As part of a cabinet reshuffle last week, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron split responsibility for science between two ministerial posts. Cameron took the action 10 months before a new government is elected next year.
Greg Clark was appointed science and universities minister, and George Freeman took on the newly created role of life sciences minister. The previous minister of science, David Willetts, handled all sciences during his tenure.
Clark’s appointment has had a mixed reception. Some chemists voice concern because Clark, who has served as minister of cities and the constitution under Cameron, will continue in that job too. Paul Clarke of the University of York, in England, describes the move as a downgrading of science. Clark’s time will be “inevitably stretched,” says Naomi Weir of the Campaign for Science & Engineering, a U.K. advocacy group.
Clark began his new role by accompanying Willets, the outgoing minister, to an event at the Royal Society of Chemistry in London. “Greg Clark’s attendance on the very day of his appointment underlines the importance government attaches to the significant contribution the chemical sciences make to the economy and the central role chemistry continues to play in solving some of the world’s most intractable problems,” says an RSC spokesman.
Freeman, the new life sciences minister, has a background in the biomedical industry and previous experience as Cameron’s adviser on life sciences. His appointment is seen as an attempt by the government to strengthen oversight of overseas companies acquiring British companies to take advantage of U.K. tax breaks for profits made through patents.
During Pfizer’s failed bid for U.K.-based AstraZeneca, many scientists and people in government raised concerns that the U.S. company would not honor its commitment to keep research and development investments in the U.K. At the time, Freeman lobbied to have Pfizer sign a binding, 10-year public-private research deal.
Many people in the scientific community praised the outgoing science minister. Paul Nurse, president of the RSC, says Willetts “kept science center stage in the cabinet.”