Government responds to Lords report which scrutinised government investment in science

Posted on August 6, 2010 by

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In April the House of Lords Science & Technology Committee published a report exploring how the priorities for publicly funded research are set and making recommendations on how this decision-making can be improved in future.

Key Documents

Background

The report set out to review how decisions are made to allocate public funds to support research and, particularly given the current economic climate, to make recommendations on how the Government should set priorities to determine the research that should be supported by public funding in future.

The Government response makes considerable reference to the ongoing comprehensive spending review process and the involvement of the Government Scientific Advisers in the process to decide how research should be funded.

What the government response covers:

  • Asserts the coalition government’s support for the Haldane principle
  • Recognises the need for a stable framework for the science & research budget to allow the research community to plan strategically and funders – including charities – to invest.
  • Asserts support for the dual support funding system
  • Reasserts the principles for seeking independent advice laid out in the Guidelines on the Use of Scientific and Engineering Advice in Policy Making
  • Gives some detail on the ongoing comprehensive spending review process and the involvement of the Government Scientific Advisers in the process to decide how research should be funded.

Chapter 2

overview of the current financial climate for science – calls on government to clarify their research funding commitments.

These will be clarified by the comprehensive spending review

Recognises the need for a stable framework for the science & research budget to allow the research community to plan strategically and funders – including charities – to invest.

Chapter 3

examines how better-informed decisions could be made to set the priorities for publicly funded research

recognising the absence of an overview of all public spending on research and development the committee calls on government to annually collate and publish these figures

outlines data that is published but recognises problems with consistency and indicates work is underway to improve this.

Recommends greater involvement of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser and Departmental Chief Scientific Advisers in budget negotiations and the commissioning of advice to inform decision-making

States commitment to evidence-based policy making – that this underpins the spending review process – and the role of departmental chief scientific advisers is crucial in that process.

States that departmental chief scientific advisers are responsible for keeping the government chief scientific adviser (GCSA) informed of their department’s research spend so the GCSA can make sure cross-cutting research is considered strategically when budgets are set.

recognising that many challenges cut across several government departments, recommended that formal mechanisms need to be established to support cross-cutting research projects with their own separate, cross-departmental budgets

outlines the role of the Chief Scientific Advisers network alongside the Departmental Directors of Analysis and the Prime Minister’s Council for Science & Technology in ensuring cross-cutting research projects are considered strategically across government and supported.

Cross-cutting projects are part of the remit of the Research Councils – cross-Council working is encouraged although under Haldane principle, Government has limited control over this.

Support for cross cutting research will be considered in the Comprehensive spending review

Felt the Council for Science & Technology (which reports direct to the Prime Minister) was potentially an underexploited resource and recommended a review of its role and responsibilities

Did not think an external review at this time would be helpful. An informal review by GO-Science to improve the Council’s operation is currently underway.

Chapter 4

outlines more issues that need to be considered in the allocation of public funds for research but the report has not had time to look at in detail. Recommends that they are investigated in future

‘responsive-mode’ and ‘targeted’ research

support for private-sector research an innovation – supporting the translation of research into applications

concentration of research resources

Dismissed existence of a clear distinction between responsive and directed-mode research. Suggested the perception of channelling of funding to one or the other may not match reality.

impact – raising concern over the lack of definition of this concept and how it can be quantified

Does not suggest an explicit definition of impact be adopted. Dismissed concern that researchers were being asked to predict the outcomes of their research when applying for grants and suggests considering impact should be seen as helping researchers explore from the outset the potential beneficeries from their research.

Delay of 12 months to Research Excellence Framework (REF) in light of concerns over difficulties of accounting for the impact of research. Development of a new methodology is underway.

Posted in: Policy