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Advisers need access to ministers—but don’t always get it

Brian Collins, former chief scientific adviser to the departments for transport and business, innovation and skills has said that getting access to ministers during his time in the roles was a “major problem”.

“Noone was prepared to settle down and discuss the issues of the day for very long,” he said. “There were two of the five secretaries of state I worked with in the four years who were prepared to do that…but others weren’t.”

“That made the whole process for me very erratic and problematic,” he added.

Collins was speaking on 18 October at the opening evidence session for a House of Lords inquiry into chief scientific advisers.

The topic was later raised again by the Science and Technology Committee when taking evidence from Bob Watson, CSA at the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs and Carole Willis, CSA at the Department for Education.

Willis said that although she had met with ministers some 15 times in the past year, she had never had a one-to-one meeting. She also failed to report how many times she had met the secretary of state, saying she “couldn’t remember”.

Watson, on the contrary, said he has met the Defra Secretary of State and ministers more than 60 times in the past year, including a 30 minute one-on-one with the secretary of state only yesterday.

“I’d say it’d be quite hard to make it any better,” he said, and added that he feels free to contact either the secretary of state or a minister for a conversation if he feels that it’s necessary.