(A) THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE,
FISHERIES AND FOOD
89. MAFF's overall departmental aim is "to ensure
that consumers benefit from competitively priced food, produced
to high standards of safety, environmental care and animal welfare
and from a sustainable, efficient food chain, and to contribute
to the well-being of rural and coastal communities.".
The purpose of the Ministry's R&D programme is "directly
to inform and underpin [its] policy aims and objectives and their
implementation and evaluation.".
The investment is mainly in applied strategic and applied specific
research, although around £13 million of basic research at
the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew is supported by grant-in-aid
from MAFF each year.
90. The principal priority areas for MAFF's research
- public health (covering food safety, transmissible
spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) and zoonoses); 
- protection of the environment (emphasising improved
sustainability in production methods and the potential benefits
for the environment and industrial efficiency).
91. Other key areas of MAFF's R&D identified
in Forward Look are
- genetically modified organisms (GMOs);
- flood and coastal defence;
- fisheries management and conservation;
- animal health and welfare; and
- industry competitiveness.
92. MAFF suffered a progressive cut in its R&D
budget over the three years of the CSR, amounting to some 7.5%
by 2001-02 (from £136.4 million to £126 million). The
fall is even greater if the base-line for comparison is 1997-98,
when the figure was £140.5million. The long-term decline
in MAFF's R&D budget is even more marked. Taking 1986-87 as
the starting point, expenditure is projected to fall by 32% in
real terms, by 2001-02. (Some of the fall in the latter half
of this Parliament is accounted for by the transfer of certain
MAFF functions, and their funding, to the new Food Standards Agency.)
93. In a supplementary memorandum, MAFF explained
that in applying these cuts in their R&D programme, Ministers
had decided to protect or, in some cases, enhance priority areas
of research, namely BSE and scrapie, zoonoses and organic farming.
In addition, all the food research programmes due to transfer
to the Food Standards Agency had been broadly maintained at their
existing level, as had flood and coastal defence programmes. The
overall cut in MAFF's R&D budget had accordingly been achieved
for 1999-2000 by spreading reductions "equally across all
the unprotected research programmes". For 2000-01 the position
was similar, with the exception that elements of the zoonoses
programme had joined the unprotected category. Among the areas
of research which have been subjected to these equalised cut-backs,
using MAFF's functional titles, are
- "thriving markets" (including arable
crop research, plant health and animal disease control);
- economic and social (including the rural economy);
- conservation of fish stocks;
- supporting programmes (including science policy).
94. At the same time as overall R&D expenditure
has been cut, MAFF's traditional R&D programmes have also
been squeezed as a result of the shift in priority towards BSE-related
research (up from 0.5 million in 1988 to some £15 million
95. Several witnesses expressed serious concern about
cuts in MAFF's R& D budget, both in terms of the most recent
CSR settlement and as a manifestation of the long-term decline
in civil departmental SET expenditure. SBS put the position as
"A whole series of farming and food related
problems have been followed by continued and sustained cuts in
the Ministry of Agriculture's research budget. Despite problems
with, and serious questions about, BSE, salmonella, listeria,
tuberculosis in cattle and wildlife, antibiotic resistance through
agricultural use, and management of fisheries stocks, the budget
has been reduced.".
96. From the point of view of a research body on
the receiving end of funding reductions, the BBSRCwhich
sponsors eight research institutes working in agriculture-related
subject areastold us that the decline in MAFF's research
expenditure had "placed serious pressures on [their] science
budget income over the past decade and a half".
This in turn had led to the scaling back of activity in important
areas of research, including endemic disease and cattle and avian
97. Within MAFF, the final outcome as regards the
balance between competing R&D priorities (and as regards the
priority accorded to research, taken as a whole, within the total
MAFF budget) is the product of a relatively centralised system
of decision-making. It was described to us in these terms by the
Ministry's Chief Scientist, Dr David Shannon:
"I would sit down annually with policy customers,
talk to them about what their research needs were, go round all
the policy groups within MAFF and pull together a bid for MAFF
researchnoting what research was coming to an end, what
new requirements they identified, any other indications which
had come from committees such as SEAC or the Food Advisory Committee,
or whatever. I then pull those bids together into a paper which
will be put to the MAFF R&D committee, which is chaired by
the Permanent Secretary and which then takes a view on the overall
balance of the programme. Having taken a view the paper would
then be put to the Minister for his agreement to the actual balance
of expenditure for the next year.".
In other words, as Dr Shannon confirmed, the centrally
determined total R&D requirement competes with the other components
of MAFF's overall budget for priority within the Ministry's bid
to the Treasury for funds.
98. We explored in more detail with Dr Shannon the
respective rôles played in MAFF's decision-making process
on R&D by the CSA and the Ministry's Permanent Secretary.
Dr Shannon explained that the CSA had commented on a number of
aspects of the research programme and that there were "several
specific points where he has had an impact".
And he added that he expected the CSA to review the results of
the forthcoming CSR and that no doubt he would "comment to
the Prime Minister on what he thinks of the outcomes as far as
science is concerned.".
Dr Shannon challenged the notion that the voice of science within
MAFF was muffled as a result of the fact that the Chief Scientist
reported to Ministers through the Permanent Secretary, who inevitably
had many other matters on his mind. Dr Shannon pointed to the
many occasions on which the Permanent Secretary discussed R&D-related
matters with the CSA, whom he (the Permanent Secretary) saw as
"someone to be consulted on a range of issues.".
He added that the Permanent Secretary was fully attuned to the
importance of science through his chairmanship of the Ministry's
R&D Committee and that as Chief Scientist he himself had regular
contact with the CSA via the medium of the CSAC, which met four
times a year.
99. We were so disturbed by what seemed to us to
be the complacent tone of the oral evidence from MAFF that we
decided to write to the Minister outlining five main areas of
concern. Our intention in doing so was to give the Minister an
opportunity to respond before we proceeded to consider our Report.
100. The points emerging from MAFF's evidence on
which we sought the Minister's reassurance were the following
- the apparent reluctance to acknowledge the scale
of the R&D investment needed to support MAFF's current policy
objectives, both as regards long-term research designed to identify
and give early warning of possible future BSE-type crises and
in the development of innovative programmes to assist in the process
of conversion away from conventional farming;
- the impression that MAFF's bid for R&D expenditure
in the last CSR had been framed not so much in the light of the
tasks facing the Department but against expectations of what the
Treasury would wear;
- uncertainty as to whether MAFF's commitment to
implementing its departmental science strategy (and the influence
exercised through it by the OST and the CSA) would be strong enough
to redress the apparent deficiencies described above;
- the fact that, for reporting and line management
purposes, the Permanent Under Secretary at MAFF is interposed
between the Department's Chief Scientist and the CSA, and the
implications of this arrangement for the emphasis given to science
policy within MAFF; and
- the apparent failure to acknowledge a wider strategic
purpose for departmental R&D expenditure in terms, for example,
of seeking to maintain core research capabilities in key policy
101. In his reply, the Minister stressed his commitment
to MAFF's rôle as a funder of research, not only in support
of policy but also "in order to maintain and enhance the
UK science base.".
He accepted that in the 1998 CSR his department had been "subject
to a particularly tough settlement" which had left it "some
way short of our needs.".
But he claimed that research in all the key policy areas (BSE,
salmonella and listeria, bovine TB, antibiotic resistance, organic
farming, and GMOs) had been either fully protected or increased.
The cut in total R&D spending had occurred despite a recommendation
from a group set up to consider the state of MAFF's research programme
that the budget should be increased by up to £8 million
annually in order to focus on key areas (food safety, zoonoses
and other animal diseases; and biotechnology).
102. In addition to affirming his determination to
press for increased funding for R&D in the forthcoming CSR,
the Minister listed a number of steps recently taken by his department
to enhance the rôle of research in its policy-making. These
- the creation of a new Science Committee to "open
up and modernise" the way research is prioritised and commissioned;
- expanding programmes funded through the LINK
- the establishment of a programme of evaluations,
conducted by independent consultants, to report on the success
and value for money achieved by the research programme.
103. Finally, the Minister rejected the idea that
the Chief Scientist's subordinate status vis a vis the Permanent
Secretary had a detrimental effect on the Ministry's conduct of
science policy: it merely reflected the normal reporting arrangements
in government departments. There was "an active and healthy
debate at all appropriate levels between MAFF and OST", Ministers
met regularly to discuss science policy mattersboth bilaterally
and through the MSGand the Chief Scientist had frequent
contact with the CSA through the Chief Scientist's Advisory Committee.
Mr Brown added that, as far as he was concerned, "these arrangements
are working well and very productively".
(B) THE DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT,
TRANSPORT AND THE REGIONS (DETR)
104. In common with other departments, DETR's science
strategy is "policy-driven". Specifically it
- monitor and evaluate the effects of existing
policies and earlier decisions;
- ensure that all policy-decisions are evidence-based;
- encourage innovation in the private sector where
it is necessary in order to meet policy objectives;
- assist sponsored industries to make best use
of new technology;
- develop the research programme in an open and
consultative manner; and
- deliver a coherent vision of future challenges
within the DETR's policy responsibilities.
105. Expenditure on R&D by the DETR (and by its
two predecessor departments, Transport and Environment) has been
remarkably constant over the last 15 years. The figure for 1986-87
(£134.9 million) is almost exactly matched by the projection
of £134 million for 2001-02. A decline of 1.6% in real terms
up to 1997-98 is offset by an increase of 0.9% over the current
Parliament. This broadly flat picture masks some important switches
in R&D spending designed to reflect new policy priorities.
Chief amongst these are: transport technology to help meet the
objectives of the integrated transport policy; climate change
(in particular relating to the UK's Kyoto commitments); energy
efficiency; better targeting of resources in housing and regeneration;
and regional planning.
106. By contrast with the position in MAFF, the DETR's
decision-making process in relation to R&D priorities is largely
decentralised. Since 1981, when the then Department of the Environment
underwent a major reorganisation, research has been commissioned
and managed by individual DETR policy directorates from within
their own programme budgets. Under this system R&D demands
compete individually with other claims on the relevant programme
budget, rather than collectively with unconnected transdepartmental
priorities. The advantages claimed for these arrangements by Dr
David Fisk, the DETR's Chief Scientist, were twofold: the reduction
in bureaucracy from no longer running a single research vote and
the ability to respond much more flexibly to sudden demands for
new (or increased) areas of research.
107. This decision-making process is overseen by
the Chief Scientist, who is supported in that function by the
department's Science and Technology Policy Division (STP). STP
is located within the DETR's Central Strategy Directorate and
has 17 staff, 8 of whom are qualified scientists or engineers.
The Division maintains "close day to day working links"
with the Department's research managers. In assisting the Chief
Scientist to carry out his supervisory rôle, STP provides,
as the head of the Division put it, "a quality assurance
rôle as far as the research procurement in the Department
The Division "does not try to tell people what research they
Rather, it seeks to equip policy directorates with people who
are expert in their area and "to provide those people with
the systems and the methods of checking... and programme evaluation
to enable them to deliver their job in a way that is justifiable
by the Department.".
108. The Chief Scientist has an opportunity to influence
programme budget allocations (from which the individual R&D
projects are funded) both through his reports to the DETR board
at regular points in the bidding cycle and through his right to
comment on annual programme submissions to Ministers.
109. As regards the proper rôle for the OST
in monitoring and co-ordinating departmental R&D expenditure,
Dr Fisk referred to the need for the Office to ensure "that
best practice is maintained in Government.".
He also drew attention to the OST's development of mechanisms
for drawing together cross-cutting R&D programmes (such as
that relating to global environmental change), as well as to their
work in linking Government research programmes into equivalent
European Community projects. Dr Fisk added the hope that, as part
of the commitment to evidence-based policy-making, the OST would
create its own policy research programme in order to "better
inform transdepartmental debate on science policy issues.".
110. But when asked whether he could give examples
of the DETR's R&D programmes where an intervention by the
CSA had resulted in any adjustment of priorities or switch in
funding, Dr Fisk replied: "No, but we would have treated
such an event as signalling a breakdown in our working methods.".
He justified this remark by pointing to the fact that important
programmes would already have been discussed with the CSA at a
formative stage "particularly if the outcome could have significance
for Cabinet business.".
79 Including expenditure on R&D by the Health and
Safety Executive. Back
Look, p. 66. Back
81 Ibid. Back
pp. 41-4; 79-80; 88-90. Back
(1998-9) 616. Back
Look, p. 66. Back
p. 57. Back
pp. 83-4. Back
Look, p. 5. Back
or diseases spread to humans by the lower vertebrates. Back
£25m of expenditure on R&D is expected to transfer from
MAFF to the Food Standards Agency. Back
p. 94. Back
p. 3. Back
pp. 62-3. Back
73. See also Ev. pp. 94. Back
p. 81. Back
102 Ibid. Back
p. 82. Back
106 Ibid. Back
107 Ibid. Back
p. 101. Back
p. 101. Back
p. 102. Back
p. 102. Back