Select Committee on Public Accounts Sixtieth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  The first two projects, the Royal Research Ship James Cook and the Diamond Synchrotron (Phase 1), have been delivered largely to time and budget but other projects still at an early stage are forecasting slippage. The Department, working with the Research Councils, should require project teams to study and apply the lessons learned from existing projects, for example by using incentives in contracts, and effective risk sharing. Project teams should be required, through the Gateway process, to consider explicitly these issues when taking forward new projects.

2.  Five of the six most mature projects have forecast significant increases in the initial estimates for operating costs, two in excess of 80%. Research Councils should draw upon wider experience in the private and public sectors, for example in the Ministry of Defence, and require the preparation of more robust estimates of whole-life costs at an early stage. They should give explicit consideration to through-life costs when approving the design of new facilities.

3.  The Research Councils have had difficulty recruiting the project management expertise needed to deliver some projects. Research Councils should have regard to the significant impact such expertise can have on the achievement of value for money overall, and the high cost of using consultants should direct recruitment fail. Research Councils should jointly develop a cadre of project management expertise and seek to share these skills as new projects are taken forward.

4.  The 10-15 year road map of facilities which the Research Councils expect to be needed provides a structure for identifying priorities, but at present there is limited input from the wider scientific community and industry. There is a risk of leaving decisions on the selection of new facilities in the hands of a small group of scientists without input from the wider community. The Department and Research Councils should draw upon expertise available in the broader scientific community and industry, to contribute to key points in the decision-making process.

5.  Research Councils have not always sufficiently evaluated options for locating new scientific facilities. If there is a choice of location, the Department should be explicit about the criteria to be used by Research Councils in assessing potential options.

6.  Research Councils have sometimes had difficulty in attracting a sufficient number of bidders for contracts to help build new facilities. Research Councils should educate potential suppliers on the opportunities likely to be available in assisting the construction of new facilities. To overcome misplaced or unnecessary concerns about the technical demands of such projects, they should brief them on the varied content of the available work, and where possible package the work so as to broaden the range of potential contractors.

7.  Little is known, in the UK or internationally, about the economic impact of hosting large scientific facilities. The Department and Research Councils should place greater emphasis on assessing both the immediate benefit to the local economy and the potential impact on the national pool of technical skills. The Department should track the economic impact of the current group of large-scale facilities and draw lessons for the development of future facilities.

8.  Performance indicators used by the Research Councils and project teams for monitoring the success of these facilities are not always sufficiently comprehensive or measurable. Before approving the business case for a new facility, the Department and Research Councils should establish indicators to enable the success of the project to be measured. Measures should include the extent to which available capacity is utilised.

9.  Research Councils need to make better use of the potential these facilities offer to inspire the next generation of scientists. The Department and the Research Councils should have plans in place specifying how these facilities might bring the wider community into contact with science and encourage the choice of scientific studies, qualifications and careers.

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Prepared 13 November 2007