Memorandum by the Natural Environment
Research Council (PAP 27)
1. The Natural Environment Research Council
(NERC) welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this inquiry.
2. NERC's response focuses on questions
posed in the Public Administration Select Committee document and
our comments are given under the Committee's headings. The questions
listed under "political influence on appointments" have
been answered as a general comment, rather then answering each
3. Attached are several documents submitted
Annex AExample of a canvassing
letter sent to organisations.
Annex BCode of Practice for
Annex CApplication form for
membership of Research Council.
Annex DTable: female representation
on decision making boards.
Annex ENERC membership template.
4. NERC's comments draw on inputs from NERC
Council, NERC Executive Board and Swindon Office Directors.
5. NERC is one of the UK's seven Research
Councils and is a Non-Departmental Public Body of the Department
of Trade and Industry (DTI). It funds and carries out impartial
scientific research in the sciences of the environment. NERC trains
the next generation of independent environmental scientists. Its
priority research areas are: Earth's life-support systems, climate
change and sustainable economies.
6. NERC uses a budget of about £220
million a year to fund scientific research in universities and
in its own Research Centres. About 2,700 people are employed in
NERC Research Centres and a further 1,800 are funded annually
through a variety of research and training awards in university
departments and other bodies. More than 3,000 postgraduate students
have also been funded by NERC over the last five years.
7. In addition to NERC's wholly owned Research
Centres, NERC funds a number of Collaborative Centres based at
universities or elsewhere. A list of NERC's Research and Collaborative
Centres is appended.
8. The Council is NERC's top-level decision-making
body. Council consists of the Chairman, the Chief Executive (and
Deputy Chairman) and between 10 and 18
other members, two of which must be drawn from Government departments
and the remainder from both academic and industrial communities.
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry appoints the Chairman,
Chief Executive and members. This template for membership is drawn-up
and overseen by the Office of Science and Technology (OST). A
list of NERC Council members is published on the NERC website
together with Members' register of interests (please see http://www.nerc.ac.uk/aboutus/council/members.shtml).
Question 2. What problems might arise if
elections were held for membership of some public bodies, instead
of the current system of appointments?
9. It is unlikely that a process of election
could guarantee that the individuals elected possessed the specific
knowledge and skills required to effectively contribute and assist
in NERC's decision-making process. NERC's 1993 Supplemental Charter
to the 1965 Science and Technology Act requires at least half
of the NERC Council members to be appointed by reason of their
qualifications in science or engineering (see Annex E).
10. Applications for membership are overseen
by the Office of Science and Technology (OST) following the Code
of Practice for Ministerial Appointments to Public Bodies, produced
by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Under
this code, NERC is classified as an "upper tier body".
11. Applications to NERC's Council can either
be by self-nomination (responding to advertisements placed in
the scientific and popular press including: Nature, The Times,
The Sunday Times, and The Times Higher Education Supplement),
by being approached by NERC, or enquiring through the Cabinet
Office. All applicants must then complete an application form
and the Director General of the Research Council's Office draws
up a short-list with the assistance and guidance of NERC.
12. Applicants are rated according to the
criteria set out for each vacant post. Each post has both a job
specification and person specification. These criteria are drawn
up by NERC and agreed by OST and appear on OST's website (please
see OST website for examples http://www.dti.gov.uk/ost/ostbusiness/index.htm).
Applicants are rated as one of the following:
13. Each applicant's rating is agreed by
NERC senior management, and then forwarded to the Appointments
Panel. The Appointments Panel is appointed by OST and current
OST guidelines state it should include the Director General of
the Research Councils, one to two independents (eg people with
a knowledge of NERC but not current or recent NERC Council members),
and the NERC Chairman and/or NERC Chief Executive.
14. Interviews are carried-out by the Appointments
Panel. Recommendations are then made to the Secretary of State
for Trade and Industry, who makes the final choice.
15. Two Council members are appointed from
Government departments. The appointment process differs in that
these positions are not advertised and NERC proposes preferred
candidates. Recommendations together with justification are sent
by OST to the Appointments Panel for its consideration, who then
forward recommendations to the Secretary of State for Trade and
Industry. The appointment process and terms are the same as for
other Council members. We are conscious of potential complications
in the process for appointments from the devolved administrations.
16. Council members are appointed for a
period of three to four years (see Annex E). Council members can
be reappointed for a second term but this is not automatic. Recommendations
for the possible reappointment of current Council members are
made by the NERC Chairman and Chief Executive and are then forwarded
to the Appointments Panel along with their justification (based
on effectiveness of the member's performance). All Council members
work to the Code of Practice for Council Members (Annex B).
17. The most important issue for NERC is
that the applicant with the required knowledge and skills is appointed,
be it by ministerial appointment or an independent appointment
commission. It is vital that the people making the appointments
are well informed about the skills and knowledge necessary. Government
departments assisted by the recruiting organisation have this
knowledge but if an independent appointments commission could
guarantee to assess applications effectively, then this may be
more acceptable in the eyes of the general public.
Question 13. Is there evidence to suggest
that the current system is not attracting applications from the
widest pool of candidates? And 14. How can greater diversity best
be combined with reassurance that the principle of merit in public
appointments is being upheld?
18. In NERC's 2001 Operating Plan one of
the equal opportunities targets is:
To improve female representation
on key-decision making bodies, including those at Centres, Surveys
and Laboratories, in line with 2000 Science and Innovation White
Paper Excellence and Opportunity target of 40% by 2005.
19. NERC currently has five female Council
members out of sixteen (31.25%). Overall the total figure shows
that the level of female representation is increasing. To meet
the target percentages stated in the Science and Innovation White
Paper, NERC would require at least six female Council members.
20. In 1998 NERC carried-out research on
why ethnic minorities appear to be underrepresented in NERC. The
main conclusion was that in the main degree subjects that NERC
looks for when recruiting to the Science Group (both first degrees
and PhDs), only small percentages of graduates in these subjects
were from ethnic minorities. The implication from these finding
is that the pool from which candidates with suitable scientific
skills required for public appointments within NERC will be predominately
Question 16. Is the public appointments'
process understood by members of the public and seen to be fair,
open, transparent and easy to travel through? And question 17.
What improvements, if any, should be made in the way in which
advertising or publicising public appointments are made?
21. NERC's appointment process is in line
with standard Government rule. The most recent advertisement was
placed in The Times Higher Education Supplement, The Times,
The Sunday Times and Nature. We have not received complaints
about the appointment process to NERC Council.
22. NERC is committed to being open and
transparent. A register of private, professional and commercial
interests that may conflict with NERC business is held by the
Clerk to Council, and members of Council would be expected to
declare these should they arise as part of Council discussion.
Details of Council members' register of interests can be found
on NERC's website at: http://www.nerc.ac.uk/aboutus/council/register-code.shtml.
Question 25. Should every candidate, even
important people for high level appointments, be asked to complete
application forms and attend interviews in the normal way?
23. It is NERC's policy that all candidates
complete an application form (Annex D) and attend an interview
regardless of their status. Both are essential to judge the candidate
is of sufficient merit and has the required skills. We see no
reason why this should change.
Natural Environment Research Council
NERC RESEARCH CENTRES
NERC Research Centres
British Antarctic Survey (BAS)
British Geological Survey (BGS)
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH)
Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL)
NERC Collaborative Centres
Centre for Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes
and Tectonics (COMET)
Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM)
Centre for Population Biology (CPB)
Centre for Terrestrial Carbon Dynamics
Data Assimilation Research Centre (DARC)
Environmental Systems Science Centre (ESSC)
NERC Centres for Atmospheric Science (NCAS)
Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)
Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS)
Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU)
Southampton Oceanography Centre (SOC)
Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
Further information on all these centres can
be found on the NERC web site www.nerc.ac.uk
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NERC's 1993 Supplemental Charter to 1965 Science and Technology