Dominic Cummings is 'hell bent on revenge' says Conor Burns
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Dominic Cummings, the former advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, had a masterplan to set up a “high-risk, high reward” funding mechanism for scientists after Brexit. His slogan, “Brexit, then ARPA,” was inspired by the US DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), which Mr Cummings believed would rid scientists from the shackles of arduous and unnecessary controls that restrict researchers from spreading their wings.
Mr Cumming’s vision is now close to coming to fruition as the bill for the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) is set to be passed in Parliament.
ARIA, which will inject £200million of investment a year into British science over four years, will provide a new funding mechanism that will join the existing Government agency, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
Executive Director Prof Sarah Main from the Campaign for Science and Engineering told Express.co.uk: “One of the competitive strengths of the UK is the diversity of strength in research and innovation.
“ARIA should be able to fund and support exciting research that current portfolios are unlikely to fund and add diversity to UK funding opportunities.
“In supporting projects that would otherwise be deemed too ‘high-risk’, ARIA could help the UK to broaden and strengthen its research base and allow new sectors to emerge.“
The agency may be able to speed up exciting advancements in science if it can deliver on its aims of slashing red tape.
Pof Main said: “A distinctive feature of ARIA will be its speed and ability to deploy funding for different types of research, and ARIA is exempt from some responsibilities that affect other public sector bodies.”
ARIA would also likely contribute to the UK’s target of boosting the spending of public funding on research and development (R&D) to £20billion a year by 2025.
The spending boost is part of Mr Johnson’s target to make Britain a science superpower.
But the earmarked £800million for agency ARIA will contribute to just 1one percent of that spend.
Mr Cummings has claimed that the new agency would operate with “extreme freedom” to help it dodge the “horrific bureaucracy” that held back other research funders.
He told the Science and Technology Committee in March last year: “There is a tendency to think that people are running the system – it is actually the system that is running the people,”
Mr Cummings added that too much red tape hindered innovative research, with current systems having a “huge ability to block things but it means nothing gets done”.
ARIA’s slashing of red tape will involve removing some of the normal checks and balances that are usually seen, including making it exempt from Freedom of Information acts (FOIs).
But this has sparked fears that the project will lack transparency, and there are still concerns over political interference.
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And Prof James Wilsdon from the University of Sheffield told Express.co.uk he was sceptical that red tape would completely vanish.
He said: “I think it is actually a very naïve and simplistic solution to think that if you observe problems of bureaucracy over here, and when you then try to tackle it by setting up a new thing over here, while leaving it unreformed and unimproved, and I think that is the real objection.
“I also question whether the new thing will be able to operate as this oasis of unbureaucratic free from political interference.”
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