Chapter 2: Key Issues |
Scientific Infrastructure: Planning
AVAILABILITY OF SCIENTIFIC INFRASTRUCTURE
6. The evidence we received drew attention to
a variety of internationally competitive scientific infrastructure.
Much of the evidence referred to the infrastructure required to
support research in fields such as physics and astronomy, reflecting
the importance of large scientific infrastructure to these research
areas. The importance of large infrastructure, such as the Diamond
Light Source (see Box 1), to a whole range of research areas,
was also apparent from the evidence. The value that industry places
on access to large infrastructure was made clear to us, for example
in the area of drug discovery.
The Diamond Light Source
Opened in 2007, the Diamond Light Source is the UK's
national synchrotron facility. It is located at the Harwell Research
and Innovation Campus near Oxford and employs over 400 people.
Synchrotrons accelerate electrons to an extremely high speed,
generating light of exceptional brightness and quality, which
is used to investigate the structure and function of materials.
Application areas range: "from pharmaceuticals
(designing new and better drugs), to studying engineering materials
for real world applications (such as aero-engines); from investigating
and helping preserve ancient artefacts (such as the Mary Rose)
to helping with environmental impact (such as designing more efficient
catalytic convertors for cars, or understanding ways of cleaning
up contaminated waterways)."
The Diamond Light Source represents a major investment
in scientific infrastructure. It is the largest science facility
to have been built in the UK in 40 years. There have been three
phases of development, costing a total of £500 million. It
has an unusual funding model insofar as Diamond Light Source Ltd
is a joint venture limited company funded by the UK Government
through the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and
the Wellcome Trust. The Government and the Wellcome Trust own
86% and 14% of the shares respectively. Diamond is heavily used
and over-subscribed by a factor of 2-3 on most beamlines.
7. The evidence we received also pointed to the
importance of scientific infrastructure for a range of other disciplines,
for example, environmental monitoring (see Box 2) and medical
research (see Box 3). In addition, the importance of e-infrastructure,
enabling effective handling and analysis of increasingly large
data sets, was brought to our attention. The Computing Advisory
Panel at the Science and Technology Facilities Council told us
that they could "foresee an explosion in the amount of data
being produced in the so-called 'Big Data' era". The e-infrastructure
needed "to handle this is not only a question of scale (how
many hundreds of peta-bytes) but must also include the facilities
to curate the data and make it openly available for future exploitation."
Understanding the Natural Environment
Scientific infrastructure is required for monitoring
and understanding the natural environment. The Natural Environment
Research Council (NERC) funds six research centres: the British
Antarctic Survey, the British Geological Survey, the Centre for
Ecology and Hydrology, the National Centre for Atmospheric Science,
the National Centre for Earth Observation and the National Oceanography
Centre. Together, these centres host significant and diverse scientific
infrastructure which provide national capabilities:
"NERC have bases at some of the most hostile
places on the planet. NERC run a fleet of research ships and aircraft
and invest in satellite technology to monitor gradual environmental
change on a global scale. NERC provide forewarning of, and solutions
to, the key environmental challenges facing society."
To give just one example of the varied and sophisticated
infrastructure funded by NERC, polar science infrastructure, run
by the British Antarctic Survey,
includes research ships, ski-equipped aircraft, permanently occupied
Antarctic multi-disciplinary research stations and specialised
laboratoriesall of which are used to monitor environmental
change in the polar regions. Major challenges for NERC funded
infrastructure are the cost of fuel, high operational costs and
ongoing staffing and maintenance costs.
Understanding the Genome
The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
is a non-profit genomic research centre, primarily funded by the
Wellcome Trust, and run by the charity, Genome Research Limited
(GRL). A leader in sequencing the human genome, the Institute
is today studying the role of genetics in health and disease.
It aims to advance research into, and investigation of, the human
genome and publish results in order to aid scientific and medical
research and create resources of lasting value to biomedical research.
E-infrastructure is crucial to the Institute's work and it hosts
and develops a range of software and data resources, which include,
DECIPHERused around the world to identify
and study chromosomal abnormalities in children with developmental
COSMICa database of information on cancer-associated
mutations and the response of cancer cell-lines to anticancer
The Sanger Institute is now the lead organisation
on ELIXIR, a major pan-European project to improve and coordinate
e-infrastructure across the life sciences.
8. Although it is clear that the UK has much
competitive scientific infrastructure, the evidence we received
highlighted gaps in provision. For example, the Institute of Physics,
the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society of Chemistry pointed
to X-ray science and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy:
"A gap in provision is that the UK is currently
lacking access to an X-ray free electron laser (XFEL). These machines
are revolutionising X-ray science and technology by providing
the means for new avenues in nano- and bio-imaging, drug discovery
and energy science. All of our main competitors are either operating
such facilities (i.e. USA, Germany, Italy, Japan), or are at an
advanced stage in commissioning or construction (i.e. China, Korea,
Switzerland). To compete in this area the UK urgently needs to
implement a strategy that leads to either the construction of
our own facility, or to the UK joining one of the international
consortia such as Euro-XFEL."
"NMR [nuclear magnetic resonance] spectroscopy
provides one of the most versatile methods for the analysis of
materials at the molecular level and has an increasing impact
in drug discovery as it has become a method of choice for small
molecule screening and provides the basis for many existing and
potential collaborations between academia and industry.
There is concern that infrastructure and facilities
for high-end imaging projects in the UK are not keeping pace with
demand. The acquisition of state-of-the-art NMR instrumentation
is now beyond the budgets of most Higher Education Institutions
and so there is an urgent need for the UK to improve the provision
of NMR instrumentation, particularly as the next generation of
higher field NMR instruments come on stream."
it now appears that the UK is falling
behind the rest of the world in some areas. For example, the UK
has just one high-field solid-state NMR instrument above 800 MHz,
in Warwick, while France has a network of five, Germany has three,
while the Netherlands has one, with a state-of-the-art 1.2 GHz
machine in development."
9. The UK must ensure that it retains competitive
scientific infrastructure and keeps pace with developments, for
the benefit of both research in the UK and to enable international
collaborationthe UK should be regarded as a partner of
choice. Other countries are undertaking ambitious infrastructure
programmes and there is no guarantee that the UK's strong position
is secure for the long term. Securing the UK's competitiveness
will require sustained and effective investment. In this regard,
we acknowledge the commitment the Government have made to investment
in science and their recognition of the importance of science
to society and economic growth. We also note that, reflecting
this, the Government have made an important commitment to ring-fence
the science budget. Nonetheless, as described below, there have
been impacts on scientific infrastructure from recent funding
INVESTMENT FOLLOWING THE 2010 COMPREHENSIVE
10. In the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review
(CSR), the Government announced a 'flat-cash' settlement for the
science budget. Changes were made, however, to the areas defined
as falling within the science budget. This included moving Higher
Education Funding Council research funding inside the ring-fenced
budget, whilst capital spending was excluded. As shown in Table
1, capital funding was cut substantially. These figures, provided
by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, use the
intended 2010-11 investment of £872 million* as a flat-cash
reference. If this level of investment had been maintained each
year over the 2011-15 period, the total capital spend would have
been £3,490 million. The 2010 CSR cut this by 46%, with only
£1,896 million committed to capital funding. To an extent
this was offset over the next two years by a series of ad hoc
announcements. These announcements restored science capital funding
to 94% of what it would have been under a flat cash settlement.
This funding was allocated through the Research Councils, HEFCE
and the UK Space Agency to specific projects on the basis of business
cases. Additional information on how this funding was allocated
and on historic capital funding levels can be found in Appendix
Science capital announcements at and following
the 2010 CSR
||% of flat cash
|Baseline Science Capital funding allocation as announced at the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review
|October 2011 (e-infrastructure and graphene)
|Autumn Statement 2011
|October 2012 (Space and RPIF)
|Autumn Statement 2012 (eight great technologies)
|Total additional funding announced 2011 & 2012
11. BIS provided the inquiry with separate figures
for innovation capital funding. At the 2010 CSR, £149 million
of innovation capital funding was announced. This was primarily
allocated through the Technology Strategy Board (the National
Measurement Office received £25 million). Over the following
two years, two further announcements increased the total committed
to innovation capital by £197 million (Table 2). Further
information about how the ad hoc funding was allocated is provided
in Appendix 4.
Innovation Capital Expenditure announced
at the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review and in the subsequent
|Baseline innovation capital as announced at the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review
|Autumn Statement 2011 (SME package/Open Data Institute/Demos)
|Autumn Statement 2012 (eight great technologies)
|Total Additional Funding Announced 2011 & 2012
12. While the ad hoc announcements on capital
investment in scientific infrastructure have been very welcome,
this short-term approach has caused problems with planning and
the allocation of funding. This was a recurring theme of the evidence
"The ad hoc nature of funding, whilst vital,
has because of its unpredictability presented a number of challenges.
Planning for operating costs and investment in skills has been
more complex than if there had been sustained long term capital
funding alongside recurrent."
"Since the last Comprehensive Spending Review
(CSR), a series of additional announcements have been made on
investment in scientific infrastructure. This funding is very
welcome, enabling new projects with particular goals that attract
new partnership money. However, the reduced focus on developing
the broad research infrastructure has damaged the UK's ability
to plan strategically and to instil confidence in the UK research
base, so that the country may continue to attract and maintain
world-leading scientists. The irregular appearance of capital
to be allocated at short notice tends to militate against sustainable
strategic investments in research infrastructure."
"While these tranches of funding were welcome,
the short period of time between announcement and deployment made
it challenging for Research Councils to ensure that the funding
was properly allocated. It is not clear that the spending decisions
by government were based on detailed and validated consultation
or evidence collection. 'Stop-go' investment is likely to favour
established groups which happen to have a list of desired facilities
waiting for such opportunities. There must be short-medium and
long term investments available to ensure the UK and its knowledge
economy stays abreast with international competitors in this fast
13. During this inquiry, however, at the June
2013 Spending Review, the Government committed to:
increasing science capital funding
in real terms from £0.6 billion in 2012-13 to £1.1 billion
in 2015-16 and committing to set an overall science capital budget
which grows in lines with inflation each year to 2020-21."
14. Through the ad hoc announcements, the total
science capital budget for 2013-14 had already been increased
to £933 million. The science capital budget for 2014-15 was
already £1060 million (see Table 1). This announcement that
£1.1 billion a year will be allocated to science capital
from 2015-16, and will increase in line with inflation, represents
a real increase in funding relative to the intended £872
million of 2010-11, which was used as the flat-cash comparator.
15. We welcome this commitment from the Government,
which should provide a real opportunity to move to a more long
term, strategic approach to investment in scientific infrastructure;
the development of a long term strategy and an investment plan
is both practical, as funding levels are now known, and desirable,
as it will ensure the best use of resources. This is of great
importance given the evident difficulties caused by ad hoc announcements
and the broader contention, which we discuss below, that decisions
have not been sufficiently far sighted or strategic.
LONG TERM PLANNING AND GOVERNANCE
16. We received a great deal of evidence arguing
that there is a need for enhanced long-term planning. Planning
is of paramount importance because:
(a) Large infrastructure has a long planning
and implementation phase:
"The timescales for planning, building and commissioning
science infrastructure is generally very longof the order
of 10 years at ILL [Institut Laue-Langevin],so a long-term
vision is essential if the UK is not to be left behind in some
"Building infrastructure takes time. Analysis
of the current UK success stories (e.g. Diamond, but also high
power lasers) shows that this rests upon decades of planning,
construction and competitive implementation and optimisation.
Long term planning for operation, upgrades, expansion and decommissioning
may extend the timescale to 50 years."
(b) National capabilities, including data and
expertise, can take decades to establish, but could be lost rapidly
without appropriate investment. In some cases, only later developments,
such as a new disease outbreak, might reveal the lack of national
"Scientific research cannot be switched on and
off at will; it requires a long-term commitment. The experiment
of starving research institutes and universities of infrastructural
resource was carried out in the 1980s and early 1990s with severe
consequences. The JIF/SRIF funds rescued the institutions though
many outstanding researchers were lost to the UK."
(c) Long term planning and clear governance structures
provide certainty for the scientific community, industry and third
sector investors. Planning horizons, we were told, are too short
term in the UK. Other countries have long-term plans:
"France and Germany are the two other countries
about which I have the greatest knowledge. In general they do
adopt a longer term view. The term is over-used, but they tend
to develop a roadmaplandscape documents that try to articulate
where they need to go scientifically and what tools they need
to develop for much longer periods of time."
"We would hope that we can move to a state in
which planning for research investment should be made over a longer
period. For example, in January 2013, China approved its 18-year
medium to long-term plan for investment in scientific infrastructure,
set alongside shorter 5-year plans."
17. At present, there is no single long-term
investment strategy or plan for scientific infrastructure in the
UK. There are various documents setting out proposed investment
needs, but there is no single document or forum which sets strategy.
As the Government themselves told us:
"There is no single national strategy for national
scientific infrastructure in the UK. This is in contrast to some
other countries such as France and Germany where a national strategy
is managed by a single Government Department."
18. The Government maintain that: "the UK's
scientific excellence thrives under the current governance model";
however, the evidence we received suggests that planning and governance
could be improved upon. Our attention was repeatedly drawn during
this inquiry to the Research Councils UK publication, Investing
for Growth: Capital Infrastructure for the 21st Century,
but equally, we were made aware that this document, quite deliberately,
did not set priorities and does not therefore constitute a national
strategy or investment plan (see Box 4).
Current planning and governance mechanisms
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
(BIS) has responsibility for the largest share of public spending
on scientific infrastructure. This is mostly delivered through
the Higher Education Funding Councils and the Research Councils.
BIS allocates resources and the Research Councils and Higher Education
Funding Councils govern the distribution of resources to specific
The Higher Education Funding Councils (HEFCs) distribute
public funding for higher education institutions (HEIs). Higher
education is a devolved area and separate councils undertake this
function in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The
Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) told us that
their funding and policy work aims: "to develop and sustain
a dynamic and internationally competitive research sector that
makes a major contribution to economic prosperity, national wellbeing
and the expansion and dissemination of knowledge."
There are seven
Research Councils with responsibility for different disciplines
who invest around £3 billion each year in research.
In November 2012, Research Councils UK (RCUK), an umbrella organisation
which coordinates the activities of the Research Councils, published
Investing for Growth: Capital Infrastructure for the 21st Century.
This document aimed to provide a strategic framework against which
the Councils could plan future investments in the UK's capital
infrastructure for research. It identified areas of opportunity,
in sectors critical to the economy, where strategic investment
in scientific infrastructure could enable the UK to become a world-leader.
It did not, however, present prioritised funding requests as the
availability of funding was not known at the time.
One of the Research Councils, the Science and Technology
Facilities Council (STFC) is a key funder of large scientific
infrastructure in the UK. The STFC is responsible for funding
national facilities: the Central Laser Facility, the Diamond Light
Source and the ISIS pulsed neutron and muon source. STFC runs
two campuses at Harwell and Daresbury. In addition, the STFC is
responsible for managing the UK's subscription to international
infrastructure facilities and training.
The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) is a non-departmental
public body, sponsored by BIS, which provides the primary means
through which Government incentivises business-led technology
innovation. The majority of the funding provided by TSB is matched
by business. TSB allocates capital funding and its allocation
will rise to £91 million in 2013-14.
19. Recent announcements on capital investment
have been informed by the 'eight great technologies' identified
by the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt Hon George
Osborne MP, first set out the eight great technologies in
a speech to the Royal Society in November 2012.
In this speech, he challenged the scientific community to lead
the world in these areas.
20. In the 2012 Autumn Statement, the Government
announced an additional £600 million of science and innovation
capital funding (see Tables 1 and 2). In January 2013, the Minister
for Science and Universities, Rt Hon David Willetts MP, announced
that this would be spent on the eight great technologies and connected
projects (Table 3).
Allocation of £600 million of science
|"Eight Great Technologies"
|Robotics and autonomous systems
|The Advanced Metrology Laboratory
|Transformative equipment and infrastructure
21. Rt Hon David Willetts MP told the inquiry
how the eight great technologies had been identified, citing RCUK's
Investing for Growth, along with other reports:
"I am rather proud of the eight great technologies.
They were a classic example of how the interplay between experts
and lay politicians works, because the eight great technologies
were essentially a distillation of the advice that was coming
up through officials to me. As I say, that is a distillation of
three things: there is Technology Strategy Board's emerging technologies
report; there was the Government Office for Science's Technology
and Innovation Futures, a report in 2010 which they refreshed
in 2012; plus the Research Councils UK. So you read those documents
and, as a lay man, you try to make sense of them and organise
them in your head. In the exercise I led, I said, "Look,
behind this there is a kind of pattern", which we summarised
in the eight great technologies."
22. The £600 million of capital funding
for the eight great technologies is committed until 2014-15. Appendix
4 provides the current information available from BIS. It is unclear
whether the eight great technologies will continue to provide
a focus for investment after this point, or whether other criteria
will be used to allocate capital funding.
23. The research community facing Research Councils
are well placed to map out scientific infrastructure needs, and
Investing for Growth is to be commended for its effective
consultation with the research community. However, it represents
a 'wish list' of projects without costs, time-lines or priorities;
it does not constitute an over-arching strategy and there is no
underpinning investment plan. This is not a criticism of the Research
Councils, which are not well placed to prioritise and make such
decisions because they are not in control of setting the overall
budget. The Government needs to take the initiative and think
for the long term. As Professor John Womersley, the Chief
Executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, when
asked to comment on current planning and governance arrangements,
"Is it effective in the sense that it has delivered
good science and good facilities? Yes, it absolutely has. Is it
absolutely optimal? Probably not. We have put a strong emphasis
in the UK, through the application of the Haldane Principle and
through the Research Councils that are key to specific subject
areas, on being reasonably close to the individual research subjects.
The priorities tend to be set in consultation with those research
areas, and they reflect the UK's strengths.
They then get fed up into a system in BIS and, as
your previous questioning showed, that has some elements of expediency
when funding is very tight. What we have lost over the past few
years is the long-term vision that used to come from having a
large facility capital funda funding envelope against which
one could plan. Things have become a bit more short term, a bit
more expedient, a bit more related to what could be spent in the
time that is defined by the Spending Review, rather than reflecting
what is best for the country in the long term."
24. Many witnesses made the case for improved
long term planning and a more clearly defined strategy. The following
examples are indicative:
"Our members feel that there is scope for a
National Science Infrastructure Strategy to outline a long-term
timetable of continuous replacement and improvement of capital
research facilities, devised and consulted on by input from the
Research Councils, higher education, government, professional
bodies and other user communities of each of the national facilities."
"The most efficient approach to investment for
UK science as a whole is to develop and follow a well-defined
national strategy, based on discussion and consensus, for continuous
replacement and improvement of our scientific infrastructure
The strategy should include elements of resource
planning and a timeline and should not be simply a catch-all 'wish
list', which is what the RCUK's published strategic framework
for capital investment, 'Investing for Growth', is to a certain
"A longer-term perspective would also fit with
business planning cycles. Businesses typically look five or more
years ahead in making major capital investments so the longer
lead-time universities have to talk to business about potential
investments, the better quality of bids that can be put forward,
the wider universities will be able to look for partners, and
the more likely that they will be of strategic importance."
25. The current lack of a sufficiently long term
overarching strategy and investment plan means that resources
may not be used to best effect. It also impairs the UK's ability
to attract international and industry investment in infrastructure
and decreases the associated commercial activity. It is our view
that there is a need for a long term strategy and an underpinning
investment plan for scientific infrastructure, which sets out
clear priorities, based on the budget available, and is reviewed
and updated at clearly defined periods. The development of the
strategy and underpinning investment plan should be led by the
BIS Director General for Knowledge and Innovation (DGKI) and supported
by the establishment of an ad hoc advisory group.
26. The development of the strategy should also
include reviewing the operation of the Large Facilities Steering
Group (LFSG) as the evidence we received suggested that there
are specific problems with the LFSG. Established in 2011 and comprising
of members of the Research Councils and a representative from
the Wellcome Trust, the LFSG is responsible for overseeing and
determining the overall level of funding for the sustainable operation
of large scale facilities: the Central Laser Facility, the Diamond
Light Source and ISIS. It makes recommendations to STFC, which
then allocates funding. In several pieces of evidence, problems
were reported with the LFSG's governance arrangements,
and while the role of LSFG was praised in some quarters, it would
seem appropriate that it is reviewed in the context of developing
a long term strategy for scientific infrastructure.
27. Scientific infrastructure plays a vital
role in underpinning the UK's research excellence and its translation
into wealth creating outcomes. We recommend well planned, sustained
and efficient future investment in scientific infrastructure in
order to ensure that UK research is able to remain internationally
competitive. It is imperative that a level of stable investment
is achieved that keeps the UK at the forefront of science and
28. Efficient investment in scientific infrastructure
requires long-term planning and clear and transparent decision
making. We therefore recommend that the BIS Director General for
Knowledge and Innovation (DGKI) is charged with the responsibility
of producing a long term strategy and underpinning investment
plan for scientific infrastructure. This should take a comprehensive
view of scientific infrastructure needs across the UK, extending
beyond the jurisdiction of the Research Councils, and including
the needs of industry. It should set out clear investment priorities
for the next ten to fifteen years, based on the budget available,
and include an indicative plan for a longer time frame. It should
be reviewed and updated at clearly defined intervals. The principle
of awarding funding for scientific infrastructure on the basis
of independent, expert scientific advice about the UK's relative
position and the opportunities and benefits that could accrue
must be upheld.
29. We recommend that the BIS DGKI establishes
a time-limited, ad hoc advisory group. This group should advise
on the development of the long term strategy and underpinning
investment plan, and on the response to other recommendations
contained in this report, The membership of the group might include
independent experts, HEFC, PSRE and Research Council Chief Executives,
and representatives from industry and business. Independent experts
on the advisory group might include, for example, representatives
with a strong record in working on scientific infrastructure overseas.
Recommendations for membership of the advisory group should be
sought from the National Academies. The development of this strategy
should include reviewing the Large Facilities Steering Group.
The strategy and investment plan should be published within twelve
months of the establishment of the advisory group.
Not just machines
30. We received evidence that operational costs
are often not being well provided for. Too frequently, it seems
as though the appeal of new initiatives comes at the expense of
fully exploiting existing facilities. The lack of provision for
operational or recurrent costs and upgrades has seen facilities
not being used to maximum capacity. The problem is that capital
investment and operational costs are governed and allocated differentlywithout
a process for determining their interrelationship.
31. For example, a large body of evidence referred
to the ISIS pulsed neutron and muon source. ISIS produces beams
of neutrons and muons that allow scientists to study materials
at the atomic level. It is located at the Rutherford-Appleton
Laboratory near Oxford and is owned and operated by the Science
and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). ISIS is used by researchers
from a wide range of disciplinesfrom materials science
to biology. This centre, however, is running under capacity as
insufficient funding has been made available to cover operational
"We comment on electricity operating costs.
It has been a long standing problem that although injections of
capital for upgrades have by and large been available (although
not always in the most timely way), unfortunately recurrent electricity
operating costs are not consistently planned for at the same time.
This is due to the disjoint between "capital" and "recurrent"
costs which pervades UK infrastructure provisioning. This leads
to significant uncertainties at times, and to ad hoc short-term
solutions which can disrupt the competitive environment for UK
32. The consequences of this are tangible and
very concerning, in terms of reduced scientific outputthe
loss of experiments and publicationsand the consequential
decline in competitiveness:
"Over the last few years, ISIS operated for
just 120 days per year, rather than the optimum historic value
of 180 days per year. Scientific output scales with number of
days of operation, but the cost saving in running for fewer days
is marginal. The saving comes mainly from electricity costs above
the base-line costs of providing the facility, and it equates
in financial value (~£3M) to a large research grant to a
single group in a University. Based on the current 120 days use
per year rather than the optimal, and desired 180 days per year,
the scientific output is reduced by one third. The current and
historical research output from ISIS in papers from UK scientists
is higher than for any of the other UK-funded large facilities,
with about one third of these in high-impact journals according
to the ILL criteria. However, an inevitable consequence of reducing
operational access will be that hundreds of experiments are lost
affecting many research groups in Universities including industrial
projects and hundreds of publications are lost. This substantially
affects the international competitiveness of UK research, and
jeopardizes government and industry funded research that relies
on having sufficient access to neutron facilities. In one year
ISIS proposals were linked to 91 grants of value ~£100M from
one Research Council. Very often these experiments are crucial
elements of a PhD student's thesis. Thus the damage to the research
base in UK Universities across a number of disciplines is out
of all proportion to the cost saving.
There is even a threat to reduce the number of operational
days further, and this represents terrible value for money for
the UK taxpayer. The fact that this coincides with a planned 10
month shut-down of the ILL demonstrates calamitous planning."
33. A further example is provided by the Hartree
Centre, a High Performance Computer (HPC) centre located at Daresbury
Science and Innovation Campus near Manchester and also run by
the STFC. The Hartree Centre was established in 2012 as a result
of £37.5 million of Government investment. While such investment
was very welcome, insufficient provision was made for the operational
costs. Professor John Womersley, Chief Executive, the Science
and Technology Facilities Council, explained the consequences
"The short-term issues are that the resource
investments to support new capital have not been provided at the
same time as the capital. We are extremely grateful, again, for
something like £50 million for high-performance computing
at the Hartree Centre at Daresbury, but that comes with a significant
electricity bill that we had not anticipated. Of course, the capital
is only useful if you turn the computer on, so there is a resource-matching
issue. It is been difficult to invest in the routine maintenance
and upkeep of existing facilities, because Ministers very naturally
are interested in new initiatives and transformative change in
entirely new projects. What we used to fund out of the ring-fenced
component of capital included rather boring things like repairing
the roof on the office building."
34. A further operational cost which is not being
adequately provided for, software maintenance, was also brought
to our attention:
"We note that a lack of investment in software
maintenance does not allow best use to be made of the UK's existing
scientific infrastructure. This is an operational cost that has
been diminished in successive refreshes of the scientific hardware,
and yet much scientific software (e.g. meteorological and climate
models, computational chemistry codes) is required to run on many
generations of hardware. Software is the infrastructure, and hardware
the consumable. Maintenance is required when there are hardware,
operating system and software library changes."
35. These examples reflect a worrying, wider
picture. It is a source of concern that operational costs are
not being adequately provided for, and that, as a result, facilities
are being under-exploited. As Professor Gabriel Aeppli FRS,
Quain Professor of Physics and Director of the London Centre
for Nanotechnology, put it to us:
"I think the immediate needs are to sweat the
existing assets more. When we are not running very expensive machines
with capital costs in the hundreds of millions or even billions
of pounds, and we are saving a few million in electricity bills
every year, that is not a reasonable economic strategy."
36. We were told by the Government that provision
for operational costs was for the Research Councils, HEFCE and
other funding agencies to establish:
"Yes. There is an endless iteration between
the two, but when it comes to that type of current cost, they
have to allocate the money. We set the budget for each research
council, and after that how much they allocate to the operational
costs of these facilities is for them."
37. Balancing the requirement to provide operational
costs against the requirement to invest in new infrastructure
is far from straightforward, and evidence we took from BIS acknowledged
"It is a perennial challenge, especially when
the running costs vary within the budget that is set. I wish I
had a better answer for this, and I am afraid I do not, but it
weighs on our minds continually. I do not think that we have an
38. In our view, the provision of operational
costs needs a thorough examination. While we acknowledge the difficulties
inherent in meeting varying operational costs, it must be a priority
to ensure that facilities are exploited to the full. In essence,
provision for operational costs must be budgeted for in conjunction
with the decision to allocate capital.
39. There is substantial evidence of a damaging
disconnect between capital investment and the funding for operational
costs. We recommend that the BIS Director General for Knowledge
and Innovation, in the development of the strategy and an underpinning
investment plan (paragraph 28), reviews the current situation
to determine how capital investment and the funding for operational
costs can be tied together in one sustainable package.
PEOPLE AND SKILLS
40. In addition to the provision of operational
costs, maximising infrastructure assets also depends on having
a suitably skilled workforce. Much of the evidence we received
stressed this point. Professor Alex Halliday FRS from the
University of Oxford told us that the UK must invest in, and prize,
technical skills, which industry needs, an area in which the UK
compares unfavourably with its European competitors:
"The UK needs to invest in the technically brilliant
people who can develop and maintain advanced instrumentation.
We struggle in this area and UK instrumentation companies find
it hard to recruit. It is well known that the UK has not supported
strongly those career models aimed at building technical skills,
even though industry needs them. Rather these individuals and
careers have been viewed as second class relative to more "academic"
individuals, courses and career paths. This viewpoint is different
in our main competitor European countries in terms of science
and engineering, Germany and Switzerland. In both countries the
technically clever individual is seen as a key and prized contributor
to the infrastructure, economy and society. The UK needs to move
more in this direction of investing in the training of such people
if we are to continue to lead in science. Industry will be supportive
41. In a similar vein, the Engineering Professors'
Council drew attention to the need for skilled software developers
and technicians and the development of attractive career paths:
"In many areas, particularly high-performance
computing, big data etc, it seems there is a willingness to make
capital investment, but a reluctance to balance this with investment
in the people needed to run the equipment. The traditional model
of having postdoctoral researchers develop and maintain equipment
and software is unsustainable. Skilled software developers and
technicians are crucial to modern scientific endeavour so developing
appropriate and appealing career paths and incentives and allocating
appropriate operational budgets, taking these into account at
the investment decision stage, and then committing to deliver
them, are essential."
42. The provision of operational costs and the
development of skilled technicians with well plotted career paths,
it seems to us, have been deemed to be second order issues, and
have been relegated by the lure of new projects and initiatives.
This should not be the case. A failure to address these issues
means that the UK's infrastructure is not being exploited to the
43. We recommend that the training and other
costs, as well as the value of the skilled workforce needed to
operate scientific infrastructure, are fully taken into account
in developing the strategy and an underpinning investment plan
(paragraph 28). To maximise the return on investment, ways to
facilitate viable career paths must be found.
44. This section examines the importance of investment
in scientific infrastructure at all scales, from regional to international,
including the role of Public Sector Research Establishments (PSREs).
It also highlights the importance of partnerships with industry.
Sharing infrastructure has important benefits for users in terms
of efficiency savings and the cross-fertilisation of ideas.
PUBLIC SECTOR RESEARCH ESTABLISHMENTS
45. Public Sector Research Establishments (PSREs)
are a diverse collection of public bodies which carry out research
and monitoring; they include a huge range of different kinds of
organisations and governance models. They are very much part of
national infrastructure, providing repositories of data and expertise
and national capabilities. They also have the potential to play
an important leadership role in developing national science capabilities.
Indeed, this is the role they fulfil elsewhere in the world.
46. There are around 40 PSREs associated with
Government Departments across science and the arts.
This includes the National Physics Laboratory, the Met Office,
the UK Atomic Energy Authority and the Animal Health and Veterinary
Laboratory amongst others. In addition, there are 18 Research
Council affiliated PSREs. Five Science and Technology Facilities
Council (STFC) establishments are classed as PSREs, two of which
are due to close in 2014-15; the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes
and the Joint Astronomy Centre. Five Biotechnology and Biological
Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) affiliated establishments were
transferred to the private sector in 2011. The final BBSRC PSRE,
the Pirbright Institute, is expected to follow in the near future.
The status of the Natural Environment Research Council's (NERC)
PSREs is currently under review. The PSREs which have been transferred
to the private sector have heterogeneous business models.
47. The inquiry heard that PSREs in the UK are
under-valued and under-funded in comparison to those in other
"NPLs' current position amongst the top three
National Measurement Institutes (NMIs) in the world has been acknowledged
at ministerial level but this is becoming increasing difficult
to sustain. The budgets of NPL's peer group NMIs, PTB (Germany)
and NIST (USA), have seen above-inflation growth over the last
decade whilst the NPL budget has continuously decreased over the
same period. At present the PTB budget is nearly 4 times larger
than that of NPL with a staff complement three times that of NPL.
Remarkably, the scientific output of both laboratories is comparable,
but this position cannot be sustained. Also the budgets of the
BRICS countries are all well in excess of the NPL budget. It is
clear that maintaining NPL's position in the top three of the
world will be impossible without a considerable uplift in budget:
NPL needs to maintain the funding for its core NMI activities
whilst at the same time funding strategic partnerships with academic
organisations and industry to a level at which it can be truly
"France's scientific infrastructure is dominated
by large bodies such as the CEA and CNRS rather than the universities.
Those large bodies have large laboratories that they expect to
anchor with large facilities. There is a drive within the structure
of French sites that is rather different. My organisation is 1,100
people now; it used to be 30,000 people at the height of British
atomic activity. We do not have those big organisations any more,
and it is less likely that somebody in a university group would
see that as directly their interest."
48. Professor Cowley also told us of the
importance of National Laboratories in conceiving, designing,
project managing and delivering new large facilities, and the
huge skills sets required to do so. He agreed that the UK may
have gone too far in privatising and closing down National Laboratories.
49. In our view, it is important that the Government
ensures that the capabilities of PSREs, both their provision of
scientific infrastructure and their leadership role, are protected.
Some of the PSREs are funded from outside the science budget and
they should not be quietly trimmed away. The scientific infrastructure
held by PSREs must be maintained as a public good and made available
to both the wider scientific and end user communities. Whatever
governance arrangements exist, and may be put in place in the
future, it is important that the role of PSREs in providing national
infrastructure is not eroded.
50. We are concerned that the ability of Public
Sector Research Establishments and National Laboratories to deliver
national objectives is being eroded by underfunding and a wide
variety of funding and governance models. PSREs are often custodians
of data, expertise and mid-range facilities. We recommend that
BIS Ministers ensure that the funding and governance mechanisms
in place effectively protect the public goods generated by these
MID-RANGE SCIENTIFIC INFRASTRUCTURE
51. Mid-range scientific infrastructure is shared
by many different users within, and in some cases between, universities
and research institutes. Although such infrastructure requires
substantial investment, several similar pieces of equipment are
likely to exist at different locations across the country. For
example, mid-range infrastructure includes sophisticated microscopes,
DNA sequencers and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) facilities.
52. The inquiry heard evidence of the importance
of mid-range infrastructure from Professor Aeppli, Director
of the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN). This facility opened
in 2006 as a joint venture between University College London and
Imperial College London. LCN hosts equipment required for experimental
research in nanotechnology and also theoretical and computational
53. Research in nanotechnology requires specialist,
high-value capital equipment. The largest items of infrastructure
at LCN are funded by the Research Councils and private charities.
Equipment, such as specialist microscopes costing millions of
pounds, is easily accessed by researchers from University College
London and Imperial, In addition, technical expertise to support
the use of equipment is also shared.
54. The LCN is just one example of mid-range
scientific infrastructure. The inquiry heard about several examples
of the importance of access to, and sharing of, mid-range infrastructure.
This included evidence from Dr David Payne from Imperial
College London, who told the inquiry that he was in the process
of setting up a medium-scale facility:
"The instrument that I have recently had funded
is a high pressure photoelectron spectrometer. 20% of that user
time is for open access, and the EPSRC has provided funds to enable
this and to enable users to come to my lab, to my department,
and use the instrument. This is a new model that has really been
pushed forward in the last few years."
55. Evidence we received stressed the importance
of investment in mid-range infrastructure. Large and mid-range
infrastructure fulfil different functions, but investment in one
does not preclude investment in the other. Research Councils UK
described an 'infrastructure pyramid' in which scientific infrastructure
at all scales needs to be supported. This view was echoed by the
University of Nottingham:
national facilities cannot be used
to their full capability unless mid-range equipment/facilities
for training of researchers and the testing of samples are available
at the home institution. For example, samples are tested at the
home laboratory and optimised before they are taken to Diamond
for data collection. This ensures that precious time at the national
facility is used efficiently and the majority of time can be spent
collecting good quality data."
56. We received several pieces of evidence pointing
to difficulties with funding mid-range infrastructure. This included
evidence which indicated a particular problem in funding for NMR
facilities (see paragraph 8). The Research Councils noted that
there is still insufficient investment in mid-range infrastructure,
despite efforts to address this through innovative sharing initiatives.
Following recommendations made by the 2010 Wakeham Review, the
Research Councils and the Higher Education Funding Council for
England (HEFCE) have been supporting regional equipment sharing
initiatives between universities.
Regional alliances have been established, which include the M5
group of five research intensive universities in the Midlands,
and the N8 group in the north of England. Several similar initiatives
exist around the UK. Regional alliances are intended to support
collaboration, equipment sharing and co-fund capital investments.
57. The regional alliances show promise in enabling
sharing of scientific infrastructure and improving access for
researchers. Several pieces of evidence we received, however,
raised issues which remain to be resolved with these newly established
"HEFCE recognises that there are a number of
barriers to collaboration and sharing of infrastructure that need
to be overcome, including transaction costs and VAT implications,
logistical barriers and broader cultural considerations around
ownership and trust."
58. The Engineering Professors' Council suggested
that the way in which the HEFCE Research Excellence Framework
incentivises universities to own research infrastructure needed
to be addressed:
while total grant funding won and ownership
of infrastructure rather than the efficient use of existing facilities
remains as one of the indicators of a high quality research environment
(HEFCE Research Excellence Framework) and hence university research
reputation and allocation of quality-related research funding,
each individual university will want its own research centres
and equipment. Addressing this particular disincentive would be
helpful and certainly, more innovative approaches to equipment
"sharing" could be developed."
The University of Nottingham suggested that specific
funding for equipment which is suitable for sharing within a regional
alliance would be appropriate.
59. It is important that mid-range scientific
infrastructure is well provided for. A complete picture of what
is available, where it is located and how heavily it is used is
needed. It is important that universities collaborate effectively
to collate this information and HEFCE should take a leadership
role in actively facilitating this. This information can be used
to ensure that best use is made of mid-range infrastructure and
facilitate sharing by researchers across different universities
and other organisations. It should also help to avoid duplication
where the same equipment is unnecessarily purchased by more than
one organisation in situations where it could be shared.
60. We welcome the work to establish equipment
sharing initiatives. It is important that such initiatives continue
to be supported and further developed. It is equally important
that these initiatives create the widest possible access to scientific
infrastructure. We note that whilst equipment sharing initiatives
are clearly of benefit, they do not constitute an alternative
to sustained capital investment. In addition, initial barriers
to setting up equipment sharing initiatives will need to be overcome.
We welcome the indication from the Research Councils and HEFCE
that work is underway to address these difficulties. The evidence
suggests that the Research Councils and HEFCE need to take urgent
steps to support universities in solving administrative challenges
and to assist in sharing best practice where effective approaches
61. There is evidence of some difficulties
in the funding of mid-range scientific infrastructure. The establishment
of university consortia and equipment sharing initiatives is a
welcome step forward in terms of efficiency savings and improved
access to mid-range infrastructure. We recommend that the Research
Councils and HEFCE continue to support these initiatives, expand
their scope where possible, and work with universities to find
effective means for removing barriers and resolving administrative
issues. The Research Councils and HEFCE should publish a regular
report on progress with these initiatives. We note that such initiatives
are also being undertaken in the devolved administrations and
we invite the respective Higher Education Funding Councils to
take similar steps where appropriate.
NATIONAL SCIENTIFIC INFRASTRUCTURE
62. National infrastructure is shared by users
throughout the UK and beyond. In many cases, national infrastructure
is not located at university campuses, but at low cost sites,
which, on occasion, can be difficult to access and join up across
the country. In deciding where new investments in scientific infrastructure
should be located, it is important to consider access for users.
Professor Alex Halliday FRS, Oxford University, stressed
the importance of connectivity:
"Large advanced facilities like those at Harwell
and Culham also need excellent transport and communications. There
has to be a national and regional strategy to support this connectivity.
The road and rail links need to be efficient with adequate frequency
and ease of access."
63. Some submissions raised issues with geographic
distribution and the availability of scientific infrastructure,
noting concentration in the south east of England, which has implications
We heard evidence of the local benefits associated with the location
of scientific infrastructure. Professor Womersley, Chief
Executive, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, told
us that the Synchrotron Radiation Source at Daresbury, which operated
successfully over 28 years, had brought tangible benefits to the
something like £1 billion was
spent in the local area from the construction costs, the visits
from all the users and the interaction with industry."
64. We recommend that the scientific infrastructure
strategy and underpinning investment plan (paragraph 28) take
into account local and regional benefits, the importance of national
and regional connectivity (real and virtual), and wider facilitation
of access for users.
EUROPEAN AND INTERNATIONAL
65. A large amount of the evidence we received
described the importance of European and international scientific
infrastructure projects. In many cases, the scale of the scientific
infrastructure required exceeds the capabilities of an individual
nation and collaborative investment is needed. Reflecting this,
global research infrastructure was flagged as a priority area
for increased international collaboration at the meeting of G8
Science Ministers in June this year.
66. The Minister for Science and Universities,
Rt Hon David Willetts MP, told us that the Government was
very much alive to opportunities to be involved in international
scientific infrastructure projects:
"I should have mentioned earlier the European
Space Agency moving its telecoms and satellite research capability
to Harwell, deliberately shifting to the UK from the Netherlands,
where it is currently located. We are quite active in trying to
seize these international opportunities, but we certainly need
to keep our eye open and aim to secure more in the future."
67. In some cases, the UK is committed to financing
projects through international treaties: the European Space Agency
(ESA), CERN and the European Southern Observatory (ESO)and
conventions: the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) Convention and the
European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) Convention. Professor Tejinder
Virdee, one of the founding members and leaders of the CMS experiment
at CERN, told us that the UK is viewed favourably as a partner
in providing sustained, stable and timely funding for CERN.
The UK realises the benefits of its investment through the success
of UK researchers in gaining access to the scientific infrastructure
at CERN on the basis of scientific excellence, following peer
review of project proposals.
The CERN convention was signed in 1953 and now has
20 member states as signatories, all of whom contribute to capital
and operating costs. Infrastructure funding depends on Gross National
Product and the UK currently contributes approximately 14% of
the costs. Experiments are funded by a larger number (approximately
40) of contributing member states. Researchers are awarded access
to the scientific infrastructure at CERN on the basis of scientific
excellence, following peer review.
The CERN laboratory, which straddles the Franco-Swiss
border near Geneva, hosts the Large Hadron Collider, the world's
largest and most powerful particle accelerator. Particles are
made to collide together at close to the speed of light, providing
physicists with clues about how the particles interact, and, in
turn, giving insights into the fundamental laws of nature.
Some 10,000 visiting scientists, from over 113 countrieshalf
of the world's particle physicistscome to CERN to conduct
68. We heard, however, that where there is no
international treaty in place, the UK's commitment to international
infrastructure projects is less consistent. We were told that
there is scope for the UK to be more involved in infrastructure
projects identified by the European Strategy Forum on Research
ESFRI is a key tool for scientific infrastructure governance at
the European level. It aims to provide a strategic approach to
policy making on scientific infrastructure in Europe and to facilitate
The 27 European Member States are represented by senior science
policy officials at meetings held approximately four times a year.
In 2010, ESFRI published an updated roadmap on research infrastructures.
Thirty-eight infrastructure preparatory phase projects are listed
in the roadmap. The UK leads on only four of these projects, whereas
Germany and the Netherlands each lead on five and France leads
on eight. There is a perception that the UK lags behind its European
counterparts, where Government funded organisations drive involvement,
when it comes to hosting large scientific infrastructure.
Professor Harrison, Director, Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL),
put it to us that the UK was perceived as detached and somewhat
"It tends to be regarded as a country that waits
to see if a project has got off the ground and is successful,
and then jumps in with the funding. That is what happened with
ILL and it looks like that is what is happening with the ESS [European
Spallation Source], though caution is sometimes well-founded.
It is regarded as being very pragmatic but not always particularly
collegiate when it comes to getting something off the ground.
That comes back to the issue of the extent to which we actually
jump in and make a commitment to international facilities."
Professor Cowley, Chief Executive Officer, UK
Atomic Energy Authority, and Head of EURATOM/CCFE Fusion Association,
argued that the UK was "not getting in there, mixing it up
and being part of proposals."
69. The University of Nottingham suggested to
us that a lack of alignment between UK and EU funding structures
hampered UK involvement in European projects.
We were also told that the UK funding structure, which gives a
strong role to the Research Councils, meant that the UK did not
always have a clear external face in international fora.
In addition, we heard that there is a lack of clarity about where
leadership should come from for pursuing international projects,
and, moreover, that there is a lack of clarity about where the
responsibility lies for decisions about whether or not to be involved
in international scientific infrastructure projects. More widely,
we heard that, in general, there is a lack of co-ordination within
Europe between those who actually provide the funding.
Separately, the OECD has noted that responsibility for the negotiation
of international scientific infrastructure agreements is in some
cases delegated to officials who do not have the authority to
make decisions, causing unnecessary delays.
This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs and should be rectified.
70. When the UK does get involved in European
and international infrastructure projects, it often does so with
great success. For example, the UK leads in the ELIXIR project
which provides e-infrastructure for life science data (see Box
3), and we heard that the UK benefits from having such a resource
physically located in the UK.
Professor Cowley told us that the benefits that the UK received
from hosting Joint European Torus (JET) far exceeded the 12.5%
of funding provided.
Moreover, the wages of local technicians and engineers are paid
from this fund, which has the added benefit that: "Culham
has produced a base of technicians and engineers who work at the
various highest levels of technology and spin off into the local
successor project, the ITER, will be hosted in France. The evidence
we received, including from the Minister for Science and Universities,
Rt Hon David Willetts MP, was unclear as to why the UK had
not bid to host the project. The decision, the Minister told us,
had been taken long before he took office.
Examples of international infrastructure
projects hosted in the UK
Based in Reading, the European Centre for Medium-Range
Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) was established in 1975 and employs
around 260 staff. It is an international intergovernmental organisation
supported by 34 states. The scientific infrastructure hosted by
ECMWF includes a state-of-the art supercomputer, data archive
and network. ECMWF pools the scientific and technical resources
of Europe's meteorological services and institutions for the production
of medium-range weather forecasts.
The Joint European Torus (JET) for magnetic
fusion research is hosted at the UK Atomic Energy Authority's
It began operating in 1983 and is used by over 350 scientists
from Europe and beyond each year. 28 states are signatories to
the European Fusion Development Agreement. JET is the largest
operating magnetic fusion device in the world and the largest
EU-funded scientific device in the UK. The goal of JET is to develop
fusion energy as a new energy source for the future.
The European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI),
located at the Wellcome Trust's Genome Campus near Cambridge,
is part of EMBL, Europe's leading laboratory for the life sciences.
EMBL-EBI provides freely available data from life science experiments
across the complete spectrum of molecular biology. EBI is a non
profit intergovernmental organisation funded by EMBL Member States.
Its 500 staff are made up of 43 different nationalities.
71. We also heard more widely of the local economic
benefits of spin-outs in terms of building industrial capacity
and stimulating innovation:
"There is a huge host benefit. CERN is a good
example. If you drive around Switzerland and the part of the Haute-Savoie,
which is the part of France that is adjacent to CERN, you see
a lot of little hightech companies that clearly have their original
origin in being subcontractors for CERN and now will export precision
machines and special purpose electronics throughout the world.
The host countries, which are France and Switzerland, have of
course benefited far more than the other people who have paid
72. Professor Cowley noted the importance
of such projects for retaining the project skills needed to build
large infrastructure projects within the UK:
"One of the dangers when we are not building
new facilities in the UK is that people cannot learn on smaller
facilities how to do this. You are not going to give the LHC [Large
Hadron Collider] to somebody who has never done a project before."
73. In addition to the direct employment and
skills benefits, witnesses concurred that locating large facilities
in the UK had an inspirational impact in terms of attracting the
next generation into careers in science, technology and engineering.
The examples of specific cases provided in evidence point to the
extensive benefits which were derived from hosting large facilities.
Dr Graeme Reid, Head of Research Funding, Department for
Business, Innovation and Skills, however, considered that the
cost benefit analysis was in fact unclear.
there are quite clearly benefits from
having major infrastructure located in the nation, but there are
also considerable costs, both direct and indirect, from that.
My sense is that the country does very well in terms of participating
in international collaboration through large infrastructure."
74. Beyond anecdotal reports, there is a paucity
of evidence about the costs and benefits of hosting European and
international projects, and we recommend that further information
is collected to support future investment decisions in this area.
The need for improved monitoring and evaluation of the impacts
of scientific infrastructure projects is discussed in the final
section of this report.
75. Nevertheless, in our view, it emerged clearly
from the evidence that the UK needs an improved and more transparent
strategy for engagement in European and international scientific
infrastructure projects. Further steps must be taken to ensure
that the UK is sufficiently engaged in European and international
infrastructure projects and able to commit funding in a timely
manner. Establishing a long term strategy and investment plan
will help to bring necessary focus on the UK's European and international
76. The DGKI should commission a review of
the costs and benefits of hosting European and international infrastructure
in the UK and use this as an evidence base for the development
of the strategy and an underpinning investment plan (paragraph
28). The investment plan should clearly set out the UK's ambitions,
objectives and budget for involvement in European and international
projects, and establish procedures and processes to ensure that
that the UK can be engaged, proactive and well-coordinated, with
a clear external face, within the EU and internationally.
77. Scientific infrastructure is often extremely
important to industry. We heard evidence of how access to publicly
funded scientific infrastructure was particularly beneficial to
small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), which would be unable
to fund capital investment in such equipment.
Heptares Therapeutics, a spin-out from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular
Biology in Cambridge, and a heavy user of the Diamond Light Source,
"SMEs, many of which are spin-outs from universities,
rely on being able to access large pieces of capital equipment
via universities or research Institutes. Such infrastructure provides
an invaluable kick start to new companies and will directly stimulate
|Heptares Therapeutics is a biotechnology firm based in Hertfordshire, employing more than 60 scientific staff. Heptares uses X-ray protein structures for drug design in the areas of neurological and metabolic disease. It uses the Diamond Light Source at least monthly and is one of the largest industrial users in the biomedical area, generating 90% of its structural data there. For example, using the Diamond Light Source, Heptares has characterised a key protein in the brain involved in memory. Using this knowledge, the firm is now working to develop treatments for Alzheimer's disease. Heptares is applying the same approach in the development of drugs for schizophrenia, migraine, depression, alcohol and smoking addiction and insomnia. Access to the Diamond Light Source has contributed to the ability of Heptares to obtain partnerships with major pharmaceutical companies.
78. The evidence from Heptares provides an indication
of the societal and economic benefits of investment in scientific
infrastructure if it is effectively used by industry. Another
example is provided by the whole life economic study of the Synchrotron
Radiation Source at Daresbury, which was used by "200 business
customers, 11 of the top 25 companies in the UK R&D scoreboard"
79. In other cases, however, there seems to be
a lack of awareness in industry about the availability and potential
uses of scientific infrastructure. The Minister for Science and
Universities, David Willetts MP, accepted that SMEs are not
accessing some of the research and development support that is
available to them.
Industry is typically charged when using large facilities to undertake
proprietary research, but may be able to access scientific infrastructure
at universities free of charge. We heard that arrangements can
be highly variable:
"Currently there are schemes for SMEs to access
university equipment. However these are highly variable in their
arrangements, with different universities and departments within
universities having different attitudes with regard to access
to small-medium sized pieces of capital equipment."
The Royal Academy of Engineering considered that
charges are usually reasonable, but emphasised that:
it is important that fees are not raised
without wider consideration of impact on the full range of users,
including SMEs, who make use of facilities."
The evidence also suggested that, in some cases,
charging full economic cost may deter industry from making use
of scientific infrastructure.
We were told that high charges for using infrastructure are particularly
a problem in the UK:
"It is clear that in the USA, our competitors
benefit significantly from free or low cost access to HPC for
advanced simulation and large scale data analytics ("big
data"). It is important that UK companies have the playing-field
The Engineering Professors' Council noted that the
charging situation is highly inconsistent with some areas, such
as tomography, priced beyond affordability of most users:
it is currently cheaper to fly to the
US for 3 days of synchrotron tomography beamtime rather than using
a laboratory instrument in the UK."
80. There seems to be some complexity and a lack
of clarity about the charging arrangements for industry access
to scientific infrastructure. Steps should be taken to simplify
arrangements and communicate them to industry more effectively.
There are, in our view, clear benefits to the UK economy of industry
using publicly funded scientific infrastructure, and the economy
is likely to benefit if any barriers associated with charging
practices are removed. It is important that the UK's international
standing and competitiveness are not jeopardised through inappropriate
charging arrangements. In addition, it is crucial that steps are
taken to raise industry's awareness as to what scientific infrastructure
is available and how it can be used.
81. The strategy and underpinning investment
plan for scientific infrastructure (paragraph 28) should include
consideration of measures to encourage and facilitate further
access to scientific infrastructure for industry. This should
include reviewing the charges for access and improving the clarity
of communication about charging. Consideration should also be
given to how facilities can be encouraged to market infrastructure
for external use more proactively.
82. The Government has taken steps to encourage
industry to co-invest in scientific infrastructure. The UK Research
Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF) was set up in 2012 as a tool
for encouraging collaborative industry investment in scientific
infrastructure. The UKRPIF fund provides £10 million to £35
million for universities to invest in long-term capital projects,
which leverage in at least double the amount of private investment.
The Minister for Science and Universities, Rt Hon David Willetts MP,
told us that the scheme had proved very popular and had attracted
£855 million of private investment.
At the June Spending Review, the Government announced £100
million per year for the RPIF until 2016-17.
83. HEFCE told us that, following cuts to its
capital fund at the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review, the UKRPIF
had been the only major injection of capital.
The evidence suggested that whilst this new scheme is welcome,
and showing encouraging commitment from industry, further optimisation
of the terms under which it operates may still be needed:
"RPIF has undoubtedly been very useful in securing
outside investments, but a more strategic approach to RPIF could
be achieved with a longer-term and more flexible initiative having
either an open-ended time period for putting forward proposals,
or at least a clear set of proposal closing dates known well in
advance. If business is to be encouraged to engage more extensively
in future rounds of RPIF, then a lower proportion of matching
may be required and/or sufficient flexibility allowed to include
more in-kind and other non-financial contributions."
the need to match research to economic
activity at substantial scale may have constrained some potential
projects from being proposed. In addition, the scale of co-investment
requires significant strategic partnerships with companies that
can take time to nurture through to full commitment stage. The
challenges for institutions and their partners could be eased
through long term commitment from Government (longer lead in times
to develop propositions) and consideration of smaller scale projects."
84. The Government's commitment to ongoing funding
for the UKRPIF scheme is welcome. It is important that this programme
remains sustainable once big business has had its needs met. Government
should therefore review and carefully consider the terms of the
scheme and determine whether more could be done to encourage the
involvement of SMEs. Longer lead in times are also important.
More proactive marketing and improved information for businesses
about this funding may also be needed.
85. We congratulate the Government on the
launch of their Research Partnership Investment Fund and their
commitment to funding until 2016-17. We recommend that the Government
take steps to extract maximum value from the scheme. To achieve
this, the DGKI, in developing the strategy and an underpinning
investment plan (paragraph 28), should review whether the scheme
should be made more flexible and whether funding calls need to
be open for longer to enable collaborative partnerships to be
Monitoring and evaluation
86. Much of the evidence received during this
inquiry pointed to the importance of scientific infrastructure,
not only for supporting scientific research, but also for stimulating
innovation and economic growth. In some cases, studies have been
undertaken to characterise the impacts of past investment in scientific
It is, however, rare that attempts are made to monitor and evaluate
the impacts of investment in scientific infrastructure. A recent
report, commissioned by the Government, reviewed the information
available on the link between large facilities and innovation.
It concluded that little information was available, and more needed
to be done to develop evaluation practices for large facilities.
87. Evidence on the impact of past investments
would be useful in supporting future investment decisions. There
is a need to gather evidence on the return on investment more
effectively and embed mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation
from the point of funding. This should extend to an examination
of economic benefits, training and skills, and societal benefits.
The outcomes should be used to inform a long-term strategy and
inform future investment decisions. There is, correspondingly,
a need to convey better the impact of investment in scientific
infrastructure to industry, commerce and policy makers.
88. We recommend that all future funding of
large and mid-range scientific infrastructure includes provision
for an ongoing monitoring and evaluation mechanism to determine
the impact and return on investment and provide an evidence base
for future decision making. Monitoring and evaluation processes
should be embedded from the point of investment and outcomes should
be published and clearly communicated to industry, policy makers
and the scientific community.
2 Heptares Therapeutics. Back
Diamond Light Source Ltd. Back
Computing Advisory Panel (CAP), Science and Technology Facilities
Council (STFC). Back
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Back
The British Antarctic Survey receives additional funding from
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Back
See: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
Institute of Physics. Back
Wellcome Trust. Back
Royal Society of Chemistry. Back
Research Councils UK (RCUK). Back
University of Oxford. Back
Royal Academy of Engineering. Back
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Back
Professor Andrew Harrison, Institut Laue-Langevin. Back
Diamond Light Source Ltd. Back
Babraham Institute. Back
Q 53-Professor Andrew Harrison, Institut Laue-Langevin. Back
University of Cambridge. Back
Research Councils UK (2012) Investing for Growth: Capital Infrastructure
for the 21st Century. Available online: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
Q 25. Back
See Appendix 4 for further information about capital spending. Back
Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). Back
The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the Natural
Environment Research Council (NERC), the Medical Research Council
(MRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Engineering
and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Biotechnology
and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Arts
and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Back
See RCUK website: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
Research Councils UK (2012) Investing for Growth: Capital Infrastructure
for the 21st Century. Available online: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
Speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt Hon George Osborne
MP, November 2012. Available online: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
Speech by the The Minister for Science and Universities Rt Hon
David Willetts MP, January 2013. Available online: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
Q 81. Back
Q 42. Back
Science Council. Back
Institute of Physics. Back
Russell Group. Back
See, for example, submission from Professor Robert McGreevy, Director,
ISIS Facility, STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Back
ISIS User group. Back
Q 45. Back
Software Sustainability Institute. Back
Q 17. Back
Q 79. Back
Q 39. Back
Professor Alex Halliday FRS, University of Oxford. Back
Engineering Professors' Council. Back
Letter from Sir Mark Walport, Chief Scientific Advisor to HM Government
and Head of the Government Office for Science, to Andrew Miller
MP, Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee,
16 May 2013. Available online: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
National Physical Laboratory. Back
Q 59-Professor Steven Cowley, Chief Executive Officer, UK
Atomic Energy Authority, Head of EURATOM/CCFE Fusion Association. Back
Q 63. Back
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Q 14. Back
University of Nottingham. Back
Financial sustainability and efficiency in full economic costing
of research in UK higher education institutions: Report of RCUK/UUK
Task Group, Chair: Sir William Wakeham, June 2010. Available online:
Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
Engineering Professors' Council. Back
University of Nottingham. Back
Professor Alex Halliday FRS, University of Oxford. Back
Engineering Professor's Council. Back
Dr Thomas Forth. Back
Q 50. Back
G8 Science Ministers Statement, London, 12 June 2013. Available
online: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
Q 90. Back
Q 58. Back
See CERN website: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
Q 58-Professor Steven Cowley, Chief Executive Officer, UK Atomic
Energy Authority, Head of EURATOM/CCFE Fusion Association. Back
See ESFRI website: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
ESFRI (2010) Strategy Report on Research Infrastructures, Roadmap
2010. Available online: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
Q 59-Professor Cowley and Professor Harrison. Back
Q 58. Back
Q 58. Back
University of Nottingham. Back
Q 42-Professor Womersley and Professor Loughhead. Back
Q 54-Professor Cowley. Back
Q 57-Professor Harrison. Back
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Global
Science Forum (2010) Establishing Large International Research
Infrastructures: Issues and Options. Back
Q 32-Anne-Marie Coriat, Chair of Research Councils UK Research
Group, Head of Science Programmes, Medical Research Councils (MRC). Back
Q 54. Back
Q 54. Back
Q 82. Back
See Culham Centre for Fusion Energy website: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
See CCFE website: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
See EBI website: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
Q 21-Professor Aeppli FRS, Quain Professor of Physics and
Director of the London Centre for Nanotechnology. Back
Q 63. Back
Q 32. Back
Q 13-Professor Brown, Director of Structural Biology, Argenta
Discovery and Professor of Structural Biology, University of Kent. Back
Heptares Therapeutics. Back
Heptares Therapeutics. Back
Q 50. Back
Q 85. Back
Heptares Therapeutics. Back
Royal Academy of Engineering. Back
Professor Attfield, University of Edinburgh. Back
Rolls Royce. Back
Engineering Professors' Council. Back
Q 86. Back
Russell Group. Back
Science and Technology Facilities Council, The social &
economic impact of the Daresbury Synchrotron Radiation Source
(1981-2008). Available online: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back
Technopolis Group, Big science and innovation, July 2013.
Available online: Error! Bookmark not defined.. Back