Sir Patrick Vallance handed tech role to build on vaccine success
The government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has been asked by Boris Johnson to investigate whether the UK’s successful vaccine procurement programme can be replicated in other areas of technology.
Vallance, who has become a household name following his appearances at coronavirus press conferences, will take on the new title of national technology adviser, serving alongside his current roles.
Johnson has been fixated on the success of the vaccine taskforce, which was led by the venture capitalist Kate Bingham and operated with relative autonomy outside the existing civil service structures.
Bingham and her team helped secure tens of millions of doses of Covid-19, enabling the UK to start jabbing people earlier than many other nations. This month she was made a dame in recognition of her successes.
Downing Street said the new National Science and Technology Council, which will be overseen by Vallance, would look for big bets in other areas of science and technology that the UK could pursue “for strategic advantage”.
Downing Street said the prime minister would urge the body to embrace “setting bold visions, acting with speed and taking risks” on big public investments in technology to reach net zero emissions, new medicines to cure cancer and new ways of keeping the public safe.
While the success of the vaccine taskforce has been partly attributed to its relative autonomy, other aspects of the government’s coronavirus response – especially the enormous sums spent on procurement of protective equipment from newly formed suppliers – has led to calls for greater scrutiny of how public funds are spent.
Vallance said his new role would help coordinate investment in cutting-edge research: “The new Office for Science and Technology Strategy will put science and technology right at the heart of policymaking and strengthen the way we work across government to reinforce the position of the UK as a science superpower.”