Ex-Government adviser forms ‘transparent’ lockdown science committee

A former Government chief scientific adviser has assembled a group of experts to look at how the UK could work its way out of coronavirus lockdown.

Sir David King, who worked under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, created the board to emphasise the “importance of transparency” following concerns over the current meetings of the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

The group is informing ministers’ response to the Covid-19 crisis, and the 80-year-old cited the issue of the Prime Minister’s aide, Dominic Cummings, being present at the meetings, saying it could cause “confusion”.

He told the PA news agency: “I know this is a controversial point, but I certainly think that I would never have had the Prime Minister’s chief strategy adviser on board, because I think that it is perfectly feasible to provide clear scientific advice and then for the strategy and the politics to be determined separately.”

He said he was concerned Mr Cummings’s presence had given Boris Johnson “two advisers” on coronavirus, with “a chief scientific adviser giving the advice from Sage and at the same time a strategy adviser who, frankly, is not a scientist and isn’t in a position to summarise that advice”.

Sir David’s new 12-strong committee of academics will convene for the first time on Monday and is keen to investigate seven key points, including how can successful testing and tracing be achieved, and what social distancing measures will be needed in the future.

Sir David said he will share their findings and workings with the public by streaming meetings on YouTube, and reflected on his career working with Government.

He said: “If we’re not given access to the science advice it’s very difficult to evaluate that, and by given access I mean, when I was chief scientific adviser I explained to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown that every bit of advice I put into them I would put into the public domain as well.”

He added: “I recognised I was giving advice, but they were making the political decision, they would bring in strategy advisers and other advisers, but the advice was purely scientific.”

Last week, current chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said a partial list of Sage members would be issued “shortly”.