Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

INVESTIGATING THE OCEANS: UPDATE ON PLANS FOR THE NEW MARINE SCIENCE COORDINATION COMMITTEE

BACKGROUND

  1.  The HoC S&T Committee Report "Investigating the Oceans" was published on 16 October 2007, and the Government response was submitted on 19 December 2007. Because of time constraints, the Response indicated that it had not been possible to reach detailed agreement on all aspects of the new committee, the Marine Science Coordination Committee (MSCC). This paper provides a summary of progress on the formation of the MSCC. It is based on the work of a small Working Group, which brings together the major practitioners of UK marine science management. The views of the Group are not "official" at this stage but the paper will help the MSCC to consider important issues relating to its:

    —  Scope and remit.

    —  Structure and membership.

    —  Reporting arrangements.

    —  Proposed implementation timetable.

PROCESS TO DATE

  2.  Representatives of the main Departmental funders of UK marine science met on 31 January to discuss issues relating to the creation of MSCC, its reporting lines, terms of reference and membership. (See Annex I for list of attendees. DIUS could not be represented directly at this meeting, but has contributed its views to Defra during the subsequent MSCC planning process).

  3.  To make progress it was agreed that a small planning group would be formed with representatives from Defra, FRS, NERC, CEFAS and Met Office (See Annex 2). This paper summarises the Group's considerations to date on the key aspects of MSCC's formation.

  4.  The Group is now in the final stages of refining a paper which will be discussed by Departmental representatives at a meeting/workshop on 15 May. Following this meeting Defra proposes calling a first meeting of the MSCC to discuss the Planning Group's recommendations for the new Committee. The issue of reporting lines to Ministers will be resolved by Ministerial correspondence.

What are the main points emerging from the Planning Group?

BROAD TERMS OF REFERENCE

  5.  The Planning Group proposes that the following encapsulates the broad scope and remit of the MSCC:

  The MSCC will be charged with addressing four important issues:

    —  developing a UK strategic view for marine science and technology;

    —  improving the links between science and policy;

    —  improving marine science co-ordination, including identifying and addressing cross-cutting issues; and

    —  strengthening the UK's marine science capacity and capabilities;

  6.  The MSCC's role is not to dictate Departmental responsibilities for marine science. Rather its role is to act on the four issues set out above and in doing so help the UK face up to future marine policy and science challenges.

  7.  The MSCC will provide leadership in joining up marine science across departments. The MSCC will also address UK coordination with Europe and internationally.

  8.  The MSCC will develop and agree a plan of action covering the next four to five years. The implementation of this plan will be the subject of a review In year five, and progress and other aspects will be included in an annual report from the MSCC. In 2010 the role of MSCC will be reviewed in the light of the new Marine Management Organisation, MMO.

  9.  The MSCC will be responsible for commissioning the Marine Science Strategy. To help take this important action forward the Planning Group has set up a small task group to commence scoping out the UK marine science strategy and estimating likely costs. The strategy will be published by summer/autumn 2009.

MSCC STRUCTURE AND MEMBERSHIP

  10.  Figure 1 illustrates the proposed structure for the Committee. It is suggested that members of the MSCC will be at the director level, representing the following Departments/Agencies:

    —  Defra;

    —  BERR;

    —  MoD;

    —  DfT;

    —  DIUS;

    —  NERC;

    —  Devolved Administrations;

    —  Environment Agency; and

    —  DFID.

  11.  It is proposed that the chairmanship will rotate, possibly every 18 months, between the major funders of marine science—Defra, NERC (DIUS), and the Scottish Department. The "chair elect" will act as a vice chair before assuming the role of chair, to promote continuity.

  12.  The Committee will be supported by the MSCC Support Group, composed of Departmental/Agency officials who have direct science budget responsibilities. In addition to the Departments represented on MSCC, the Support Group will include representatives from:

    —  Met Office;

    —  CEFAS;

    —  UKHO;

    —  JNCC; and

    —  FRS.

  13.  The Support Group will report at least annually to the MSCC, summarising progress and highlighting any issues that need resolving.

  The MSCC, and Support Group, will be supported by a Secretariat.

Relationship with other groups

  14.  The relationship between MSCC and the Marine Assessment Policy Committee (MAPC) has yet to be considered in detail. One option is for MAPC to be merged with MSCC, and the Marine Assessment and Reporting Group (MARG) to become a major MSCC Working Group. The Marine Monitoring Organisation (MMO) will have significant interests in marine science and may therefore become a member of the MSCC.

Working Groups

  15.  A number of working groups will be established to take forward specific pieces of work, commissioned by MSCC. There will, for example, be a strategy working group, and others covering work currently under IACMST, including an international group. Working Groups will provide an important focus for wider stakeholder engagement.

Wider involvement

  16.  A small number of Independents will join the MSCC. They will be chosen by open selection and will serve for a fixed three year term, with possible extension for one further term. They will have a non-executive role and provide a challenge function. The same independents may also be asked by the MSCC Support Group to participate in certain key tasks and attend SG meetings. The strategy will be developed through wide consultation with industry, learned societies and others.

Budget

  17.  The MSCC's business will need to be adequately funded. It is proposed that an MOU, or similar agreement, will be developed between the members of MSCC which will include a commitment to contribute to a central budget, possibly based on the relative sizes of marine science budgets. This will help cover on-going costs for running the Secretariat and developing the strategy which will be a major cost item.

REPORTING ARRANGEMENTS

  These will be explained further by the SoS at the meeting.

  18.  It is envisaged by the Planning Group that the Marine Strategy, which will be a major deliverable of the MSCC in the short to medium-term, will be owned and signed off by all relevant Ministers.

  19.  The MSCC will in its normal course of business report annually to all Ministers.

  20.  Where there are issues relating to failures of coordination, or problems with the delivery of the Strategy, the MSCC will be responsible for resolving issues in the first instance. If this Is not possible the MSCC will propose solutions or options which can be considered, at the ministerial level.

IMPLEMENTATION TIMETABLE

  21.  The Planning Group will meet with departmental representatives on 15 May and through a workshop consider remaining issues. Defra will invite MSCC members to a first meeting, probably In June or July, to examine the Planning Group paper in detail, confirm the MSCC structure etc., develop a forward plan of action, and consider the shape and content of the Strategy.

April 2008


 
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