GUEST BLOG: Policy central

We work closely with many engineering bodies in the UK; particularly when providing evidence to inform policy-makers. It is important that we collaborate across the engineering disciplines to provide one unanimous voice on policy issues.

In today’s blog, Nick Starkey, the Director of Policy at the Royal Academy of Engineering, explains why engineering input is so crucial for policy-makers, and how we can be far more effective in influencing positive action that will benefit society by working together.

Name: Dr Nick Starkey

Job title: Director of Policy, the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng)

Bio: Nick leads the National Engineering Policy Centre, connecting policy-makers with crucial engineering expertise to inform and respond to policy issues of national importance. Before joining the Academy, he was Deputy Director, Science & Research at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

I suspect engineers read the newspapers slightly differently to other people.

Like anyone else, we read daily about the challenges of combatting climate change, or increasing UK productivity and competitiveness, of meeting housing shortages or the demands on the health service. But engineers’ eyes don’t just see the personal and political stories that others see, they also see complex systems problems – engineering and design challenges of the sort they are trained to address.

While engineers are on the frontline tackling these issues, they present huge choices for policy-makers in national and local government too. Policy-makers cannot be experts in all topics, and their decisions affect us all. So it is vital that they benefit from that practical, real-world engineering perspective as they make those decisions.

The National Engineering Policy Centre – led by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), working in partnership with the IChemE and the other 37 organisations representing engineering – aims to ensure that engineering expertise is brought to bear on these crucial policy decisions for the benefit of society.

Why a National Centre?

Firstly, while the great diversity and scope of our profession is a huge strength, it brings great institutional complexity with it.

Put simply, 39 engineering organisations is a pretty baffling landscape for government to find its way around! And we know, because policy-makers tell us, that it makes matters much worse when we don’t appear joined up or can’t give a clear message between us.

So the Policy Centre is a vehicle to enable us to speak with one voice when that is appropriate, and to help route policymakers to the right specialist institution when that is what they need.

Secondly, the big challenges of today are complex systems problems that stretch well beyond single disciplines, even those as broad and diverse as chemical engineering.

By working together we can just give better, more holistic advice, drawing in multiple perspectives and using our convening power to involve others outside engineering where needed.

Engineering priorities

The Centre launched at an event in January, with keynote speeches from John Manzoni, Chief Executive of the Civil Service (and an engineer), and Bernadette Kelly, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport.

We have an exciting programme of excellent, evidence-based policy work underway, and IChemE is right at the heart of it, drawing on the expertise of you, its members.

Policy-makers cannot be experts in all topics, and their decisions affect us all. So it is vital that they benefit from that practical, real-world engineering perspective as they make those decisions.

We know that engineering has not always been as rapid as other professions in presenting advice and priorities around spending reviews and general elections, and we are changing that. The Policy Centre has just developed a statement of Engineering Priorities for our Future Economy and Society , so that when the next spending review or general election is called, we are ready.

Priorities include energy, digital, infrastructure, skills and innovation. The process of identifying these has been genuinely collaborative, with 14 organisations involved in developing the document and many others signing up to endorse and promote it.

IChemE has been an important part of the team developing the asks and putting evidence behind them, drawing on your expertise. We know from discussions with the Treasury and others that this is well received and enhances the profession’s impact at crucial moments in the policy cycle.

The same is true across other policy issues. We are speaking with government at the highest levels about new work on climate change and energy, in which IChemE and its Energy Centre have huge expertise.

Your institution is part of the Centre’s topic groups on energy and on health, the first of which recently delivered an excellent cross-profession submission on Technologies for Meeting Clean Growth Emissions Reduction Targets to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry on the issue, leading to a request to appear and give evidence in person.

Clean Growth:
Technologies for meeting
the UK’s emissions
reduction targets report

We are also talking to IChemE about work we are doing on how to increase productivity and meet the challenge of getting UK R&D budgets up to the same levels as our competitors, which will be vital if we are to compete in changing times and develop a high-skill knowledge economy.

RAEng is putting its whole policy team to the service of the Centre, supporting it by running its systems, and sharing the access to government that comes from being a national academy, with strong and wide senior relationships across government and the wider policy world, and having a president on the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology.

We are also putting in place practical measures such as shared access to training in public affairs, which three IChemE colleagues recently joined us for.

The partnership with IChemE is a vital one for us, and your expert policy team are great allies in distilling the knowledge that comes from your practitioner’s perspective, and working with us to develop high-value advice for policy-makers at a critical time.

Through this collaboration, the Centre provides an additional route by which your expertise can influence government policy and in doing so deliver economic growth and better social outcomes in the UK. I am looking forward to a sustained and successful partnership.

We know that we can achieve more together, and that by punching our weight in the policy world the profession can greatly expand its impact, for public good.

We are delighted by the warmth of the reception we are getting from the highest levels of government and the wider policy world, who are actively looking to work with us.

With more engineering voices in the media and the corridors of power, we can ensure that many more people can spot an engineering challenge – and an engineering solution – as they read their daily papers.


Read the more on the National Engineering Policy Centre’s role and manifesto: Engineering priorities for our future economy and society

We’re encouraging our members to share this manifesto with their local MP to highlight the recommendations. You can find your MP’s contact details online and use this letter template as basis for sharing the manifesto.

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