We have a fantastic science and engineering heritage in this country. This is embodied, for example, in Newcastle, where the city now plays host to high-tech science and research with a biotechnology flavour in the Centre for Life.
So, it’s a fitting place for me to spend the first day of this year’s National Science and Engineering Week (NSEW), the UK’s premier celebration of science and engineering, which promises to be bigger and better than ever thanks to the sterling co-ordination efforts of the British Science Association and Engineering UK. Most communities will have an event near them, I encourage you to find out about them and take part.
Last year I was one of the 1.7 million people who attended a Science Week event, and got to see for myself how young people were being enthused at the Big Bang Fair – a truly inspiring event, with many thousands of young people taking a real interest in science and technology, showcasing some real innovation in projects they had undertaken (you can see a video of last year here). It was hard to believe, in some cases, that these were still school children, but showed that this generation has the creativity, ingenuity and interest in science and technology to make a real contribution to Growth.
My focus this year, though, is on public engagement of a very different kind – the BIS-supported Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre for Public Dialogue in Science and Innovation. This is a unique system of support for public dialogue and engagement which brings together scientists, policy makers and ordinary members of the public. It provides funding for public bodies to both do and learn from dialogue, and drives forward public sector commitment to using insights from public deliberation. The aim is more robust science and technology policies which are, in turn, more socially and economically viable.
Today, I can announce the next phase of the programme with the awarding of a £3.6m three-year contract for its management. The contract was awarded to AEA Technology, in partnership with the British Science Association and Involve – an exciting new collaboration. There are some interesting changes – including a Citizens group, which will involve members of the public in developing and implementing new projects and a Business Insight Group to look at ways in which engagement with business can be incorporated into the Sciencewise process. Both David Willetts and I look forward to seeing the impact of these new developments.
BIS is making its contribution to the week in other ways too: David Willetts will be visiting Cambridge, as part of their popular Science Festival, next week, as well as attending a Young People’s Science Question Time in Westminster. I’m sure the young people there will be as tough as any of our Parliamentary colleagues.