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Labour Party Consultation on Agenda 2030: One Nation Labour's Plan for Science

The Labour Party has launched a consultation into its recently published green paper 'Agenda 2030: One Nation Labour's Plan for Science'. Details of the report and consultation along with the Terms of Reference can be found on Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Liam Byrne MP's website. The submission produced by the Geological Society can be found below:

Submitted 4 August 2014

  1. The Geological Society is the UK’s learned and professional body for geoscience, with more than 11,000 Fellows (members) worldwide. The Fellowship encompasses those working in industry, academia and government with a broad range of perspectives on policy-relevant science, and the Society is a leading communicator of this science to government bodies, those in education, and other non-technical audiences.
  2. We welcome and support many of the principles outlined in general terms in Agenda 2030. We hope that more specific policies and clearer explanation of how these aims will be achieved will soon be forthcoming, as these are lacking in the Green Paper.
  3. We welcome the intention to design science investment and policy at longer timescales and agree that stability in science should go beyond the life of any single parliament. 
  4. We agree that there is a need to invest in a knowledge economy and concur that science and innovation is crucial to improving the standard of living in Britain and that in order to do this the UK needs to maintain if not increase its investment in R&D.
  5. As detailed in our recent response to the Business Innovations and Skills Department (BIS) consultation on Creating the future: A 2020 Vision for Science and Research (, and that of the Science Council (, to which we contributed, we recognise that the current ad-hoc spending system is not optimal and we welcome plans to pursue a more strategic approach to science spending. Detailed decisions on infrastructure and research spending should be managed by the research councils rather than government departments.
  6. We support plans to create a more strategic, stable, joined up plan in any future government, but this needs to be described more clearly with specific policy detail.
  7. We share the concerns raised regarding Ofqual’s recent decision to exclude examination of practical work from A-level science grades.
  8. A recent report prepared for CaSE, funded by several of its members including the Geological Society, entitled ‘The Economic Significance of the UK Science Base’, sets out evidence of a range of economic benefits which result from public investment in research ( Key points in the context of the Green Paper are:

    a. Public expenditure on science and engineering research is an investment that generates economic growth.
    b. Putting money into UK public sector R&D attracts private investment from overseas.

    The report, launched at BIS in June, also calculated that for every £1 spent by the government on R&D, private sector R&D output rises by 20p a year in perpetuity, by raising the level of the UK knowledge base.
  9. We note the prominent role given to regional development in the document. It is worth noting that regional development is not always simply achieved by targeting areas that are most in need of investment. There may also be opportunities for clustering of economic activity, particularly in the case of natural resource based industries, where geographical distribution of resources in the ground is a driving factor in the location of related industries. Extractive industries, such as North Sea oil and gas production and some types of mining are still a crucial part of the UK economy and will continue to be in the coming decades. There is renewed interest in mining low volume, high quality mineral deposits in south west England, such as that at Hemerdon Tungsten mine in Devon, and in parts of Scotland, for instance, which are becoming economic to extract as resource prices rise. The location of these resources lends potential economic advantage to particular regions of the country.
  10. Another potential clustering opportunity is the development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), a technology recently described in Labour’s CCS position paper as ‘a necessity, not an option’. Depleted oil and gas reservoirs in the North Sea are a promising potential location for storing much of Europe’s captured CO2. Early development of a CCS industry will also depend on identifying suitable point sources of CO2 (power plants and large scale manufacturing sites) within easy reach of suitable infrastructure and storage locations. A burgeoning CCS industry will depend on strategic regional planning to stimulate infrastructure development and public and private regional investment, and would provide opportunities for economic advantage arising from effectively planned industrial clustering. Strategic co-location of regional development stimuli, industry, and universities and research institutes with relevant expertise in emerging technologies such as CCS, has the potential to boost regional growth and help rebalance the economy.
  11. We agree that financial stability in higher education and research funding is essential, and that clearly signalled long-term plans from government are vital to give academics and university managers the confidence they need to sustain degree programmes and embark on ambitious research programmes. There is particular concern in the geoscience sector regarding multiple pressures on taught applied Masters degree programmes. In many industrial geoscience specialisms, an MSc is a de facto requirement for entry to the profession. Public financial support for taught Masters programmes, previously distributed by the Research Councils, has been withdrawn. Student loans are not available to MSc students, and increasing levels of debt incurred in their undergraduate years may discourage graduates from taking on additional debt on commercial terms to pay for further study. The Higher Education Commission expressed concern in its 2012 report on Postgraduate Education that these factors may act as a significant limiting factor on access to postgraduate degree programmes. MSc programmes are increasingly reliant on attracting overseas students to remain viable, and there is concern that real or perceived changes to the immigration system is discouraging such applicants. The UK has an excellent track record in providing MSc training in geoscience specialisms which are essential to our future economic growth and societal wellbeing. This capability is under threat as a result of the multiple pressures now facing MSc programmes. Some have already closed as a result, and there are concerns about the viability of others. The Geological Society, together with other geoscience organisations, has highlighted this concern over a number of years. Government has recognised the problem, but has not acted.
  12. We welcome the commitment to international partnerships in the Green Paper and support the aim of maintaining our position in global science. Geoscience research, unlike that in some other science disciplines, often addresses questions relating to particular times and geographical locations as well as generalised natural laws, even in the case of fundamental research. For this reason, investment in international partnerships is particularly important in geoscience in order to facilitate raw data collection and analysis. This depends on measurements being made at specific times and locations, and ensuring the subsequent interoperability of these data. Successful international partnerships allow Earth systems to be monitored holistically and at a planetary level, in order to better understand the complex interactions that control our environment, for example in the furthering of our understanding of climate change.
  13. The Green Paper rightly points out the UK’s success in winning EU funding. This is certainly the case in the UK geoscience research community, where EU funding forms a vital part of the research funding portfolio. There are many additional positive effects that result from operating in an EU-wide research framework. The wider research community benefits considerably from the improved interoperability of data and infrastructure that comes from cross-border working, and associated technological advancements such as investment in e-infrastructure. Operating within an EU framework also aids the process of collaboration across borders and opens up opportunities for research which might not otherwise be considered.
  14. We are pleased to see ‘Big Data’ identified as a priority, and we agree that investment in this area merits careful consideration. The need for advanced computing facilities to rapidly handle very high volume data is self-evident. Careful attention to interoperability of data is also important, especially in the context of international collaboration. Building on past investment can improve the interoperability of data across national boundaries and through time, as well as enabling the use of new data analysis techniques to analyse, manipulate, interpret and visualise new and diverse data sets. Very long term data sets gathered over many decades are a vital resource for understanding environmental change, but their continuing value depends on sustaining the collection of these data. For this to happen, capital expenditure is necessary, together with revenue expenditure to cover continuing support costs and ensure the availability of suitably skilled personnel at facilities. Discontinuous long term data sets are of little use. Projects such as the One Geology ( initiative and our national climate and monitoring archives are vital assets which merit protection and further development. These would benefit significantly from investment in big and open data networks.
  15. We support plans outlined in the document to increase the number of apprenticeship opportunities. In geoscience, this kind of training is important for a numerically small but crucial set of highly technical roles. Technically trained support staff in many areas of science form an important part of the maintenance and infrastructure of large instruments and facilities. Attention is needed to make sure the technical training courses and apprenticeships required for this work are maintained so as not to lose capacity or allow skills gaps to develop.