Chair of the Science Advisory Council

Department for Environment, Food & Rural
London four times yearly, currently conducted online
4 March 2021

More information including the application procedure available at Cabinet Office

The Science Advisory Council (SAC) provides independent and scientific support, advice and challenge to Defra. The Defra group is here to make our air purer, our water cleaner, our land greener, and our food more sustainable. Our mission is to restore and enhance the environment for future generations, and to leave the environment in a better state. This matters because enhancing nature and green spaces enhances lives and livelihoods, contributing to a strong economy. Our wellbeing, our physical and mental health, our love of place and landscape, and our intrinsic need for beauty, awe and wonder, are all intimately bound up with a thriving natural environment. Appointing high-calibre people from diverse backgrounds with relevant skills, knowledge and experience to the boards of our public bodies will help us to ensure that our work is more effective, resilient and accountable. 

The SAC’s remit is broad and focuses primarily on the strategic direction of the Departments’ evidence. It delivers independent high-level, cross cutting, strategic advice and challenge to help assure the evidence used in Defra policy development and delivery and to this end diversity of thought within the members is encouraged.

We are looking for a Chair who has the right qualities to take responsibility for the leadership and output of SAC. In doing so, the Chair will work in partnership with the CSA and SAC members to ensure SAC is able to provide high-level, strategic advice and constructive challenge on Defra’s use of evidence on high profile policies (often at pace) and on cross cutting and longer term challenges relating to the environment, food and rural affairs. The Chair will also ensure SAC provides advice on how Defra should look to further improve its use of evidence and external advice. In addition to this the Chair will offer advice to the CSA in his oversight role of other Defra scientific expert committees. The Chair will perform these duties by leading discussions with SAC members and Defra officials through a mixture of formal meetings and smaller working groups. In doing so, the Chair will ensure all SAC members are able to contribute to discussions and effective use of SACs time is achieved through purposeful engagement, that will add value to policy-making at Defra. The Chair will be responsible for ensuring SAC operates in line with the Government’s Principles for Scientific Advice and the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees. The Chair will also participate in the appraisal of members’ performance as well as act as the public face of SAC, for example interactions with the Government Chief Scientific Adviser.

Candidates must be able to demonstrate all of the following essential criteria:

  • An ability to lead a diverse team of influential people and the ability to command the respect and confidence of Ministers, the CSA, senior officials, senior scientists and other stakeholders.
  • The ability to chair complex multidisciplinary discussions, drawing out the views of all members, arriving at consensus, being clear on uncertainty and producing relevant and clear outcomes.
  • A collaborative style and an aptitude for partnership working; this would include an ability to engage with people in a respectful and inclusive way.
  • An understanding of the interface between science, commerce and policy and demonstrable ability in strategically assessing the application of evidence in policy-making. This would include the ability to recognise where and how science can enhance policy-making.
  • Strong analytical skills with the capacity to examine issues in an impartial way and the ability to ensure that SAC provides high-level science advice not limited by their area of expertise.

During the year, SAC business will require a total of approximately 11 days. SAC usually meet face to face four times a year in London, the rest of council business is conducted virtually. At present, all interaction is being conducted by Microsoft Teams.

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