Select Committee on Science and Technology Third Report

3  Proposed institutional and funding arrangements

10. The current combined budget of the MRC and the NHS Research and Development is £1.3 billion. The final budget for the new Single Fund will not be confirmed until the next Comprehensive Spending Review but will be at least £1 billion. Evidence received from the Association of UK University Hospitals, the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Royal Society criticised the absence of any recommendation in the Review on the overall baseline level of funding.[7] Sir David told us that:

"[…]the £1.35 billion is there[…] That is therefore an increase over what was there previously. It is a very modest increase but it is an increase."[8]

We look forward to the announcement in the Comprehensive Spending Review regarding the Single Fund budget, and expect the current combined budget for the MRC and the NHS R&D function to be at least maintained.

11. Concerns regarding the division of funds between basic, translational and applied research were also expressed to this inquiry by the Academy of Medical Sciences.[9] Sir David recommended that the funding of translational research be increased but that funding for basic research be kept at the current level "until a more balanced portfolio is achieved" as judged by the OSCHR.[10] This suggests that any future funding increase to translational and clinical research may be at the expense of basic research. We acknowledge and support the importance of translational and clinical research. However, it is essential that the new proposals do not result in decreased funding for basic research.

12. The Review's proposals include new arrangements for the way in which the MRC and the NIHR bid for research funds and how this money is allocated to each. The OSCHR will submit a single bid to the Treasury for both the MRC and the NIHR. The funding is then allocated to the MRC and the NIHR through the DTI and the DH, according to allocations set for each body as determined by OSCHR. There was concern in evidence from Cancer Research UK that "the institutional arrangements do not become an extra layer of debilitating bureaucracy".[11] The Committee asked Sir David whether OSCHR would increase the administrative burden. He stated that:

"It gets the money, it sets the strategy, and then it is up to the MRC and NIHR to deliver on that. The decisions will be made in exactly the same way as they are at the moment […] The idea of this is to try and pull the two operations together, to try to overcome a lot of those perverse incentives that stop research moving forward."[12]

13. There was also some concern expressed about the impact of the new arrangements on the MRC and its structures. The Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and King's College London told us in their joint evidence submission that the MRC "is recognised throughout the world as an organisation that funds the best science through fair and equitable mechanisms driven by strategic goals. We believe that the new single funding body should be based on these principles."[13] In addition the Royal Society recommended that "OSCHR safeguards the highly effective processes for the distribution of funds that are embedded within the MRC, and provides the potential for similar standards of governance to be achieved within the NIHR."[14] We share the concerns submitted in evidence regarding the impact of the proposed institutional arrangements and the possible effects upon the MRC. We are firmly of the view that OSCHR should operate as a light touch organisation that does not complicate the existing successful administrative mechanisms of the MRC.

7   Ev 15, 19; Royal Society response to the Cooksey Review of UK health research, Royal Society, January 2007, Back

8   Q 11 Back

9   Ev 19 Back

10   HM Treasury, A Review of UK Health Research Funding, December 2006, para 4.24; Back

11   Ev 38 Back

12   Q 20 Back

13   Ev 13 Back

14   Royal Society response to the Cooksey Review of UK health research, Royal Society, January 2007, Back

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