Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists (IPMS)


  1.  The Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists (IPMS) is a trade union representing 75,000 scientific, technical and specialist staff in the Civil Service, Research Councils, other public sector bodies and an increasing number of private sector companies. IPMS members are involved in a very wide range of science, engineering and technology functions, from long term environmental research to defence engineering and from very large space projects to forensic DNA testing. We commented in detail to the Minister for Science, William Waldegrave, both orally and in writing before publication of the 1993 White Paper and have submitted views subsequently in response both to government consultation papers and Select Committee inquiries on issues of wide relevance to the future of science, engineering and technology. These include submissions on the Prior Options Reviews1 and the more recent Baker study2; the Foresight programme3 and the Forward Look; the scientific advisory system4; aspects of energy policy5; and on proposals to privatise the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency6. It is not our intention to reiterate earlier submissions in response to the Select Committee's current inquiry, though many of the themes remain pertinent and we should be glad to provide any further information and background documents that may be helpful.

  2.  In addressing the specific issues identified by the Select Committee, our views are as follows:


Annual publication of the Forward Look

3.  The Forward Look is an extremely useful reference source, though its overall value has been reduced by discontinuity in the series. The 1999 Forward Look was the first to be published since 1996. However, "Science, Engineering and Technology Statistics", an essential accompaniment to the Forward Look was not published last year. Thus it has become more difficult to undertake satisfactory longer term analysis, for example of trends in SET expenditure, and to build a clear understanding of the broader picture. For instance, the analyses of business expenditure on R&D, international comparisons and information on employment in R&D are all included in "Science, Engineering and Technology Statistics". The provision of good quality, continuous data is essential for interpreting the impact of policy and expenditure decisions. IPMS therefore strongly agrees with the Select Committee's conclusion in their report on "Government Expenditure on Research and Development: The Forward Look" that annual publication should be resumed. This should include annual publication of the "Science, Engineering and Technology Statistics". We also agree that data on expenditure should be matched more closely to policy objectives and the achievement of departmental science strategies.

Creation of Foresight

  4.  IPMS has broadly welcomed the way in which the Foresight process has evolved. For example, our response to the Office of Science and Technology's 1998 consultation on the Foresight programme welcomed the emphasis on the social dimensions of change as well as market trends. However, although the Foresight process has generally been regarded as successful in fostering networking, there are still doubts about its effectiveness in follow through and monitoring. The Foresight Steering Group itself identified several areas where government and its agencies need to take a lead. For example, it recommended developing long term sources of funding to take forward projects and using government procurement to stimulate technology. The need for resources to maintain the Foresight process must be addressed, particularly if a wider range of interests is to be encouraged to participate. For example, many SMEs do not have the human or financial resources to participate. State funding may make the difference between participating in the process or not.

  5.  In terms of the sector panels, we believe that it is particularly important to capture the views of SMEs, working scientists and others at the cutting edge, whether research providers or those involved in marketing or defining the "customer" demand. It is also important, particularly in the quality of life aspects of research, to involve a wider range of interests such as consumers and environmental groups, trade unions and the public at large. It is an important omission that, although the TUC General Secretary sits on the Foresight Steering Group, there is no trade union representation on the sector panels. This is the level at which experts and practitioners in the relevant fields can make a substantive contribution. Those who also work actively within their union would bring the added benefits of social partnership; a dimension the Government is keen to encourage in other aspects of public life. The membership of all the sector panels should be refreshed to ensure complete gender balance.

Replacement of the Advisory Council on Science and Technology by the Council for Science and Technology

  6.  The Council for Science and Technology (CST) has been fairly quiet in comparison with the Advisory Council on Science and Technology (ACOST), though its 1999 "Review of S&T Activity Across Government" is very useful. It is to be hoped that the recommendations in that report will be taken up by government. In particular, the recommendations on science strategy are highly relevant to the current considerations about a new science White Paper.

Interchange of ideas between the science base and industry

  7.  The Government has made clear its view that "spinning-off" successful commercial ventures should be a key objective of public sector research activity. IPMS agrees that a knowledge transfer culture needs to be embedded in PSREs, though we also believe that an approach based solely on the commercial value of research activities cannot hope to do justice to the "public good" value of science or to reward fairly the scientists that work in this area. Furthermore, there is a risk that undue emphasis on innovation and spin-out will be at the expense of longer term basic research. This is already evident, for example, in the Ministry of Defence. The 1999 Forward Look showed that although MOD's overall expenditure of SET will increase by 3.2 per cent over the next three years, there will actually be a cut of 13.2 per cent in research spending. The danger here is that although there may be clear short term benefits from the focus on development activities, the underlying knowledge pool of the organisation will be reduced and that capability will not be sustained over the longer term. It is also worth noting that opportunities for technology transfer often arise as unintended consequences of basic research. Unless the research base is maintained and strengthened, future development activities will depend increasingly on buying in research outputs from elsewhere.

  8.  Moreover, experience has shown that moves to contractorisation and privatisation of research have tended to reduce interchange of ideas and to lead to less, not more, flexible relationships between the science base and industry. There are added difficulties in relation to the privatisation of defence research, as detailed in the DERA Trade Unions Response to the MoD consultation document "A Public Private Partnership for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency". Representation of scientists in government must be increased, in policy-making roles as well as the delivery of science, to provide continuity of expertise and intelligent decision-making and to act as a flexible resource in times of crisis. The 1993 White Paper said that "Government recognises that science and technology are integral to the missions of many departments, and that changes should strengthen the effective provision of scientific expertise and advice". In fact the post-White Paper policy of privatisation of PSREs has severely weakened that provision and unfortunately, the general prescription in the Baker report that public sector research establishments should be put at greater arms length from government departments is likely to continue that process.

  9.  Consideration also needs to be given to the level of funding and the way in which it is allocated. Despite recent welcome increases in government funding, more money is still needed for scientific research and innovation particularly at departmental level, as highlighted in the Select Committee's own report on "Government Expenditure on Research and Development: The Forward Look". The funding modes used by Research Councils foster a highly competitive system in which academic reputation is both the key to the door and the main outcome. Whilst publication of scientific papers is a good outcome for the staff involved, a system geared mainly to judgements of academic excellence makes it very difficult to build in applied aspects of research at an early stage. Crucially, at the time of conception of new programmes of work the ideas, however exciting, can be of little direct relevance to industry. The inclusion of user community members on steering committees and review panels is useful, but not as effective as full consultation with industry groups to define the scope and aims of work in the subject area. The challenge will be to maintain scientific rigour, while accepting that users will want to "call the tune", especially when they are making a financial contribution.

  10.  A recent IPMS membership survey of members employed in research and development clearly showed the stresses and strains that can result from reliance on external funding. Respondents were asked a series of questions designed to gauge the impact of increasing contractorisation and commercialisation of public sector research work. For example, they were asked whether they had ever been asked to tailor their research conclusions or resulting advice. 70 per cent had not, but of the remaining 30 per cent:

    —  17 per cent had been asked to tailor their work to suit the customer's preferred outcome;

    —  10 per cent had been asked to do so in order to obtain further contracts; and

    —  3 per cent had been asked in order to discourage publication.

  11.  The role of the science base in underpinning developments across a wider range of scientific disciplines has not been fully appreciated, either politically or in funding terms. For example, the National Space Strategy recognises that "the facilities and infrastructure managed by public sector organisations constitute a valuable resource in the development of future commercial and operational systems outside their core policy sectors". Recent practical applications of space science including satellite communications, mobile phone applications, and improved weather and climate forecasting, are of major commercial value. The Government needs a strategy on "big science", of which space science is an integral part, including the role of international collaboration. IPMS is concerned, in particular, to retain in the UK engineering base skills located substantially in the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) and the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC). The technical infrastructure and staff skills must be sustained for the benefit of the economy as a whole.

Reorganisation of Research Councils

  12.  Research Councils have been subject to a process of almost continuous review since the 1993 White Paper, which itself generated some major changes in organisation. One example is the formation of CCLRC, whose Daresbury Laboratory (DL) and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) were formerly part of the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC). On dissolution of that body, they were transferred first to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and then, on 1 April 1995, to the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils. This reorganisation generated a series of problems, some of which are still continuing. For example, CCLRC funding is drawn primarily from the other Research Councils. Universities are the main competitors for this funding and because they are also able to obtain finance from the relevant Higher Education Funding Council, appear to offer a cheaper service than CCLRC. As a result some CCLRC projects are under threat. One recent casualty has been the Particle Physics Theory Division, much of whose work has been transferred to a university. On the organisational front, the loss of the SERC central office in Swindon has resulted in many HQ functions being located at RAL, with the result that many DL staff perceive their site as an establishment of RAL rather than of CCLRC. This was evident during the recent campaign over the siting of the new synchrotron source. The decision to site it at RAL confirmed the worst fears of many at DL.

  13.  Despite the fact that there is no need for further change Research Council institutes now face the prospect of another round of Prior Options Reviews. Added to this, although some areas fared well as a result of the 1998 Comprehensive Spending Review, there have been continuing pressures on research budgets and the continuing necessity to spend significant amounts of time bidding for external funding. A number of research institutes have had to cope with staff redundancies and more are in prospect, including the large scale job losses at CCLRC's Daresbury laboratory. It is in this context, which understandably has generated considerable cynicism about new initiatives, that new mission statements have been introduced. Having said this, there is no doubt that greater attention is now being given to opportunities for commercial spin-off and exploitation of intellectual property rights. Some progress is being made on how these issues should be managed, and IPMS continues to contribute to initiatives developed by the Office of Science and Technology (OST) in response to the Baker study. However, there is no doubt that more work needs to be done, for example in relation to action to be taken to resolve conflicts of interest and in provision of best practice guidance. Indications from latest consultations are that these issues are now being addressed.

Creation of the post of Director-General of Research Councils and of the Office of Science and Technology (OST) to absorb Advisory Board for Research Councils functions

  14.  The initial formation of the OST was a welcome development. However there is still a need for the co-ordination of science across government to be strengthened. In practice the OST and Chief Scientific Adviser tend to be involved primarily with the Science Budget and the Research Councils, leaving very little resource for issues facing other departments and the Government as a whole. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) should appoint its own Chief Scientist rather than relying on the fact that the Chief Scientific Adviser is located within the department. This would not only help the OST concentrate on cross governmental issues, it would also be a vital step in building up scientific expertise in the DTI itself. This has been greatly depleted both by privatisation of all its major scientific public sector research establishments (PSREs) and by the radical reduction of scientific staff and their status in the core department. The Director-General of Research Councils (DGRC) needs to be able to draw more easily and directly on independent expertise, as envisaged in the 1993 White Paper. Consideration should again be given to establishing a standing group, including economic, industrial and management expertise as well as scientific know-how. At the same time, OST should consider increasing the number of secondees with university, industry and research council experience into its own senior positions.

Campaign to improve public understanding of science

  15.  It appears that public confidence in scientific experts is continuing to decline at a time when the need for high quality scientific advice for decisions in a wide range of policy areas of increasing complexity and uncertainty has never been greater. It is against this background, that IPMS welcomed the decision by the Chief Scientific Adviser to publish guidelines on the use of scientific advice in policy making. The draft "Guidelines 2000 on Scientific Advice and Policy Making" are a useful further step forward although we are concerned that:

    —  The role of the OST in co-ordinating and monitoring cross-departmental issues should be strengthened; and

    —  Monitoring reports should be included in the annual Forward Look; and

    —  Ministers should be made aware of shortages of resources for research that inhibit full adherence to the guidelines.

  16.  There is little point in engaging in public consultation unless the results of consultation processes are taken into account in decision making. Scientific assessment must inform policy decisions, but not pre-empt them. However at present much public opinion tends to be led by immediate concerns, and often those that are brought to attention by media reporting or by groups with a vested interest. It is to be expected that the commercial sector will respond to these opinions, as it has done in the case of GM foods, as there is likely to be a direct financial impact on their activities. However, publicly funded science has a wider and longer term role, providing both basic research for which there may be no prospect of commercial return as well as essential health and safety monitoring and data collection, for example in relation to climate change.

  17.  Restriction of day to day research decisions in this arena would not generally be a productive course though where there is a strong public interest, for instance relating to the ethics of a particular course of action, a lay input to decision making would probably boost public confidence. It would also place more firmly the responsibility for scientific development into the wider domain, thus making it less easy to use scientists as scapegoats. There needs also to be better communication of the priorities set in order to promote understanding of timescales and key milestones. Public sector science priorities will inevitably also reflect government objectives and budgetary restraints. So, whilst public opinion should be given due consideration in setting the public science agenda, there are other factors that need to be taken into account in determining priorities. Policy decisions must be practical and take account of wider circumstances.

  18.  The recent House of Lords report on "Science and Society", to which IPMS submitted evidence, gives a useful exposition of the key challenges and possible ways forward. As indicated below, there needs to be a willingness to try new approaches and to build on existing successful initiatives, both at national and local level. For example, following its successful conference on plant biotechnology the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has organised a number of public discussion meetings. The fact that researchers funded by BBSRC are required to devote time to promoting public understanding of science gives a useful signal that activity in this area is regarded as important. The development of the World Wide Web provides significant new potential for initiatives to improve public understanding and awareness of science.

Application of science, engineering and technology to wealth creation and quality of life

  19.  As already indicated, IPMS supports initiatives to improve technology transfer, though we firmly believe that this cannot be the only driver for science strategy. It was both very disappointing and damaging that after the publication of the 1993 White Paper the then Government sought to pursue this objective primarily through an explicitly pro-privatisation agenda. Although the environment has changed for the better in many ways, the indications are that the diverse nature, functions and operational status of public sector research establishments are still not fully appreciated. Hence, for example, the failure of the Baker report to substantiate the recommendation that departmental PSREs should be moved to greater arms length from sponsoring departments.


  20.  Key themes of the 1993 White Paper are still relevant and useful. Improved communications between research providers and users is of key importance in ensuring that the science base is exploited to the benefit of the UK economy. However, not all objectives have been delivered and some need to be viewed in a new context. Key themes for the 21st century include:


  21.  An increase in the level of funding is required to ensure the key role of science in underpinning a successful knowledge-based economy. The injection of funds in the Comprehensive Spending Review was very welcome, though its emphasis was very much on addressing deficiencies in existing science infrastructure rather than on funding research programmes. Furthermore, more recent evidence shows that there is still a pressing need for higher investment. A study published in May 2000 by the Science Policy Research Unit found "compelling evidence of an investment gap between the UK and leading OECD countries in their support for publicly funded research". Another May 2000 report, by Manchester University's Policy Research in Engineering, Science and Technology concluded that the Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF) is falling far short of what is needed to address universities' most urgent requirements for laboratory equipment. The February 2000 report of the CST on "Technology Matters" also expressed concern about inadequate government and industry investment in R&D and the need for clear career paths and prospects to boost the supply of adequately qualified science, engineering and technology staff.

  22.  Within the research council sector, a report from a joint EPSRC/PPARC panel has raised concern that lack of funds threatens both the provision of essential equipment and the supply of talented new physicists. According to the panel "Research infrastructure (both equipment and human resources) has been in decline for many years and may be reaching a critical point". At the same time long term review of its own science by PPARC concluded that because of intense pressure on budgets some first rank science will not get funded. There may be scope for joint development of such facilities by Research Councils and university departments if an appropriate funding mechanism could be identified. Allowing Research Councils to be involved in joint bids for a future round of the Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF) may be one way forward.

  23.  Attention must also be given to the purpose and destination of SET expenditure and to the interrelationships between organisations commissioning research and their contractors. Experience in recent years in which cuts in departmental expenditure have resulted in withdrawal of support from contractors and unplanned shuffling of research programmes to meet short term political priorities is highly damaging. Research cannot be turned on and off like a tap and requires long term commitment of funds. The British Geological Survey, for instance, has recently presented evidence of the detrimental effects on key areas of research of the focused demands of commercial contracts combined with a long, gradual squeeze on science budget funding. Areas affected include monitoring of radon gas emissions and research into radioactive waste disposal, for which funding was withdrawn on termination of the Sellafield public inquiry. The Select Committee's own report on "Government Expenditure on Research & Development: The Forward Look" recognises that MAFF's short term approach to funding is harming the science base in the UK. This is not to argue that research programmes should not adapt to changing circumstances, but this should be on a planned and consultative basis. To achieve this, there needs to be a better balance between core and contract funding and a redirection of government policy to bring core funding close to at least 60 per cent of the total. This is essential to maintain the quality of the science base and to ensure that the best scientists are able to develop their own ideas.


  24.  In parallel to moving towards a more stable regime, the short term approach to employing and developing staff needs to be changed. The need for urgent action is evident from the responses to IPMS' R&D survey. In this context it is also worth considering how their experiences and attitudes have changed over the past decade. Compared with a similar IPMS survey in 1991, a greater proportion of respondents are dissatisfied with their training and career development as well as with opportunities to publish research and influence the nature of their work. 30 per cent are looking for employment outside science, engineering and technology—double the proportion in 1991—and one half would not advise their children to follow a career in this field, up from 31 per cent in 1991. A much higher proportion of women than men want to move out of SET (47 per cent of women, 28 per cent of men), which emphasises the huge task that still needs to be done to improve women's employment prospects in this area. These are not just idle whinges from employees wanting better pay: they represent very real concerns about the future of a vital sector of the economy.

  25.  Work done by the Science Alliance (a campaigning group of trade unions in science—IPMS, MSF, AUT and NATFHE) shows that although the UK is at the top of the international league in producing science graduates per thousand in the labour force, it is bottom of the league in the percentage of 35-54 year old workers employed as professionals in physical and engineering science, life science and associated sectors. This is despite wide acceptance of the close correlation between the amount invested in R&D and long term growth and prosperity. The emphasis on contract research within the public sector and, associated with this, the employment of scientists on fixed term contracts, has made it more difficult to build up a stock of knowledge "capital" and less likely that researchers will reveal for further development any research spin-off that is not strictly within the terms of the contract. Instead of investing in this capital, research institutes have been encouraged to use staff as a flexible resource. The Dearing Report recognised the problems caused by making appointments on short term contracts, noting that ". . . the quality of research could be undermined if these researchers do not have a more secure career". Some progress has been made in the wake of the 1996 Concordat on career management for contract research staff in universities but, as shown by the second report of the Research Careers Initiative, there is still much more to be done.

Science Strategy

  26.  Recent developments, for example in the biotechnology and space sectors, have highlighted the need for sectoral approaches as well as an overarching science strategy and for better mechanisms to communicate national science priorities to these groups.

  The recent report into "International Perceptions of UK Research in Physics and Astronomy" supported by the Institute of Physics is instructive in this regard, in particular the conclusion that although UK astronomy and physics are currently holding their own at the cutting edge that scientific strength rings hollow in some critical aspects. Similarly, the recent growth in biotechnology companies in Germany is a sign that the UK's current leading position may be under threat. IPMS is especially concerned to retain in the UK engineering base skills which underpin developments in a wider range of scientific disciplines, including biotechnology. Although the Foresight programme does provide a framework for considering these type of developments, it is also clear that it does not always lead to decisive action or the support that is needed from Government. For example, the considerable overhead costs in setting up well-found laboratory facilities capable of providing a focus for large collaborative projects are difficult to meet from current budgets. Better account also needs to be taken of multi-disciplinary projects, for which long term planning and resource commitment is essential.

  27.  Science strategy also needs a stronger regional dimension. It is important to provide a critical mass of scientific activity regionally and locally and to build up links between universities, PSREs, regional technology organisations and local business. This was illustrated most starkly in relation to the decision over the location of the new synchrotron source. Although the DTI has announced a £25 million science fund for the north west of England, this is very much by way of compensation for not being chosen to host the new synchrotron and will not be enough on its own to maintain the centre of excellence already established at Daresbury. Furthermore there is a danger that this kind of approach may simply fragment funding further. What is actually needed is a strategic approach that builds in regional considerations as part of the decision-making process. The present concentration of scientific facilities and expertise around Cambridge and around Oxford and the south east is not compatible with Government policy on sustainable development.

  28.  Neither should the impact and implications of devolution be ignored. The decision of the Scottish Executive to establish a high level advisory body to steer science policy in Scotland is a useful step forward, though is it clear that there is still much work to be done to make sure that the work of this body is integrated into key decision making processes. The fact that a significant proportion of public sector science in Scotland is not financed directly by the Scottish Executive may make this task more difficult. IPMS is currently consulting members in Scotland on the report of the Science Strategy Review Group.

  29.  Achieving a "joined up" approach to science policy also requires a broader perspective. Much R&D is increasingly global in its implications. For example, it is clear from on-going debates about climate change and about genetically modified organisms that key aspects of science have a global impact. These issues have moved rapidly higher up the political agenda since 1993, and it is clear that future developments will be largely determined in the international arena. This is true also of aspects of energy policy, where key challenges are market liberalisation and radioactive waste management. Infrastructure requirements for "big science" are likely to be met only through international collaboration. Whilst there are already established fora for dealing with international and global issues, in future these will need to be more flexible and responsive to emerging developments and to proceed on the basis of wider consultation and involvement.

  30.  If, as seems likely, the emphasis on technology transfer and commercialisation is to be continued, further work is needed to ensure effective management of intellectual property, both for the scientists who generate it and to safeguard investment from the public purse. As outlined in our response to the Baker report, IPMS is keen to ensure that the desire to exploit innovation does not lead to the loss of key personnel from research institutes. We believe that the UK should learn from experience overseas and that government should take a leading role in promulgating best practice, including that already emerging in its own research institutes. For example, BBSRC's Business and Innovation Unit has developed expertise on intellectual property and is able to advise its research community. Hence there has been a marked increase in industrial consultancies, involvement in LINK, intellectual property held and exploitation income generated in BBSRC sponsored institutes over the last five years. The new guidance produced by OST is a useful starting point, though it will be important to monitor its impact in practice.

  31.  The Government will also need to take on board the findings of the National Audit Office inquiry into the exploitation of publicly funded research at the Roslin Institute. Furthermore, British contributions to design and development of international facilities raise questions about intellectual property rights (IPR) which have yet to be addressed. There are, for example, potential wider benefits from the work at CERN which have not been exploited due to an absence of ground rules. This may become a significant problem if the recommendations of the Baker Report are to be implemented in the generation of spin-off benefits from a space programme.


  32.  There have been many changes across large parts of the science community, though it is worth noting that culture change tends to occur over a long period and is most successfully embedded with the support of the community to which it relates. The context as far as science, engineering and technology is concerned, is one of continuing change. However, the changes that have occurred have not always been along the lines of the 1993 White Paper and some unforeseen developments, such as the BSE crisis, have undoubtedly caused major shocks to the system. One of the key problems remains the propensity of politicians and other opinion formers to treat scientists either as infallible oracles or convenient scapegoats. Thus, despite a stated desire and some initiatives to open up scientific decision-making to wider public scrutiny, the perception still being fostered is that government science operates on an exclusive basis, primarily for the benefit of industry and Ministers.

  33.  Culture change in this setting of distrust requires a more sophisticated and open approach to consultation and information sharing. The Chief Scientific Adviser's forthcoming new guidelines on the use of scientific advice in policy making should help, as should some of the changes being made to established advisory structures and new approaches to consultation. However, it also needs to be borne in mind that the "blame" culture conveniently adopted by some politicians can easily negate the benefits of initiatives to foster openness. Furthermore, a culture of continued cost cutting and of politically expedient shifts in research priorities is hardly likely to engender a climate in which scientists respond positively to new challenges. On a purely pragmatic note, efforts to promote public understanding of science require appropriate resourcing. Many public sector scientists work to objectives that are tightly focused on contract delivery. A more systematic and well resourced approach that is not dependent on the goodwill of selected individuals needs to be built into the core mission and objectives for all public sector science.

  34.  IPMS' R&D survey provides a good indication of where culture change has occurred since 1991, when a similar survey was undertaken. As already indicated, respondents had generally become more dissatisfied both with working in public sector science and about their own career prospects. In relation to the R&D undertaken, there is no doubt that pressures to commercialise have made a difference in some areas though there is uncertainty at this stage how the creation of spin-off companies from public sector research establishments will affect public sector science. One fifth of respondents expected a positive effect compared with one third who expected negative consequences.

  35.  Potentially positive aspects were considered to be:

    —  Opportunity to apply research results;

    —  Additional/alternative source of income;

    —  Assist uptake of research and technology transfer;

    —  Success may breed success and increase investment in public sector research;

    —  Promote useful collaboration;

    —  Not bound by Treasury rules on financing;

    —  Tangible indicator of value of science.

  36.  Potentially negative consequences identified were:

    —  Impartiality called into question;

    —  Fragmentation of public sector science;

    —  Potential conflicts of interest for scientists and research establishments;

    —  Cream off profitable areas of work but less resources and time for basic and speculative research;

    —  Loss of in-house scientific expertise from public sector and of scientists' time for core aspects of job;

    —  Short termism;

    —  Restrict collaboration across institutes.

  37.  A large majority of respondents believed that the limited duration of project funding interferes both with the quality of science and restricts opportunities for further development of results. Four out of ten respondents believed that privatisation had made a difference to tendering independent advice in the public interest. Other respondents commented that they had not been asked for advice since their organisations were privatised. A number characterised their situation as "he who pays the piper calls the tune" or "state the truth and lose your funding". Respondents were asked about the "intelligent customer" capability of their sponsor department or, in other words, about the sponsor's ability to make well informed and timely decisions about its research requirements and use of research results. Typically this depends on having scientifically literate advisers and decision-makers within core departments. In practice, the legacy of privatisation and the rise of the contract culture is that 41 per cent of respondents considered that the "intelligent customer" capability of their sponsor department had become worse over the last five years. At the same time, one in five respondents reported that more than half their work is done on a "commercial in confidence" basis.


  38.  IPMS' response to the Government's consultation paper is at Annex [3]1.


  39.  As stated above, IPMS believes that the 1993 White Paper still provides a useful framework from which to build though there are now also some new themes and objectives that need to be taken into account. The Government's recent consultation on "Science and Innovation Strategy" was a useful step forward in this regard though, as indicated in our response to it, we are keen that objectives should not be too narrowly focused. We are very firmly of the view that, in addition to delivering on specific goals, greater priority needs to be given to improving the science infrastructure—in particular to properly value the contribution made by scientists, engineers and technologists and to enhance career prospects and status. Enhancing public understanding of science is also crucial and this requires high level political commitment and a willingness to try out new approaches and address difficult issues in a more open and constructive manner.

8 June 2000


  1.  Submission to the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology inquiry into "The Prior Options Review"—October 1996

  2.  "Creating Knowledge, Creating Wealth—IPMS Response to the Baker Study into the Economic Potential of PSREs"—October 1999

  3.  "Consultation on the Next Round of the Foresight Programme"—July 1998

  4.  Submission to the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology inquiry into "The UK Scientific Advisory System"—May 1998—and the inquiry into the "Scientific Advisory System for Genetically Modified Foods"—March 1999

  5.  Submission to the House of Commons Select Committee on Trade and Industry inquiry into "Aspects of Energy Policy"—January 1998

  6.  DERA Trade Unions Response to the MoD Consultation Document on "A Public Private Partnership for DERA"—June 1999

  7.  "What Future R&D?"—November 1999

  8.  Submission to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology inquiry into "Science and Society"—May 1999

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