The fate of the short-lived Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) is symptomatic of the desperation at the heart of Gordon Brown’s dying government.
Over the past two years I’ve been delighted to work as part of the Shadow DIUS team, ably led by David Willetts. We set out an ambitious vision to streamline skills funding and enhance the provision of careers advice and we have challenged the Government’s mindless cuts to second degree funding whilst pressing them to create flexible routes into higher education.
I have also set out a clear vision for UK science and innovation – supporting evidence-based policy and scientific literacy, updating our intellectual property laws, improving innovative procurement practices and preserving the independence of the Research Councils.
Unfortunately, it seems the Prime Minister was never really interested in what’s best for innovation, universities and skills in Britain. The survival of his weakened government appears to have been his first priority.
How can it be right to create a department and then abandon it two years later?
Although many questioned the merits of separating universities from schools, we all hoped that DIUS would begin to make some progress after the initial upheaval. After all, money was lavished on new signage, new office stationery and even a fancy new website! For all its teething problems, DIUS promised a strong voice for science and innovation not unlike the 1990s, when William Waldegrave sat in a Conservative Cabinet as science minister.
But the Prime Minister now claims he can achieve those same goals within a new ‘super-department’. Having separated science and business, he has now brought them back together again – but this time with even more competition for attention than before. Either the Prime Minister was wrong back then, or he’s wrong now. Whichever is nearer the truth, the sudden abolition of DIUS is a snub to students, a blow for taxpayers and a breach of trust with the civil servants who have loyally built up the department in accordance with the PM’s demands.
To frustrate accountability even further, the Labour establishment has engineered the new department to be run from the unelected House of Lords. Questions must be asked about democratic accountability when an unelected Prime Minister appoints an unelected science minister to report to an unelected Lord Mandelson.
For the sake of our competitiveness, I’m determined to keep science and innovation at the heart of policy-making. That certainly means enabling collaboration between businesses and our research base, because universities benefit from a ‘business-facing’ element to their activities.
The great tragedy for students, lecturers and researchers is that Labour just doesn't seem to care anymore. In this hasty reshuffle, all that appears to have mattered was the survival of a critically weakened prime minister and, for them, if that meant scrapping a new department just two years after its creation, then so be it.
The Department for Innovation is dead. Long live innovation.