Press release

Scientific advice to Defra praised in independent review

The Science Advisory Council has been praised for its valuable contribution to government policy making in a review published today.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The independent review, lead by Professor Charles Godfray of the University of Oxford, found that the Science Advisory Council (SAC) had made significant contributions to help guide Defra policy, and ensure decisions were founded on high quality impartial scientific advice.

The review said the SAC has been influential in helping Defra develop its emergency response policy, and policies concerning bovine tuberculosis, avian flu and bluetongue virus.

The review also made a list of recommendations to help ensure the council remains fit for purpose and central to Defra’s policy making.

Key recommendations include:

  • streamlining the SAC to create a leaner and more agile body, consisting of around 6 people, which will be better suited to provide an overarching challenge and scrutiny function to Defra, as well advising on any gaps and overlaps in scientific advice;
  • setting up working groups when advice on specific issues is required and recruiting most members for these groups from outside the council; and
  • providing a higher profile for the council across the Defra network.

Chief Scientific Advisor for Defra, Professor Bob Watson said:
“I am extremely grateful to Charles Godfray and the team for carrying out this review. I am pleased that it recognises the valuable work of the Science Advisory Council, and I agree with and am happy to accept the recommendations. I recognise that the SAC needs to change to ensure it continues to meet the Department’s needs, and I will be setting out plans to implement the report’s recommendations. I am committed to ensuring that we continue to benefit from the expert independent advice the SAC provides.”


1. To read the review visit:

2. For more information about the Science Advisory Council visit

3. The Science Advisory Council is an independent non-departmental public body, established in 2004. The council provides expert and independent scientific advice to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to help guide successful and evidence based policy decisions. The council communicates this advice to Professor Bob Watson, the Chief Scientific Adviser, and through him to Defra ministers. The council is at present composed of 12 members drawn largely from the natural sciences but also including expertise from the social sciences.

4. The review was commissioned by Professor Bob Watson and chaired by Professor Charles Godfray of the University of Oxford. The review team included Professor Stephen Holgate of the University of Southampton and Professor Paul Wiles, also of the University of Oxford. The team was assisted by Michael Faulkner and Dr Ann Davies. The review was requested by Defra’s Chief Scientific Advisor to provide an independent assessment of the SAC’s performance to help identify where improvements could be made.

5. The review was carried out separately from the wider Arms Length Body (ALB) review, the outcome of which was published on 14 October 2010. The ALB review recommended that the Science Advisory Council be retained as a non-departmental public body.

Published 2 November 2010