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Devolved policy

20 November 2012
Devolved administrations graphic

IET principal policy advisor Graham Barber explores the IET’s policy activities in the UK’s devolved administrations.

The IET’s Policy department works, in part, to support public policy makers, in ensuring that parliamentarians and Government departments have the benefit of the wealth of technical knowledge presiding in the IET’s science and engineering membership. In this way, policy makers are able to make good evidence-based policy decisions, the outcomes of which affect all society. Currently, with a few European initiative exceptions, this IET work is UK centric.

The intensity of this policy work - in the energy, transport, education, information technology, telecommunications, manufacturing and innovation sectors - has led to the formation of dedicated IET Policy Panels. Comprising thought leaders from within the IET’s membership, these panels work on preparing responses to public consultations, meeting with Government and Parliament officials, and holding stakeholder engagement events for parliamentarians on sector topics.

Historically, these activities have concentrated upon the ministries in London and the parliamentarians at Westminster and the views delivered have been those relating to the IET’s areas of specialisation, such as electrical infrastructure. The other major institutions such as the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) and the Institute of Physics (IoP) similarly deliver their profession-specific views to the same audience through their own public policy activities. However, there is now an initiative co-ordinated by the Royal Academy of Engineering called ‘Engineering the Future’ (EtF) which delivers a unified view from participating institutions on certain topics.

Devolution

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) comprises four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The UK is a sovereign state with its political and financial central government power based in London. A process of granting certain powers from central government to a sub-national level has led to devolution.

A Scottish Parliament with devolved powers (an ability to determine certain policy matters for their jurisdiction) was established in 1999. A power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly with its devolved powers was established in 1998. The National Assembly for Wales with its own devolved powers was recognised in 1999. England does not have a devolved parliament and administration.

The IET, and the other professional institutions, have a large membership in the devolved nations e.g. in Scotland there are 40,000 members across the IET, IMechE, ICE, IChemE, IoP. These members need a voice on policy matters for their devolved administrations and parliaments.

In the early 2000s, the IET made the decision to establish volunteer policy groups to give these members the opportunity to contribute input to evidence-based policy formation with their devolved administrations. It was also a principal decision that these policy groups should be open for all science and engineering professions to participate in as this would have added value for the devolved administrations’ policy makers.

Engineering Policy Groups were established in Northern Ireland in 2003, and in Scotland in 2004. Both Groups have been strengthened by the active participation of the IET’s Local Networks. In addition, the Groups have the benefit of participation by professionals from other science and engineering disciplines, as well as those from within the IET. The Groups comprise local leaders from academia, industry, skills councils, the professions and government agencies. Their three meetings a year are held ‘in country’ using IET facilities where available, or those at a university.

Scotland

Professor John Roulston OBE CEng FIET chaired the Engineering Policy Group Scotland during its formative years, establishing its inclusive membership; its way of working in responding to public policy consultations; and its engagement with the Scottish Parliament and Government, including the Group’s flagship Holyrood Briefings. This Group is now chaired by Derek Elder who has brought to the Group his experience of leading the ICE’s work in Scotland over many years, and his experience of Scottish political engagement at Holyrood.

In the last 12 months, this Scottish Group has led IET Trustee response to public consultations on:

• lifting barriers to women in STEM – a Strategy for Scotland
• putting learners at the centre; delivering our [Scotland’s] ambitions for post 16-education
• a robust grid for 21st century Scotland.

With the support of other participating institutions in Scotland, the Group has given written and oral evidence to the Scottish Parliaments Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s deliberations in formulating Scotland’s electricity generation policy. Two of their flagship ‘Holyrood Briefings’ have also been held. These Briefings addressed two of Scotland’s priority policy topics:

• Scotland’s Infrastructure Plan
• Engineering Scotland’s Low-Carbon Economy.

The Holyrood Briefings uniquely enable parliamentarians and stakeholders to debate the policy issues and get an understanding of the challenges and opportunities involved in meeting related policy aspirations and are always very well attended.

Ireland

IET vice-president Alan Watts FIET was the first chairman of the Engineering Policy Group Northern Ireland, and was succeeded by Stephen Lusty FIET. The Group is now lead by Professor Jonathan Wallace from the University of Ulster who has brought his tireless drive to the Group to engage at Stormont, raising the Group’s cross-disciplinary professional profile within Northern Ireland government, its advisory organisations, and related STEM bodies.

In the last 12 months the Northern Ireland Group has led IET Trustee responses to public consultations on:

• a regional [NI] Strategy for widening participation in higher education
• future policy in higher education tuition fees and student finance arrangements in Northern Ireland
• [NI] Programme for Government 2011-15.

At the request of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Employment and Learning Committee, the Group provided evidence concerning their inquiry into ‘Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) in Northern Ireland’.

The Group has met with and provided input to the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) on two new A-levels they have developed on ‘Environmental Technology’, and ‘Systems and Software Development’, as part of the new Northern Ireland curriculum.

At the time of writing this article the Group is working with the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee to arrange a stakeholder event at Stormont to discuss issues surrounding ‘Research and Development, and Innovation’ and the proposed strategy for optimising it to the benefit of the Northern Ireland economy and wider society.

Being cross-disciplinary these devolved Engineering Policy Groups can utilise the sector specific policy views (e.g. on energy say) formulated in the various profession headquarters, and use it to inform Scottish and Northern Ireland policy making through public consultations, parliamentary briefings, and government department meetings. Consistently, the information given recognises the specific requirements of the national jurisdiction.

Both these devolved Engineering Policy Groups are structured to address any of the subjects for which the IET has a specific Policy Panel. In practice, both Groups have concentrated on energy, STEM education and skills.

More information about activities from the devolved Engineering Policy Groups can be found on the IET Policy webpages

IET SKILLS SURVEY

The IET’s recent seventh ‘Engineering and Technology Skills and Demand in Industry’ report surveyed 400 organisations in the UK to gauge the state of skills in the engineering and technology sector, finding that there was demand for new recruits, but employers were struggling to find staff.

While 58 per cent of organisations planned to recruit new staff in the next 12 months – and 39 per cent planned to recruit engineering, IT and technical staff over the next 12 months – 29 per cent of respondents said they did not expect to be able to recruit suitably qualified engineers, IT staff and technicians to meet their needs this year. The survey found that the confidence level had dropped by 16 per cent since 2011.

Two key reasons for this were found to be a lack of suitably qualified candidates and that candidates lacked the right experiences, respondents said. The biggest skills gap among new recruits was a lack of practical experience, with 31 per cent of organisations saying that graduates did not have sufficient practical experience. The planned recruitment of engineers and technical staff was highest in aerospace, defence, education and skills, electronics and energy.

The survey also found that women were very under-represented in both engineering and IT with only 4 per cent of technicians and 6 per cent of engineers were women. Defence had the highest proportion of women employed in engineering roles, followed by construction.

You can view the 2012 Survey at www.theiet.org/factfiles/education/skills2012-page.cfm

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