Benn announces new science appointment at DfID

New science focus at DfID
New science focus at DfID

The Secretary of State for International Development has announced that he will be creating a new post of Chief Scientific Advisor within the department.

Speaking to the Commons Science and Technology Committee, Hilary Benn said that the committee's ongoing inquiry into the "Use of Science in UK International Development" had made a "profound impact" on his department.

The appointment of a specialist scientific advisor to the department was one of the key recommendations made by the Royal Society in its submission to the committee. In January it said that: "The UK Government's efforts to reduce poverty and improve the quality of lives of people in the world's poorest countries are being hampered by a short-term and uncoordinated approach to the use and funding of science in developing countries."

Other key scientific organisations also backed the call for a dedicated science team at the Department for International Development (DfID).

Mr Benn told the Committee on Wednesday that: "Science has a really important contribution to make to improve the condition of humankind" and that "we're all looking forward for someone to take the initiative".

He described the role to improve use of science in DfID based on work already done by the department and to "add rigour" to the 10 Heads of Profession. He said that the appointment will be "of someone with great credibility in the scientific community who knows about development".

It is not yet clear who the new advisor will be, or whether they will come from a social or natural sciences background.

Regarding the DfID's funding of scientific research, Mr Benn pledged "Our priority has got to be to finance science that's going to be usable in the developing world".

A spokesman from the Royal Society told that he welcomed the news of the appointment. He said that who ever is appointed should have the same level of authority as the Chief Scientific Advisors in other departments, such as the Ministry of Defence.

However, as far as the Royal Society is concerned, the most crucial thing is that the position should be filled by an "eminent scientist" capable of connecting with the external scientific community.