Independent scientific advice
Government relies on advice from independent experts, everyday. Whether it’s about the food we eat, the quality of our environment, the safety of our roads and transport, or the buildings we live and work in, independent experts offer their judgements on a wide range of issues in order for government to make policy decisions, respond to emergencies and much more.
Scientific Advisory Committees and Science Advisory Councils (both terms are abbreviated to SAC) provide this information. Government uses this information to make informed judgements based on the evidence and advice provided.
In general SACs variously review, and sometimes commission, scientific research. They offer their independent expert judgement – including where facts are missing or uncertainties exist. They hold regular meetings, sometimes communicating with members of the public or key stakeholders through a range of engagement.
There are over 70 SACs across government. The total number is never fixed, because SACs are created and disbanded according to need.
Each SAC advises on a different topic related to science or engineering, and requires very specific advanced expertise, such as knowledge of hepatitis, pesticides or food microbiology. Science Advisory Councils provide independent overview and challenge of the management and use of science by the department concerned.
Each SAC is sponsored by a government department or a range of departments and has a secretariat to support its function.
A list of SACs (PDF, 37 Kb) is available.
Guidance and good practice
The Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA) and GO-Science champion the role of independent scientific advice in the policy-making process.
The GCSA publishes Guidelines on the use of scientific and engineering advice in policy making and the revised Code of practice for Scientific Advisory Committees (PDF, 355 Kb) . The GCSA was also involved in the development of the Principles of scientific advice to government.