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MPs call for “chief engineer”

The government’s nuclear programme could be hampered by a serious lack of engineering experience in government, MPs have said.

The cross-party House of Commons Universities, Innovation and Skills Committee said it was “shocked” by the situation, and recommended the creation of a chief engineer role in Government to raise the status of the profession within Whitehall. The officer, it said, should have “direct access” to the Prime Minister.

The report said the recession had presented the Brown Government with a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to restructure the economy by building on the existing substantial strengths of UK engineering”.

The MPs said: “We were shocked to discover that engineering advice had been lacking in the formulation of policies as important and diverse as eco-towns, renewable energy and large IT projects.”

It said the Government should formulate “roadmaps” for each major engineering programme, including nuclear, with coordination between each of them.

Chairman Phil Willis said: “The Government’s recent enthusiasm for nuclear power has raised important questions about the UK’s capacity to deliver a new generation of nuclear power stations. We discovered that there are significant skills shortages, which could affect plans to bring new plants online by 2020.

“We argue that there should be a master roadmap for all major engineering projects, including nuclear new build.”

He added: “Government, in key policy areas of several departments, does not have sufficient in-house engineering expertise to act as an intelligent customer and engineering advice is frequently not sought early enough during policy formulation.”

The report suggested that in recruiting more engineers into the civil service, the Government should “distribute them more widely and provide real opportunities in career progression while… also strengthening links between the public and private sector through secondments”.

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