This week eleven representatives – a mixture of Trustees, members, and staff – from IChemE attended the 30th Parliamentary Links Day.
Hosted by the Royal Society of Biology (RSB), the annual event brings together scientists and engineers from across the UK to discuss key issues with MPs and their peers.
This year’s theme was Science and the Industrial Strategy, and included two panel sessions – The Mission and The Target.
The UK government updated the Industrial Strategy on 21 May 2018 to focus on four ‘Grand Challenges’ – Artificial Intelligence and Data, Ageing Society, Clean Growth and the Future of Mobility.
The Atlee Suite in the House of Commons was packed out with scientists and engineers, including a few IChemE faces. Immediate Past President, John McGagh sat on The Mission panel to discuss artificial intelligence – a subject he spoke passionately about during his Presidential Address.
Speaker of the House of Commons, Rt Hon John Bercow MP opened proceedings for the 10th year in a row and said:
“The sad truth is not many MPs are well-versed in science, and that is a weakness. The link between science and politics is so important, and it’s going to be at least as important in the future as it has been in the past.”
He went on to introduce Chi Onwurah MP, who trained as an engineer before entering politics. She said:
“I entered politics for the same reason I became an engineer – I wanted the world to work better for everyone.”
In her speech, Chi touched on Brexit and the importance of retaining talent, as well as diversity – commenting that although individual engineering disciplines had seen an improvement, the percentage of female engineering students was, for the most part, the same as it was thirty years ago.
The Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Patrick Vallance, also gave a keynote speech. He focused on science communication, and told the audience that “the ability to turn science into something accesible and understandable is crucial.”
The panel sessions, chaired by the BBC’s Pallab Ghosh, covered a variety of subjects with a strong focus on what science would look like post-Brexit.
Chair of the House of Commons Science & Technology Select Commitee, Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP; Director of Strategy for UK Research and Innovation, Rebecca Endean; and the Minister of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Rt Hon Claire Perry MP also gave keynote addresses.
Perry was keen to highlight the focus on regional activity within the Industrial Strategy, and said:
“What’s really exciting about the Industrial Strategy is that we are focusing on productivity outside of London. Dundee is now a centre of excellence for computer gaming, and Hull is leading the way in renewable energy.”
The event closed on a high, with Stephen Metcalfe MP reading a special message from the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May which welcomed the presence of scientists and engineers in the House. Read the full message.
Guests were then led to the Cholmondeley Room in the House of Lords for lunch with MPs and policy-makers. The IChemE table hosted Daniel Zeichner MP for Cambridge (Labour).
Discussions ranged from the oil and gas industry in West Shetland to hydrogen power. Stephen Metcalfe gave the pre-dinner speech, passionately talking about the government’s Year of Engineering campaign and how important engineers will contnue to be in future.
But what did our members think? Here’s what they said:
Michael Sulu, Research Associate at UCL and Member of IChemE London and South East Member Group
“The day of talks was as informative as it was entertaining, the only improvement would have to have had more of the same.
I personally found two talks both interesting and motivating. The first, Chi Onwurah’s discussion about the importance of the engagement between science and politics as the two main driving forces for societal progression, and also the importance of improving diversity within both fields. Secondly, Stephen Metcalfe’s talk over lunch about the importance of engineering as the translational link between science and industry, his passion for the ‘Year of Engineering’ and how this is now the ‘Era of the Engineer’. He also touched upon the importance of diversity within engineering.
Another highlight, was the ability to have an open and frank discussion with an MP [Daniel Zeichner] over lunch, and I think myself and my colleagues at the table gave him a taste of the breadth of issues that engineers try to find solutions for, along with a general passion for engineering and having a positive impact on society.
Informal discussion led me to the conclusion that we need a voice, a popular, mainstream media voice to portray our individual enthusiasm for our discipline to the general public. If everyone was given the opportunity to spend the day in parliament they may engage with the political process more. MPs are people too!”
Yasmin Ali, Chartered Chemical Engineer and Science Communicator
“Chemical engineering touches every aspect of our daily lives, therefore I think it’s important for chemical engineers to engage with government and parliamentary affairs so that we can have a say in the policies and strategies being set.
This kind of event is useful for introducing scientists and engineers to politics and vice versa, and gave me a deeper understanding the Industrial Strategy.
I felt it also exposed the politicians to the real life stories and impact of engineers, hopefully putting engineering higher on their agendas. ”
Gabriella Thomas, Drilling Engineer at BP and the IChemE North East Scotland Member Group Chair for Young Members
“The sessions were focused on the mission and the actions needed to achieve a positive result. There were some concerns around trying to balance the investment in theoretical versus applied sciences & engineering. The overall sense of the day was the aspiration for a better future and creating a culture of innovation with a direction. The topics discussed were around the industrial strategy and the government pledge for investment of 2.4 percent of GDP by 2027, worth approximately £80bn.
I enjoyed being a part of the deliberations and meeting with a broad mix of people in attendance with leaders in theoretical & applied sciences, engineers, executives from industry, professors, leaders from numerous scientific & engineering societies, diplomats, journalists, Members of parliament & the cabinet.
My personal takeaway is that engineers should continue to be a part of the industrial strategy and bring the pragmatic outlook needed to ensure the UK remains leader in the world for innovative technology and scientific breakthroughs.”
Paul McLaughlin, Principal Consultant at Kiwa Gastec and Former Treasurer of the IChemE Teeside Member Group
“Parliamentary Links Day was a great opportunity to hear what parliamentarians have to say about science and engineering, without filtering through the media. It was encouraging to hear cross-party support for R&D, acknowledging that there is more than just basic research involved – only time can tell how this support can be translated from high level strategy into implementable ideas.
If we want to maintain manufacturing industries in the UK, we need to show that they add value to the economy beyond simply exporting intellectual property. We need businesses which are willing to take the risk on new ideas, and these businesses need certainty as to the context in which they will be operating over the next few years.
The MPs who spoke made no secret of their limited scientific and engineering knowledge, acknowledging that they have to rely on advice from those who know better about technical subjects. It really highlighted the need for better engagement with government, with strong voices speaking for the engineering profession in an engaging and trustworthy way.
Optimism and confidence help to carry messages better than caveats do.”
Margarita Vera, Process Planner at Thames Water and Member of the IChemE Water Special Interest Group
“Really pleased to attend the event representing IChemE, and more than that Women in Engineering. It’s been good to see that the science community has a voice and that Parliament is willing to hear and support us.
From my point of view, one of the most important thing they spoke about is how to influence children to go through STEM career paths and build a ‘science sense’ into the society. As some of the speakers pointed out, “Science affects our day to day lives” – for that reason we need to keep working towards include science in society.”
Matthias Schnellmann, PhD Student at the University of Cambridge and Chair of IChemE’s Future Energy Leaders
“It was a great opportunity to represent the IChemE Future Energy Leaders (part of the IChemE Energy Centre) at Parliamentary Links Day. As chemical engineers it is important for us to engage with MPs, peers and policy makers to highlight the role and importance of chemical engineering for addressing many of the challenges that the UK faces.
This year’s event focused on the ambitious Industrial Strategy published by the government recently. Now that the Strategy has been published, it is important that it delivers the promised impact. Attending the event reminded me of the important contribution that chemical engineers are already making and will continue to make to address the four Grand Challenges set out in the Industrial Strategy; A.I. and Big Data, clean low-carbon growth, the future of mobility and innovation to help meet the needs of an ageing society.”
Find out more about Parliamentary Links Day:
Photos credit: Royal Society of Biology (RSB)