan Shah, Chief Executive, British Academy, said:

The creation of a new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology sounds a clear message about the value of research and development towards the long-term prosperity, health and security of the UK and the world.

We urge the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology to forge close and collaborative links with the newly refocused Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The UK’s creative industries are world leading and draw heavily from disciplines across the humanities as well as the broader science base. These subjects and those within the social sciences play an equally important but often overlooked role in unlocking innovation and new solutions.

This is a critical time for science and research, with urgent live issues such as association to Horizon Europe on the agenda – which we hope will be a priority for the new Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology. We welcome this Government’s ongoing commitment to research and development. Remaining a world-leader in the social sciences and humanities will ensure we deliver economic, social and cultural benefits for the whole nation.

Tanya Sheridan, Head of Policy and Evidence, Royal Society of Chemistry, said:

The creation of the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology provides an opportunity to put science truly at the heart of Government. We congratulate Michelle Donelan on her appointment and stand ready to help ministers in DSIT and other new departments, alongside Defra and others, drawing on our strong scientific community’s expertise to help address challenges from energy security and climate change to economic growth and healthy ageing.

Collaboration between all government departments – and their many stakeholders across science – will be necessary to achieve the “science superpower” vision. The new Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology should prioritise UK association to Horizon Europe, long-term investment in research, ensuring a welcoming environment for international collaboration, a skilled and motivated scientific workforce, and the support for innovative small and medium companies to deliver new technologies and drive green economic growth.

Andrew Roughan, CEO, Plexal, said:

The Cabinet reshuffle and introduction of the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology is a key stepping stone in making the UK a true technology and science superpower.  The vision set out by the Prime Minster in his speech at our Plexal headquarters last month is coming to life, and we’re pleased to see the rhetoric is now being supported with clear action to help grow the UK’s innovation economy.

We’re hopeful this new departmental structure will open up even more opportunities for the UK’s public sector to more actively collaborate with our fast-growing and innovative startup economy – improving public sector services and unlocking opportunities for emerging businesses.

By focusing on innovation and technological advancement, the Government is showing a commitment to reinvent the structures of our public sector and fundamentally reset them around the changing needs of the country. Our tech economy is amongst our strongest assets, and if channelled properly, we can use the innovation we’ve developed over the past decade to solve some of the biggest societal and economic challenges we face.

The directive from the top of government is clear, and at Plexal we look forward to working with the new department to unlock the full potential of the UK’s startup ecosystem to fulfil the innovation agenda.

Russ Shaw CBE, founder of Tech London Advocates & Global Tech Advocates, said:

This reshuffle is a further indication of the Prime Minister’s focus and ambition to put science and technology at the heart of Government, and at the centre of growth for the UK economy.

This is a significant political commitment to that vision, and a clear doubling down on the importance Sunak places on the UK’s technology and innovation economy. Having a Department for Science, Innovation and Technology is the type of gear change that shows the Prime Minister is looking to go beyond the rhetoric and ambition we’ve seen set out to date, and more clearly commit Government resource and personnel to growing this part of the economy.  

Clearer focus on technology and innovation from the top down can only be good for the UK’s thriving tech sector, and it’s important this departmental focus is now complimented with other aspects that will help grow the industry – including cooperation with international tech hubs, progressive regulatory regimes and open channels to access talent from abroad.

Prof John Hardy, Professor of Neuroscience, UCL, said:

It is good to see a dedicated post of science minister again and good too that it is someone with experience of this area as previous Universities’ minister.  She is undoubtedly aware of the problems Brexit has caused higher education and science and the importance of encouraging foreign students and staff to come to the UK.  What we need, as well as an understanding of these problems, is a period of stability: ministers need to be able to learn their brief and the science and research portfolio in particular needs stable leadership rather than musical chairs.

Tom Grinyer, Chief Executive, Institute of Physics, said:

The new department for science, innovation and technology with a Cabinet seat is very good news for the UK and puts science and innovation exactly where they should be – right at the heart of government. We are entering an exciting new era powered by science, engineering and technology at a time when there are great opportunities and important choices facing the country.

The IOP’s work shows there is great untapped potential in physics-powered businesses, university departments and specialist research organisations – just as there is in other scientific communities across the country – offering solutions to our greatest challenges and developing new sources of growth and prosperity. 

The new Secretary of State can and must use their Cabinet seat to work with the scientific community to take these opportunities and make sure that the Government’s science superpower vision stays on track. It is vital that the new department works hand-in-hand with other departments to make sure that science doesn’t become siloed and that there is a genuinely joined-up approach to science across government.

Professor Dame Anne Johnson, President, Academy of Medical Sciences, said:

We welcome today’s news that the Prime Minister has created a new Government Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. Placing science at the heart of Government through a newly created Cabinet position is an important step in realising the UK’s ambitions to become a science superpower.

In the Autumn Statement, the Government reasserted its commitment to put research at the centre of plans for growth. Research and development drives innovation, creates high-skilled jobs in high-growth industries and, importantly, improves the nation’s health. Building on the Government’s commitment to UK R&D, we urgently need to resolve and strengthen our position within the international funding landscape.

The scientific community strongly believes that association to the Horizon Europe funding programme is best for research in the UK and in Europe, and will improve health for all. We urge the new Secretary of State to seize the opportunity to secure this outcome. It will send a strong message that the UK is open for business and remains a premier destination to work on health research that improves lives.

Dom Hallas, Executive Director, Coalition for a Digital Economy, said:

The creation of the new Department of Science, Innovation & Technology is good for British tech startups. There’s always been the need for a real innovation voice in Whitehall and bringing together the research and funding from BEIS with the digital policymaking experience from DCMS makes real sense.

Katie Gallagher, Chair, UK Tech Cluster Group, said:

It is welcome news that the government has reaffirmed its commitment to supporting the tech sector at this critical juncture. Research in 2021 found that the digital sector employs around 1.66 million people: accounting for 4.9% of all jobs. It also contributed £148 billion to the economy – amounting to 7.6% of the UK total.

As Managing Director of Manchester Digital, and in working with industry and Government on the Digital Skills Council, I see the critical importance of keeping momentum and ensuring businesses can start, grow, and innovate through technology, while more people are supported to build digital careers. 

Ministers across government – including the Secretary of State and Chancellor in their recent Bloomberg speeches – have been clear as to the importance of digital tech to growing the economy.  We look forward to continuing to work with them to help deliver on this agenda by building on success and unlocking potential in all parts of the UK.’’