Submission from the Natural Environment
RESPONSE FROM THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT RESEARCH
COUNCIL (NERC) TO THE QUESTIONS FROM THE HOUSE OF COMMONS SCIENCE
AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE REGARDING ITS PROPOSALS FOR THE CENTRE
FOR ECOLOGY AND HYDROLOGY (CEH)
The questions posed by the Committee are addressed
in part in a redacted version of the CEH Business Plan which was
posted on NERC's website (www.nerc.ac.uk) on 19 December only
after the Committee met on 14 December 2005. The Committee members
may wish to look at the Business Plan before they next discuss
(i) How was the priority to be given to
CEH science ascertained and then matched to the level of resources
to be made available to it in future?
Every five years, NERC invites programme proposals
from its wholly-owned research centres. These proposals are considered
by NERC's Science and Innovation Strategy Board (SISB) in the
light of international peer review. The Board makes recommendations
regarding the science and the appropriate level of funding.
In 2004-05, NERC considered CEH's proposals
for the period 2005-10 (the First Quinquennial (Q1) Programme).
These proposals included plans for each of the six science programmes
around which CEH now structures its activities. The funding allocation
to CEH for Q1 was based on the quality of its proposals, their
fit to NERC's overall science strategy, and the finite resources
available to NERC, for which there is considerable competition.
(ii) How was the performance and value of
CEH measured against other NERC research centres?
The performance of all NERC's research and collaborative
centres is evaluated in five-yearly Science and Management Audits
(SMAs). SMAs scrutinise delivery over the previous five years
of the science approved by Council at the start of that five-year
period. However, they do not examine proposals for the future.
Nearly all of NERC's research and collaborative centres (RCCs)
score highly on science quality, as would be expected given the
high level of expertise of most staff.
In its 2004 SMA, CEH received a high rating
for its science. However, to reiterate, the SMA does not assess
proposals for future funding, nor the fit of proposals to NERC's
future science priorities. The decision on how much funding a
centre receives depends upon the assessment described in answer
to question (i).
(iii) What impact would the closures be
expected to have on the expertise available in CEH?
The proposed re-shaping of CEH would involve
a reduction in the number of sites from nine to four and would
thus improve scientific synergies, increase flexibility and provide
the opportunity to bring together CEH scientific teams. The organisation
would become more focused, and would be expected to retain or
even increase its level of expertise in certain areas. Because
some science would be discontinued, the breadth of expertise would
However, it should be noted that ecological
and hydrological science is also funded by NERC through blue-skies
grants and in directed programmes. NERC would not expect its overall
portfolio of this research to be substantively altered by the
proposed reshaping of CEH. Also, the proposals for CEH do not
imply a reduction in the overall funding NERC provides for environmental
A final decision on the proposals will not be
made by NERC's Council until the results of the public and staff
consultations have been analysed (closing date 15 February, Council
Meeting on 8 March), and decisions on which posts would be affected
would be subject to consultation with staff and trade unions.
(iv) What is the rationale for the number
of redundancies planned, and what steps would be taken to minimise
The rationale for the number of redundancies
is contained in the CEH Business Plan. NERC's assessment of the
high-quality and high-priority research to be supported at CEH
provides the primary basis for setting the core science-budget
income level (see also the answer to question (i)). CEH also receives
income for research commissioned by outside customers (business
and government departments). This income has fallen over recent
years to about 40% of CEH's total income, and we carried out a
strategic review recently using consultants (Deloitte), both to
assess the likely future level of external income and to provide
input to the Business Plan, with the aim of identifying a sustainable
business model. It is important to note that all staff at CEH
are employed by NERC.
The core science budget, the likely external
income and the cost of infrastructure (dependent upon the number
and location of sites) led to an assessment of the number of staff
needed and hence the likely level of redundancies. In addition,
the Business Plan indicates that to be financially sustainable
CEH cannot support more than four sites (it currently has nine).
The detailed analysis underlying the Business
Plan certainly attempts to minimise the number of redundancies.
In addition, CEH would encourage key staff at sites proposed for
closure to relocate.