Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Fourth Report


In the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) 2007 the Science Budget has increased to £11.24 billion; the increase from 2007/08 to 2010/11 is 17.5%. We welcome the Government's decision to maintain its commitment to increase the science budget by 2.5% per annum in real terms; but the first Science Budget Allocations of the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills has been marred by a few poor decisions, which have turned the Government's PR fanfare into a PR disaster.

The Science Budget increases do not fully cover Government-determined spending commitments, such as the requirement for Research Councils to cover 80% of the full economic costs of research (FEC), and expenditure on new bodies like the Technology Strategy Board. Additionally, large parts of the budget are tied to cross-council programmes that largely follow a Government agenda. Consequently, we are concerned that the Government has failed to protect the existing and planned research base, and we have reservations about the influence Government appears to have on the use of the budget and the extent to which the Haldane Principle has been upheld.

Regarding the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), we conclude that its formation was untimely and poorly conceived. First, the Government's expectation that STFC, having been formed in April 2007, would be ready for the 2007 CSR was overly ambitious. Second, in merging two Research Councils, one research community has been saddled with the debt of another, despite assurances from the Government that STFC would be formed without any legacy issues.

In STFC itself, we found weaknesses in its peer review system, its communications and its management. We are concerned about some of the decisions made in its Delivery Plan and how those decisions were made. We recommend that STFC wait for the results of the Wakeham review of physics before implementing the cuts proposed in the Delivery Plan and that it use this time to consult with its stakeholders. Further, we conclude that substantial and urgent changes need to be made to the way in which the Council is run in order to restore confidence and to give the Council the leadership it desperately needs.

DIUS has a difficult job to do: it has to ensure the Research Councils are effective without interfering in how they spend their money. The evidence suggests that the Department's performance has been below par in both these areas and we look to the Department to demonstrate greater effectiveness in the future.

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