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


Conclusions and recommendations


The Science Budget

1.  Given the range of programmes and disciplines covered by the Science Budget, the name is somewhat misleading, especially since the transfer of AHRC into the budget in 2005. We recommend that DIUS change the name of the Science Budget to the Science and Research Budget to reflect the inclusion of arts, humanities and knowledge transfer which we note matches the welcome change in title of the DIUS official in charge of the budget to the Director General for Science and Research (DGSR). (Paragraph 11)

2.  We welcome the Government's decision to maintain its commitment in the ten-year framework to increase the science budget by 2.5% per annum in real terms. (Paragraph 13)

Sainsbury and Cooksey agenda

3.  We welcome the evidence within the Science Budget Allocations of the Government's commitment to the Sainsbury and Cooksey agenda. (Paragraph 14)

The Science Budget allocations process

4.  We are concerned that a structure of independent expertise such as suggested by the Royal Society may be too bureaucratic. However, it is clear that more and better information needs to be passed from the Research Councils to the DGSR on the potential implications of projected allocations from the Science Budget in order that Ministers can be made fully aware of the consequences of those decisions. We note that the documents prepared by STFC for use in the bilaterals with DIUS have been made available through the Freedom of Information process and we recommend that the Director General of Science and Research and the Research Councils publish such documents as a matter of course to increase transparency and accountability. (Paragraph 18)

Full Economic Cost

5.  In view of the importance of attaining sustainability and transparency for ongoing and future research in the UK, we welcome the Government's commitment to FEC. (Paragraph 20)

Haldane Principle

6.  The increase in the Science Budget does not fully cover increased expenditure on FEC and the new bodies (OSCHR, ETI and TSB), which means that Research Councils will have to redirect money previously earmarked for research grants. Additionally large parts of the budget are tied to cross-council programmes that largely follow a Government agenda. It is of course acceptable for the Government to set priorities for UK research but not for it to micromanage individual Research Council budgets. We recommend that the Government make a statement on its application of the Haldane Principle. (Paragraph 27)

Impact of the Science Budget allocations

7.  We are concerned that the Government has failed to protect both the existing and planned research base by allocating insufficient funds to cover FEC and the new bodies. The large increase in MRC's budget means that the effect of this near cash deficit is concentrated on the other Research Councils. (Paragraph 29)

Science & Technology Facilities Council

Legacy Issues

8.  We remain concerned that the former PPARC community has been saddled with a £75 million (at 2006/07 prices) funding deficit derived from CCLRC to meet the additional running costs of Diamond and ISIS TS2, despite assurances from the Government that STFC would be formed without any legacy issues. We conclude that the combined budget of PPARC and CCLRC was never going to be sufficient for STFC to manage Diamond, ISIS TS2, the other large facilities and all the PPARC research programmes. This was noted by the National Audit Office in January 2007, and therefore the Government should have known and should have acted upon it. The fact that it did not has had unfortunate consequences. We believe that the Government should ensure that its original commitment to leave no legacy funding issues from the previous Councils is honoured. (Paragraph 39)

9.  The timing of the formation of STFC was not propitious. It takes time to set up a new organisation, especially one as large and complex as STFC. The Government's expectation that STFC would be ready for a new CSR was overly ambitious. (Paragraph 41)

Delivery Plan

10.  We welcome STFC's decision to support its major facilities to the extent set out in its Delivery Plan and recognise the valuable role that these facilities currently play, and will play in the future, in maintaining the excellence and continuing the growth of UK science. However, we are concerned that the decision to support the large facilities has come at the expense of research in fields where the UK excels and in which STFC and its predecessor Research Councils have made significant investments. (Paragraph 46)

Ground-based solar-terrestrial physics

11.  We find Keith Mason's explanation for the withdrawal of funding from ground-based solar-terrestrial physics (STP) facilities to be inaccurate, unconvincing and unacceptable. PPARC did not decide to cut funding to all ground-based STP facilities, but intended to maintain a reduced capacity in this field. We urge STFC to suspend its decision on ground-based STP so that the issue can be revisited with proper peer review and in full consultation with the community, including NERC. (Paragraph 59)

Daresbury

12.  We do not see a major distinction between Keith Mason's proposal of 2 November 2007 to move major facilities from Daresbury to RAL and the situation in which Daresbury currently finds itself. SRS is closing, 4GLS has been postponed and the future of ERLP/ALICE is uncertain; the establishment of a computational science centre—important and welcome as this development is—and the influx of industry R&D teams do not amount to the presence of a national facility. (Paragraph 71)

13.  It is clear that Daresbury's future under the current vision is as a technology and business park. This cuts across previous Government assurances and pronouncements about the importance of Daresbury in Britain's overall strategy of scientific excellence. We urge STFC either to commit fully to science at Daresbury, which would include confirmation of at least one large national facility and a concrete programme of future activity and scientific excellence at Daresbury, which can then be the subject of proper scrutiny and review, or to make an honest assessment of, and statement on, the future of Daresbury as a technology and business park. (Paragraph 73)

14.  We have no doubt of the desire of the Government to see a thriving Daresbury campus and we note from previous announcements that this would include major science facilities. However, the Government must make clear, in line with previous commitments, how it intends to deliver future large-scale science facilities on the Daresbury campus. (Paragraph 74)

Government Regional Science Policy

15.  We recommend that the Government make clear its role in regional science policy and how this fits with the Haldane Principle. We also recommend that the Government clarify whether it regards its regional policy as a relevant criterion when the STFC or other Research Councils make decisions about capital projects or programmatic funding. We further recommend that the Government publish a White Paper on Regional Science Policy as a basis for discussion as a matter of urgency. (Paragraph 77)

STFC Site Management

16.  We recommend that STFC install a Campus Director at Daresbury and at RAL. (Paragraph 79)

Cuts to the grant line

17.  Given the anxiety that grant cuts are causing to the physics and astronomy community, we are dismayed that STFC has been attempting to play down the effects of the cuts on the grounds that reductions in future grants are not problematic. We consider cuts to grants that had already been promised a major problem. We urge STFC to take immediate steps to communicate clearly and comprehensively to its research community the impact of its grant cuts. (Paragraph 83)

Communication

18.  We deplore STFC's failure to consult on ILC, Gemini and STP, a failure that has cost it the trust of the scientific community. We conclude that STFC's communications are inadequate, particularly its internal communications, which are deficient both in terms of top down communication (for example, alerting staff to proposed changes) and bottom up communication (for example, engaging the community over decisions). We recommend that STFC pursue urgently the appointment of a permanent Communications Director with appropriate skills and experience. (Paragraph 87)

Impact on non-STFC research facilities

19.  We have grave concerns about the impact of the cuts proposed in the Programmatic Review upon renowned institutions such as Jodrell Bank. This illustrates the extent to which the STFC's decisions affect research and facilities beyond those that it directly funds or owns. (Paragraph 89)

Peer Review

20.  Community consultation is key to peer review. This issue should have been addressed at the outset using models from the previous PPARC and CCLRC structure. We conclude that STFC's peer review system is inadequate and recommend that DIUS review the make up of STFC's peer review committees. (Paragraph 93)

21.  We are at a loss to understand how Professor Mason could think that secretive reviews would have anything other than a divisive effect on the community and undermine confidence in any of his future decisions. (Paragraph 95)

International regulation

22.  In the context of ILC, Gemini and ground-based STP, we do not believe that proper consideration was paid to the impact of the UK's international reputation on two counts. First, DIUS did not allocate enough money to STFC, forcing it to make undesirable cuts. Second, STFC did not handle the cuts well: it failed in its duty to consult with the community prior to making a decision and in the case of Gemini made more than one announcement on which it had to renege. (Paragraph 96)

23.  We are concerned that withdrawal from ILC has made the UK look like an unreliable international partner and that indecision over Gemini and the withdrawal of funding for ground-based STP facilities while the UK is engaged in a long term commitment to EISCAT has made the UK look like an incompetent international partner. (Paragraph 97)

Wakeham review

24.  We recommend that STFC wait for the results of the Wakeham review before implementing the cuts proposed in the Delivery Plan and that it use this time to consult with its stakeholders. (Paragraph 102)

Solar-terrestrial physics

25.  We hope that STFC can liaise with NERC and the STP community to find a favourable solution for all parties. (Paragraph 103)

Astronomy Technology Centre

26.  We welcome news that STFC, ATC and the University of Edinburgh have entered talks about a possible transfer of ATC from STFC ownership to the University. We anticipate that ATC would be able to retain its identity as a world class technology centre and continue to thrive within the University. (Paragraph 105)

Management

27.  We do not have any confidence that rearranging the responsibilities of the existing staff will solve STFC's problems. There is, as noted earlier, immediate need for a Communications Director. However, the management failings at STFC go deeper than this. The events of the past few months have exposed serious deficiencies within STFC's senior management, whose misjudgements could still significantly damage Britain's research reputation in this area, both at home and abroad. (Paragraph 107)

28.  STFC's problems have their roots in the size of the CSR07 settlement and the legacy of bringing CCLRC and PPARC together, but they have been exacerbated by a poorly conceived delivery plan, lamentable communication and poor leadership, as well as major senior management misjudgements. Substantial and urgent changes are now needed in the way in which the Council is run in order to restore confidence and to give it the leadership it desperately needs and has so far failed properly to receive. This raises serious questions about the role and performance of the Chief Executive, especially his ability to retain the confidence of the scientific community as well as to carry through the necessary changes outlined here. (Paragraph 108)

Arts & Humanities Research Council

29.  We are concerned that AHRC's reduced share in the science budget sends out a negative message to the arts and humanities community. (Paragraph 112)

30.  We are concerned that reducing the number of postgraduate places will discourage younger researchers from entering academia in the arts and humanities. This is of particular importance at a time when the economic impact of the sector is becoming increasingly recognised as significant. (Paragraph 114)

Communication with Government

31.  It seems to be a breach of the Haldane Principle that the Government should direct a Research Council to switch funding from postgraduate awards to programme funding merely on the basis of it being out of step with other research councils, or indeed for any other reason. (Paragraph 116)

32.  We are concerned that the lines of communication between AHRC and the Government are not clear enough. We recommend that that there be an urgent review between DIUS and the AHRC as to whether the scale of the proposed reductions in postgraduate awards should be moderated, in the light of the concerns we have expressed here. While respecting the Haldane Principle, we recommend that DIUS review its working relations and communication strategy with the Research Councils, so that the process of decision-making should be more clearly in line with overall strategy and Government policies. (Paragraph 117)

Medical Research Council

33.  We welcome the large increase in MRC's budget and a sharpening of its focus on knowledge transfer. (Paragraph 118)

34.  We ask the Government to justify the Treasury rules on the treatment of excess on shortfalls or surpluses on predicted revenue by Research Councils and in particular the effect it has on higher risk innovation and on the accuracy of revenue predictions. (Paragraph 121)

35.  We are concerned that the Treasury's decision to take £92 million from MRC's commercial fund will act as a disincentive for the Research Councils to be entrepreneurial. This outcome goes against the Government's aim, which we applaud, to improve the translation of research into wealth. We urge the Treasury to commit to a set of rules that encourages the kind of entrepreneurship that DIUS is attempting to foster. (Paragraph 122)


 
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