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Tuesday, December 15, 1998 Published at 16:17 GMT


Sci/Tech

Government asks public for bioscience views

Also announced was £75 million more for research equipment


Peter Mandelson: the public need to know more about science
The UK government is to ask the public for their views on controversial developments in the biosciences, including their opinions on the ethics of cloning, genetic testing and genetically modified crops.

The consultation of over 1,000 people was announced by Science Minister Lord Sainsbury after leading scientists met him, the Prime Minister and Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, at Downing Street.


[ image: Scientists and politicians met in Downing Street]
Scientists and politicians met in Downing Street
Lord Sainsbury explained: "The biosciences have an increasing impact on everyday life and it is important that we consult members of the public on how they feel about developments."

The nationwide consultation will be carried out by MORI, using The People's Panel and begins on Tuesday with focus groups. A questionnaire will follow and a report will go to Ministers in May 1999.

The report is intended to help scientists and policy-makers to understand how the public feel - and what they want to know - about developments in bioscience.

The nature of the consultation was developed by the Office of Science and Technology, with substantial assistance from, amongst others, the food giant Sainsbury's, Zeneca, the Green Alliance and the Women's Institute.

Equipment boost

Also announced, by Mr Mandelson, was a £75 million boost for university research equipment and a new focus for the government's Foresight programme, which aims to turn Britain's scientific research into business success.


The UK Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Robert May, debates the importance of scientific research
Mr Mandelson said: "Britain's excellent science and engineering base is vital to the future competitiveness of this country. For this work to continue, we need to invest in the facilities that make it possible."

The 1998 award brings the total investment in university research equipment through the Joint Research Equipment Initiative to over £200 million since it began in 1996.


[ image: Trade and Industry Secretary:
Trade and Industry Secretary: "entrepreneurship and innovation are vital "
This year, over 240 awards have been made to more than 50 Universities, including £63,000 to Heriot-Watt University towards the purchase of an unmanned underwater vehicle for subsea robotics research.

The next round of the Foresight programme will concentrate on building links between business and Britain's excellent knowledge base, said Mr Mandelson.

Its aim is to turn innovative ideas into the commercial successes of tomorrow. It would also examine issues that have an impact on our quality of life, such as the ageing population and crime prevention.

Mr Mandelson was publishing the blueprint for the next round of Foresight, which begins in April 1999. "In the rapidly changing industrial landscape, entrepreneurship and innovation are vital. Foresight promotes both and has already produced outstanding results. The next round must add value to that work." The government's Competitiveness White Paper will be published on Wednesday.

Science base

Lord Sainsbury added: "One of the significant achievements of Foresight is in engaging sectors with little or no history of working with the science base, such as financial services and insurance, and promoting collaboration between competitors, such as in mobile communications and food retailing."

The panels for the next round of Foresight are:

  • Sectoral panels: Built Environment and Transport; Chemicals; Defence, Aerospace and Systems; Energy and Natural Environment; Financial Services; Food Chain and Crops for Industry; Healthcare; Information, Communications and Media; Materials; Retail and Consumer Services.
  • Thematic panels: Ageing Population; Crime Prevention; Manufacturing 2020. Underpinning themes: Education, Skills and Training; Sustainable Development.

The government has already announced a big financial boost for UK science this year. In July, as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, a further £750m was given to the science budget to be spent over the next three years.

Of that, £300m will go on re-equipping university research laboratories. The rest is to be given to the different research councils to distribute.

The government's current annual science budget stands at £1.349bn.



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