Select Committee on Public Accounts Sixtieth Report


2  Choosing new scientific facilities and measuring their impact

9. The facilities are intended to meet longer term scientific needs across the range of scientific disciplines. It is not easy to predict future needs or where investment will have the biggest benefit. The Office of Science and Innovation and the Research Councils have worked together to draw up and prioritise a road map of new or replacement facilities that United Kingdom scientists will need over the next 10 to 15 years. They published the first road map in 2001 and updated it in 2003 and 2005.[11] Before 2000, proposals for investments in large scientific facilities had been prepared and submitted to the Department by individual Research Councils as part of the spending review process. There was no explicit means of deciding priorities between the various bids. Since 2000, the road map has been prepared by the Office of Science and Innovation and the Research Councils on the basis of submissions from individual Research Councils with priorities decided collectively. The Office considers the recommendations and, if the proposals are approved by Ministers, earmarks resources from the Large Facilities Capital Fund.[12]

10. The UK's road map approach has been commended by evaluative reviews by the United States National Science Foundation as well as the Australian and Canadian governments. These studies commended the process as a vehicle for decision-making, including analysis of scientific opportunities and the objectives for large facilities.[13]

11. The number of new project proposals in the road map has risen from 14 in 2001 to 20 in 2005. Following the prioritisation of the 2005 road map, and earmarking resources accordingly, the Large Facilities Capital Fund was fully allocated for four years to 2009-10. Sufficient funds had been allocated in the current spending review as long as future bids were prioritised rigorously.[14]

12. The Research Councils are not always meeting the guidelines in the Treasury's Green Book, for example to consider all the potential economic impacts that might arise from investment in individual facilities. The Department acknowledged that not enough work had been done to examine some of the spill-over effects but emphasised that the primary purpose of these facilities was scientific. The assessment of potential economic benefit was particularly complex. There were likely to be three forms of impact: the economic effect of the research at the facility; the direct benefit to the local economy; and the development of a trained workforce and pool of technical skills. The Research Councils were trying to get a better assessment of these benefits. The Department had invited tenders to develop a better model of whole-life benefits.[15]

13. Neither the large facilities road map as a whole nor the prioritisation of projects is the subject of direct consultation with bodies representing industrial interests in government science policy or with the wider scientific community. The Department accepted that the prioritisation process should be more transparent and that there should be scope for consultation with industry. The roadmap was a relatively new process and further refinement was needed.[16]

14. Research Councils can be faced with a choice of where to locate a new facility, including using facilities overseas, though there may not always be a viable choice, for example where an existing facility is being extended. For the minority of projects to date with a realistic choice of location, the supporting options analysis has either been insufficiently independent or it has been late. For the Diamond Synchrotron, for example, the analysis of options occurred late in the design process and delayed the decision to proceed. The Department accepted that where options existed, experts independent of the project team should be employed to analyse them.[17]

15. The majority of business cases examined by the National Audit Office described success factors which could be used to help judge the worth and success of projects. But the value of some of these factors was reduced as they were not specified in a way that could be measured. Relatively few measures were proposed for either the extent of scientific activity to be undertaken on a new facility once it was operational or, the most difficult area to capture, the degree of exploitation by industry and public policy-makers. The Department acknowledged that it needed to get better at assessing these benefits. The Public Accounts Facilities Council saw the need to develop a broader range of measures.[18]

16. The Department accepted that the UK had not been as good as some other countries in exploiting its scientific discoveries for practical benefit, but believed that the situation was now changing. The Government had made it easier to file patent applications and the number, for example from the university sector, had increased significantly. Academic institutions now employed commercial officers to look for opportunities for commercialisation. The top 25 university spin-out companies had a market capitalisation of £1.5 billion. The Department considered that this level of development would bear comparison with the United States, taking account of relative size.[19]

Inspiring the next generation of scientists

17. To maximise the benefit, there will need to be sufficient scientists to use these facilities. The Department believed that there would be enough qualified staff to use the facilities being built. The UK was second only to the United States in terms of scientific citations. Over the last decade, there had been a large growth in the number trained scientists in the UK, though almost entirely in the biosciences and biological sciences. There had been no growth in mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering or computer science. The supply of scientists in 20 to 30 years' time was less certain, though applications for university places for October 2007 were up in maths, physics and chemistry.[20]

18. The programme of large new scientific facilities could play a valuable part in inspiring the next generation of scientists. The Department is giving priority to engagement with the community and encouraging the interest of young people. The Research Councils have programmes to engage the interest of local people. But the Department cannot easily assess the success of initiatives, such as opening the doors of the Diamond Synchrotron to the local community, compared to other approaches such as through television and direct contact with schools. It has therefore commissioned the Tavistock Institute to look at how success might be measured.[ 21]

Annex 1: The ten projects supported by the Large Facilities Capital Fund
Diamond Synchrotron (lead by Diamond Light Source Ltd)

The Diamond Synchrotron is a light source producing intense x-rays and shorter wavelength emissions for research in the biological, physical, environmental and engineering sciences. The light can be used to examine the structure of materials at molecular and atomic level. The synchrotron is being built by, and will be operated by, a joint venture company Diamond Light Source Ltd, 86% owned by the new Public Accounts Facilities Council and 14% by the Wellcome Trust. It comprises a linear accelerator, booster ring, storage ring and up to 40 beamlines each of which can support their own programmes of scientific experiments. Diamond will replace the Synchrotron Radiation Source (SRS) at Daresbury in Cheshire.

Location: Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Oxfordshire

Budget and Funding: £383.2 million for Phases 1 and 2, with £308.6 million from Large Facilities Capital Fund, £53.6m from the Wellcome Trust, £7.0m from the former Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils and the remainder (£14.0m) from other Research Councils.

Delivery: Phase I, including the first seven beamlines, began operations in January 2007 and Phase 2, including the next 15 beamlines, is due to be completed in 2011

Research Ship James Cook (lead by Natural Environment Research Council)

The RRS James Cook is a replacement for the RRS Charles Darwin and is sponsored by the Natural Environment Research Council. Its users will be marine scientists based, for example, at UK universities and the Research Council's National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton. It will be one of two such vessels in the NERC fleet, the other being RRS Discovery. It will be used to conduct oceanographic and marine studies and is equipped to launch and recover heavy marine equipment such as submersible or towable sensing or monitoring devices. It has a dynamic positioning system, on-board laboratory space, data analysis facilities and berths for 32 scientists.

Location: Worldwide but mainly Atlantic waters - built in Poland and Norway

Budget and Funding: £40 million, of which £25 million will come from the Large Facilities Capital Fund and the rest from Natural Environment Research Council

Delivery: The ship was delivered to the National Oceanographic Centre in August 2006

ISIS Neutron Source, Second Target Station (lead by Public Accounts Facilities Council (since April 2007), previously the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils)

The ISIS Neutron and Muon Scattering Facility is the world's most powerful neutron producer of its kind (a pulsed source rather than a continuous reactor). The first phase of the project involves supplementing the existing facilities with a second target station and the installation of a first suite of instruments. It will enable the ISIS science programme to attract new users from the key research areas of soft matter, advanced materials and bio-science.

Location: Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Oxfordshire

Budget and Funding : £145.6 million for the first phase, with £127.9 million from the Large Facilities Capital Fund, £7.0m from the EU, £3.0m from Spain and the rest (£7.7m) from the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (now the Public Accounts Facilities Council).

Delivery: The experimental programme is set to begin in October 2008.

Energy Recovery Linac Prototype (lead by Public Accounts Facilities Council (since April 2007), previously the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils)

The Prototype is phase one of the 4th Generation Light Source (4GLS) project. The project will use free electron lasers and synchrotron radiation covering the terahertz to soft X-ray energy frequencies for studying matter. The first phase has been designed to address some of the principal technical challenges that would be faced in a full 4GLS facility.

Location: Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus, Cheshire

Budget and Funding: £21.3 million, with £10.1 million from the Large Facilities Capital Fund, £2.9m from the North West Development Agency, £0.3m from the EU and the rest (£8.0m) from Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils.

Delivery: At the time of the C&AG's Report the project was aiming to achieve full operational energy recovery by April 2007. The project team have now informed the National Audit Office that the facility will be fully operational by October 2007.

Halley VI Antarctic Research Station (lead by Natural Environment Research Council)

The project involves the building of a new relocatable Halley VI Antarctic research station and the removal of the existing station, Halley V. Halley VI provides a unique facility for monitoring climate, ozone and space weather and forms a key part of the UK's regional presence. The primary users of Halley VI will come from within the British Antarctic Survey, an institute of the Natural Environment Research Council. Occupation of Halley V would become increasingly unsafe after 2010.

Location: Antarctic Ice Shelf

Budget and Funding: £34.7 million budget for both construction of Halley VI and decommissioning of Halley V. The Large Facilities Capital Fund is providing £20 million for construction with £14.7m allocated by the Natural Environment Research Council.

Delivery: Delivery of Halley VI and decommissioning of Halley V by end of 2009/10 Antarctic summer.

High End Computing Terascale Resource (HECToR) (lead by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council)

HECToR is the next generation of high performance computer. It is the responsibility of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and will succeed existing services. Users will span several fields of science including computational chemistry, physics and climate modelling.

Location: Dependent on tenderers' proposals

Budget and Funding: £65 million capital budget in total; £52 million from the Large Facilities Capital Fund, £9.0m from Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the rest (£4.0m) from other Research Councils.

Delivery: Phase I scheduled to start in September 2007.

Muon Ionisation Cooling Experiment (MICE) (lead by Public Accounts Facilities Council (since April 2007)

Previously the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council was the lead Council with the experiment hosted by the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils)

The Muon Ionisation Cooling Experiment (MICE) is a step towards the possible creation of a neutrino factory which would aid the understanding of the properties of neutrinos—one of the fundamental particles which make up the universe. MICE seeks to demonstrate that "muon cooling"—making a tightly focused muon beam—is possible through a process of ionisation.

Location: Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Oxfordshire

Budget and Funding: Phase I of MICE will cost £22.7 million. Of this, the UK will fund £9.7 million, of which £7.5 million will come from the Large Facilities Capital Fund, £1.3m from Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils and the rest (£0.9m) from Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.

Delivery: Phase I is set to be complete by November 2007.

Laboratory of Molecular Biology (lead by Medical Research Council)

The Laboratory of Molecular Biology opened in 1962 and is acknowledged as one of the world's leading biochemical laboratories with users from the fields of immunology, cancer biology and biotechnology. The Laboratory of Molecular Biology project will provide a new, modern laboratory building on the current hospital campus.

Location: Addenbrooke's Hospital Site, Cambridge

Budget and Funding: £155 million, of which £67 million will come from the Large Facilities Capital Fund and the rest (£88m) from Medical Research Council.

Delivery: building due to be available May 2011

Institute for Animal Health (lead by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council)



The Institute is responsible for research, diagnostics and surveillance on epizootic (fast spreading) viral diseases of farm animals. The project involves building a new laboratory for the Institute's staff and employees of the Virology Department of the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

Location: Pirbright, Surrey

Budget and Funding: Current approved cost is £121 million with £31 million from the Large Facilities Capital Fund, £67 million from Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the rest (£23m) from Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Delivery: The main laboratory building is scheduled for delivery in December 2009.

Research Complex (lead by Medical Research Council) and essential infrastructure (lead by Public Accounts Facilities Council (since April 2007), previously the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils)

The project will provide a research laboratory, hostel accommodation and other infrastructure to enable scientists to make optimum use of the Diamond Synchrotron, ISIS and other facilities at Harwell.

Location: Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Oxfordshire

Budget and Funding: £33.5 million for the Complex and infrastructure, with £32.4 million from the Large Facilities Capital Fund, and the rest (£1.1m) from the Council of the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils.

Delivery: The new hostel for visiting scientists was delivered in July 2006; the Research Complex is set for completion in June 2009.

Source: C&AG's Report, Appendix 3 updated where Research Councils have reported significant changes since the Report was published in January 2007




11   The latest road map was published in November 2005: Research Councils UK, The large facilities road map Back

12   C&AG's Report, para 1.7 Back

13   C&AG's Report, para 1.9 Back

14   Q 17 Back

15   Qq 29, 30, 64 Back

16   Qq 7, 31, 32, 77 Back

17   Q 35 Back

18   Qq 54, 55 Back

19   Qq 73, 74 Back

20   Qq 16, 37, 41, 60, 62, 63 Back

21   Q 15 Back


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 13 November 2007