“The Minister should be able to see you in a bit,” I am informed. I momentarily feel a sense of self-importance and delusional journalistic grandeur, as if I was pacing the halls of Westminster. I am, in fact, sheltering from the rain in the reception area of the York Bioscience Technology Facility, talking to the Head of Media Relations of the University. Inside the boardroom, the Rt Hon Greg Clark, Minister for Science, Universities and Cities is speaking to several representatives of the University (including YUSU President Sam Maguire) and some reporters.
On this day the Minister arrived in York to sign a deal that secures £122.2M in funds for the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding areas, a significant part of which will head towards science projects in the area (including the planned York Bio-hub on Heslington East). I must admit, the tone set by his visit is overwhelmingly positive and it is difficult to not derive comfort from it. When their meeting is over, and its other participants have filtered out from the room, we are introduced and I finally have my chance to get a piece of the government’s mind on science issues.
There are those who are worried that the country’s current methods of rewarding academic progress (the Research Excellence Framework or REF) will drive funding unfairly towards the well-established “Golden Triangle” of academia between Oxford, Cambridge and London. The Rt Hon Clark reassures me that “many of the Universities around the country can be very confident of their position” and that he is committed to maintain the diversity of the sources of academic success in the country and funding “excellence , wherever it is found”. Certainly, the purpose of his visit backs his case all the more strongly.
I question the Minister on the issue of fracking and what his stance on its practice is, but unfortunately, thanks to the rather confusing organisation of parliamentary administration, the Minister for Science has no direct impact on an energy matter, even though its fate rests heavily now on scientific consensus and approval. I am assured instead that such matters are handled through the Science and Technology Select Committee and through the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Mark Walport.
I had hoped for the representative of the government (and cabinet for that matter!) to state their opinion on a currently highly-controversial issue, but instead I was given a debriefing on parliamentary decision-making mechanisms. Oh well, my next question obtained more incisive knowledge.
As I asked the Minister my final question, pertaining to his views on homeopathy, I half expected the ministerial aide next to me to slam his hand on the table and stop the questions. The Minister stated “I have never voiced support for homeopathy, I have never believed in homeopathy […] as far as I can see there is no evidence to support the claims of homeopathy”.
The reason I asked is because in 2007 he signed an early-day motion in the House of Commons that, as stated on the UK parliamentary website, “welcomes the contribution made to the health of the nation by the NHS homeopathic hospitals”. The Minister made his position on homeopathy unmistakeably clear during the interview, but it would seem homeopathy fans still carry a lingering hope – a website branding itself as the “World’s Top Homeopathy News website” advertised his signing of the bill, seemingly suggesting it to be a sign of progress for their cause.
The BioVale Centre will be established at the University of York over the next 2 years, with the aim to establish Yorkshire as a world-leading region in bioeconomics