Boris Johnson has said Britain must harness the spirit that created the "miracle" of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine to achieve the scientific breakthroughs of tomorrow.
The Prime Minister announced a turbo-charging of the Government’s attempts to help find solutions to major challenges facing humanity, including climate change and dementia.
Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Johnson highlighted the need to repeat the drive that had created an effective Covid vaccine in the UK, stressing the importance of taking risks.
He warned that, for too long, there has been a "state of semi-detachment from science" in Britain, but said the pandemic had brought a renewed appreciation of the work of scientists.
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A new Office for Science and Technology Strategy, headed by Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, will be established to focus officials on innovation. Meanwhile a Cabinet committee, called the National Science and Technology Council, will get the most senior Tories in the Government focused on the challenge.
Discussing the UK’s track record on scientific research, Mr Johnson highlighted the success of Oxford University and AstraZeneca rapidly developing an effective Covid vaccine.
He wrote: "It is a wretched fact that British firms are currently investing a fraction of the OECD average on research, and though the speed of the discovery of Oxford AstraZeneca was little short of miraculous, it was also something of a miracle that it took place here at all. Before Covid, the UK domestic vaccine industry had almost perished out of benign neglect.
"Had a couple of investment decisions gone the other way, this country might not have possessed the skills or practical capability to make vast batches of the vaccine that has been so indispensable to our success."
The shake-up – backed by £22 billion of Government spending for scientific research – reflects Mr Johnson’s decision to name becoming a science "superpower" as a key strategic goal for the UK in the coming years.
It also continues a change in approach championed by Dominic Cummings, his former close adviser, who has become a vocal critic of the Government since leaving Downing Street in November.
The Office for Science and Technology Strategy, which will sit in the Cabinet Office and be run by civil servants, will be able to access national security information to shape its thinking.
One of its first tasks will be to look again at the "technology bets" the Government has made – investments into the tech of the future – reflecting Mr Johnson’s belief that risks must be taken to achieve the boldest scientific breakthroughs.
He wrote: "I cannot think of a time in the last 100 years when the entire population of this country has been so deeply and so obviously indebted to science – and to scientists.
"Had it not been for our scientists, we would not now be able to enjoy the most basic human freedoms: hugging relatives, meeting friends, playing football, going to the pub; or at least not without the risk of spreading a lethal disease.
"It is thanks to the vaccine rollout that literally every person and every family in this country has an immediate future that is happier, more prosperous, more full of hope and opportunity – and if you think I am belabouring this point, it is because it needs belabouring."
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The new focus matches other post-Covid changes such as a renewed determination within Whitehall to build critical scientific infrastructure within the UK given the tensions that flared between nations over vaccine production.
Sir Patrick, who has played a central role shaping Covid policy, will also become the new National Technology Adviser, reflecting how trusted he is by the Prime Minister.
He said: "The new Office for Science and Technology Strategy will put science and technology right at the heart of policy-making and strengthen the way we work across government to reinforce the position of the UK as a science superpower.
"I look forward to working with the National Science and Technology Council to help identify cutting-edge research and technologies that will deliver strategic advantage for the UK."