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Rishi Sunak creates new government department for science and tech

Science and tech department
Image credit: Sean Aidan Calderbank via Shutterstock

Rishi Sunak has created a new government department focused on science, innovation, and technology as part of his government reshuffle.

The role of secretary of state for the new tech department will be taken by the head of the department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Michelle Donelan.

Up until now, DCMS has overseen most tech-related matters. However, with the new department in place, it can focus on its other areas of jurisdiction. Lucy Frazer, former minister of state for housing and planning, will take over as culture secretary.

The announcement of a new tech-focused department has been met with positive reactions from key industry representatives.

“I’m pleased to see a newly formed Department for Science, Innovation and Technology – it puts a much-needed emphasis on these important areas of growth,” said Yiannis Maos MBE, CEO of Birmingham Tech.

“However, this must be backed up by significant investment and leaders must be empowered to mobilise their ecosystems.”

Dom Hallas, executive director of the startup advocacy group COADEC said: “The creation of the new Department of Science, Innovation and Technology will be good for British startups – there’s long been the need for a real innovation voice in Whitehall.

“Bringing research and funding from BEIS with the digital policymaking from DCMS makes real sense.”

Hallas pointed to the benefit of a government department that can make tech its complete priority.

“I vividly remember being told during the early days of the pandemic by a senior DCMS official that the department’s priority was saving holiday parks, not tech companies – that won’t be the case now.”

Alan Thompson, head of government affairs, Skyrora, said: “Skyrora is delighted that the prime minister has recognised the compelling opportunity that Science, Technology and Space represent for the UK economy and allocated greater resource to reinforce this priority…”

The chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee previously wrote to the government, recommending the appointment of a science minister to the cabinet to focus on increasing investment into UK innovation.

In-tray for the tech department

The new department will take on the outstanding duties related to science and tech that were thus far being handled by DCMS, including the polarising Online Safety Bill.

The legislation designed to police the actions of major social media and tech firms and protect citizens from online harm has faced many delays on its journey through Parliament.

This is in part due to the intensive debates surrounding the ethics of the bill. Critics have pointed out the limiting of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, while advocates urge the protection of the lives of vulnerable young people from online content.

The science, innovation, and technology department will also be responsible for the highly sought-after semiconductor strategy.

Members of the UK tech community have been calling on the government to publish a plan to secure the future of the British microchip industry. MPs from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee have also joined the effort to encourage a chip plan.