Science & Environment

Jo Johnson is new science minister

Jo Johnson Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Jo Johnson arrives at 10 Downing Street on Monday

Jo Johnson, the brother of London Mayor Boris Johnson, is to be the new Minister for Universities and Science.

Number 10 made the announcement late on Monday.

It had become clear earlier in the day that a new individual would take the helm when the previous incumbent, Greg Clark, was put in charge of Communities and Local Government.

Jo Johnson studied modern history at Balliol College, Oxford, and was first elected to parliament in 2010.

The Orpington MP went into the election as head of the Downing Street Policy Unit.

His pre-parliament career was spent as an investment banker and a journalist.

He had 13 years on the Financial Times, including stints as a foreign correspondent.

As science and universities minister, Mr Johnson will report to the new business secretary, Sajid Javid.

Mr Johnson has made few statements of record on the topic of science and research.

Some topics he has touched will however chime with the concerns expressed by the scientific community.

For one, he has spoken out on the importance of allowing students to come to the UK. In a recent FT article, he wrote: "Britain's universities are a globally competitive export sector and well-placed to make a greater contribution to growth. With economic growth at a premium, the UK should be wary of artificially hobbling it."

He is also considered to be supportive of the European Union, which has become an increasingly important source of funding for UK-based scientists.

For example, a fifth of all the money from the European Research Council, the EU's blue riband funding agency, now goes to grantees in Britain. The prospect of losing this funding source will weigh heavy on the research community as the country moves towards the in-out referendum promised by the prime minister.

Commenting on Mr Johnson's appointment, Naomi Weir, the acting director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said: "There is enormous opportunity for science and engineering to drive economic prosperity and public wellbeing.

"In his new role, Jo Johnson is in a strong position to ensure science and engineering is a central feature of the government's long-term economic plan.

"I look forward to working with him to ensure the UK has the people, the funding and the policies for science and engineering to thrive."

For the duration of the previous parliament, the public science budget was held flat at £4.6bn per annum, and its value was consequently eroded by inflation. Case says the investment as it now stands, below 0.5% of GDP, is the lowest in the G8.

The Society of Biology, which held a debate with the various science spokespeople from the main parties during the election, issued a statement on Monday from its chief executive, Mark Downs.

He said: "The new government can no longer simply be positive about science. With over £1bn wiped off the research budget as a result of inflation over the last five years there needs to be a real commitment to see research as an investment and grow expenditure well above the levels of inflation."

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos