IET quizzed at 'Engineering in Government' inquiry

Published:  18 December, 2008

Professor Christopher Snowden, Deputy President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), has represented the Institution at the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills (IUSS) Committee"s first evidence session on Engineering in Government.
Part of the "Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy” inquiry, Professor Snowden was quizzed on the engineering profession and the role of the institutions.
He said, "In response to the committee's questions we were able to clearly demonstrate the value that the institutions, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the profession, especially through Chartered Engineers, could add to the development of Government policies in addition to the the delivery of Government projects and programmes."
The IET also submitted written evidence to the inquiry, which said: "In general, the IET considers that the Government's use of engineering advice and in particular its use of the engineering resource represented by the engineering institutions has been ad-hoc and uncoordinated in nature.
"Whilst the engineering profession might not fully appreciate the Government"s position or its requirements, we would argue that the Government does not formally acknowledge the role of engineering in policy making and perhaps does not realise the resources available.”
Specifically, on the role and career prospects of specialist engineers in the Civil Service, the evidence said: "In some departments there is a poor understanding of science and engineering within the non-specialist Civil Service.  This leads not only to misunderstanding, but also to distrust as suspicions may arise that engineers and scientists are deliberately taking the debate outside of the non-specialist's understanding for their own advantage.
"The Civil Service moves its senior staff regularly across departments; however in complex areas of policy such as energy, this does result in a damaging loss of understanding and continuity and ultimately adversely affects the credibility of the department.”
Robin McGill, IET Chief Executive and Secretary, acknowledged the issues and said that the institutions are working on better co-ordinating their policy advice.  He said that the institutions and in particular the IET has, through the knowledge of its members “developed a strong base for providing authoritative, independent and objective information on technical matters to policy makers and the general public alike.”
The inquiry also heard evidence from Professor David Fisk from Imperial College, London, Professor Michael Kelly, Chief Scientific Advisor from the Department of Communities and Local Government and Lord Broers, former President of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Professor Snowden"s attendance at the IUSS Committee follows on from the IET's recent “Does policy-making need science and engineering?” round table event held at the House of Commons and sponsored by Doug Naysmith MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Science Group.


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