Page last updated at 16:43 GMT, Friday, 3 October 2008 17:43 UK

Lord Drayson takes science brief

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News

Paul Drayson (PA)
Lord Drayson takes control at a time of increased science spend

The UK has a new science minister - the third in two years.

Lord Drayson takes up the post in the recently created Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

It is a quick return to government for the multi-millionaire businessman who quit a position in defence in 2007 to pursue his interests in motor racing.

The scientific community, however, will welcome the appointment of "one of their own" - Lord Drayson holds a PhD in robotics.

The government, on the other hand, has a man who knows how to exploit innovation for the benefit of UK PLC.

Lord Drayson helped set up the Oxford-based Powderject company, which developed a revolutionary needle-free injection system.

The firm was acquired by the Chiron Corporation for more than 500m in 2003.

"I'm delighted - it's my absolute dream job," the new minister said.

"I have worked all my life in science and technology, and so the opportunity now to make a real difference in this area is a real honour, and I can't wait to get started."

Basic and applied

Lord Drayson said his appointment represented an upgrading of the science minister's role. He is to attend cabinet and will chair a new Cabinet Committee for Science and Innovation.

The committee's task will be to ensure integration across government.

"We welcome this appointment and look forward to working with Lord Drayson, whose proven interest in technology can only benefit the UK engineering community," said Dr Scott Steedman, vice president of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

And Professor Colin Blakemore, former head of the Medical Research Council, added: "There's no doubt he's been very creative in recognising opportunities to move from basic research into innovation in his own career, so he chimes very much with the government's current focus on translational research.

"However, I do think he can be trusted to defend the investment needed for the basic research which is essential for innovation in the future."

Lord Drayson succeeds Ian Pearson, who held the science brief for 14 months; and Malcolm Wicks who himself was only in position for eight months.

Before them was Lord Sainsbury who was science minister for a remarkable eight years. Sainsbury, like Drayson, has been a big donor to the Labour Party.

Innovation leaders

The motor racing peer takes over at a time of high commitment to science spending in the UK.

Britain puts roughly 5bn a year into research; a figure that Gordon Brown has promised to increase to 6.3bn by 2010 as part of his 10-year science and innovation investment framework.

The Liberal Democrat MP Phil Willis, who is also chairman of the Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills, said Lord Drayson could make an excellent advocate for science.

"We desperately need a champion like him in the run-up to the next spending review," he commented.

"At both the graduate and post-doctoral level there is a very serious shortage of scientists and engineers. Given that 70% of the 20:20 workforce have already left school, we need to convert people already in work to science and engineering skills.

"I hope Paul Drayson will grasp the seriousness of this and make it his priority."

Picking up this point, the new minister said: "Young people need to be inspired into opting for science and engineering careers.

"Look at me - I have had a blast. I am out here racing cars because I was a successful biotech entrepreneur. That depended on me studying for a PhD, and that depended on me studying maths, physics and chemistry at A-Level.

"I was also inspired by cool projects in the 60s and 70s like the space programme, and we now need to inspire the next generation with similar cool projects."

Lord Drayson said he wanted to see the immense purchasing power of government stimulate innovation among its suppliers. This idea that procurement should be used to favour the brightest ideas in industry was a key recommendation of Lord Sainsbury when he left government.

Brown confirms science framework
21 Mar 07 |  Science & Environment

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific