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Interview with Sir Geoffrey Allen of the Membership Affairs Committee

Sir Geoffrey Allen

Congratulations on your new position on the board of the Membership Affairs Committee – do you have a specific mission?
My first ambition is to strengthen SCI membership among the 30-45 age group, particularly those working in industry. This age group has been in short supply, possibly due to increasingly hectic work schedules. I would also like to engage more with UK subsidiaries of internationally owned companies. Twenty years ago, SCI would have known all the key players in a mainly UK-owned industry – we need to ensure we have similar links with these international companies if we are to fulfill our brand promise ‘where science meets business’.

Why is it getting more difficult to recruit younger members?
In a nutshell, busy working lives. We need to persuade senior managers of the benefits of SCI and have them encourage their younger colleagues to join, hence my wish to broaden and strengthen our contacts with executives of UK subsidiaries. We should also use the good rapport between older and younger members, where knowledge exchange has always flowed both ways to recruit members, but we need to ensure that younger members have more of a say and are equally represented in the organisation. I believe that the Members’ Forum can really help to act as a catalyst to give younger people a voice.

What changes have you seen in the industry over your lifetime?
Two come to mind – the first is globalisation, with very few UK-owned chemical companies left. The second is the clear separation into a commodities-based sector and a sector based on small-volume, high added-value products such as pharmaceuticals.

Does the UK fund research enough and encourage innovation?
The government spends as much as it can afford to on research. The question is how to divide this amount between fundamental research and innovation promotion, which, as it approaches application, is far more expensive. The answer is there is never enough money for innovation, and this is where industry can play a part. However, we must always ensure that we have enough for fundamental research – to not do so would be detrimental to the future of all technology-based industries. We neglect this area at our peril.

Is the UK well placed to compete internationally with countries such as China and India?
As long as we fund teaching and research, which turns out good graduates and postgraduates, then on a science knowledge base, yes. What we can’t compete is on manpower.

Does the industry attract enough new blood?
The industry has lost a lot of graduates to competition from finance and banking. The main reason is pay, but I believe many are unaware of the benefits of a career in industry – excellent career opportunities, higher quality of life and the opportunity to tackle some of the great challenges of our time.

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