Memorandum submitted by the Environment
The Environment Agency is responsible for environmental
regulation and management in England and Wales. It has a duty
to carry out research in support of all of its functions. The
effectiveness of that research, and of its scientific activities
in environmental management, is dependent in part on the ability
of the Agency to work with, and draw upon, the environmental research
and scientific knowledge of other research players. These comprise
other government departments, academia, the research councils,
Overall, the Agency considers that the 1993
White PaperRealising Our Potentialhas had
a strong impact on science and technology, and to a lesser degree
on engineering policy, in the environmental sector. Our submission
highlights the principal impacts from the Agency's viewpoint,
and explains how we consider further changes could be achieved
which would improve the level of co-operation, and hence promote
wealth creation and quality of life.
A PERCEPTIBLE SHIFT
1. We believe there is now a far greater
willingness among academia and the Research Councils to co-operate
with the Agency in its scientific activities. Looking back at
the position prior to the White Paper (with the Agency's predecessor
bodies), co-operation was weaker, partly because it lacked the
now-accepted common drivers of wealth creation and quality of
life. Previously it was more difficult to establish the linkage
between work in the science (engineering and technology-SET) base
and the more applied scientific and research activities carried
out by the Agency.
2. We believe this was only the start of
a continuous processthe co-operation now is better than
it was, but further changes could be made that would secure greater
benefit to the UK.
3. Possibly the most important measure for
us has been the use of concordats. The Agency has established
these with the four main Research Councils with which it works
(NERC, EPSRC, ESRC and BBSRC). These documents set out procedures
for developing common interests, but their main benefit is the
signal they send to staff: active co-operation.
4. Under these concordats, we have developed
a range of mechanisms for co-operation. In particular, with EPSRC,
we have co-operated in developing and supporting (with inputs
in kind from our staff as well as with funding) its managed programmes;
and we have co-operated similarly with NERC on their thematic
programmes. It is clear that, as time has progressed, the type
of co-operation has matured. The Agency has now supported a number
of successful projects in the "SET" base with NERC and
EPSRC, where well-defined delivery requirements were agreed, and
outputs have been taken up through a further Agency (or user)
funded contract. This model for interfacing academic research
with delivery of products to the end user is simple in theory,
but has been difficult to achieve in practice.
5. Two other mechanisms for co-operation
are being developed and improved:
Fellowships and studentshipswe
have run many of these in co-operation with EPSRC, ESRC and NERC
and have found the research student to be an effective focus for
the joint involvement in exploring a particular scientific area.
Placements and secondmentsmore
recently, as the Agency has developed its national centres as
a focus for its scientific expertise in specific areas, we have
found these locations to provide an effective focus for placing
(not necessarily full-time) research officers and for seconding
its own staff into other SET organisations.
We recognise that these types of co-operation
are not groundbreakingthis is why we believe that the principal
factor that has changed is the will to see co-operation deliver
6. We believe that a number of constraints
remain to achieving effective team working between organisations
in the SET base and public sector organisations like the Agency
that use the research. These are:
Criteria for "scientific excellence"
Where the strong emphasis on scientific publications in the refereed
literature as a criteria for scientific excellence detracts at
times from the ability of academic and research organisations
to form effective partnerships. In particular, the requirements
can make it difficult for new applicants for Research Council
funds even though the researchers involved have an excellent understanding
of the issues and application;
Difficulties in financing "development"
Where there are often difficulties in putting together the finance
necessary to fund a significant "development" project.
The academic sources of funding (typically a Research Council
grant) can stop significantly further away from application than
the end-user is prepared to finance. There are also real practical
difficulties in bringing together several funding streams, usually
on different timescales. The result is that the cleverer academics
will often prefer to go for the funding which is more readily
available. Nevertheless some areas of SET are now very "mature",
in that the principal research issues are focused on the application
of the existing knowledge and not the acquisition of new knowledge;
Disparate nature of the SET base
In many sectors of environmental SET there are too many different
groups for effective co-operation. Some sectors would be better
served if the nation had fewer, larger groups.
7. While a range of approaches have been
made to improve the mechanisms for development (or exploitation
of research) and technology transfer, we believe that bridging
this gap is the area in which further effort must be madepossibly
by OST and the research councils recognising that in some cases
more public money should be directed here, rather than into more
basic research. There is a need for a culture change, in that
users, researchers, and others involved in the R&D chain need
to work together in addressing the weakest links in the chain.
All suffer from the poor performance of R&D if it does not
contribute effectively to improved business performance or quality
8. We believe that the Foresight exercise
has been generally effective in establishing a broadly owned vision
of future issues and opportunities for the application of SET.
It has been particularly effective in establishing the concept
of "Futures" or "Scenarios" for helping the
players in any sector to consider more clearly the future context
9. We also believe that the "Knowledge
Pool" has yet to reach its potential. In general, both practitioners
and researchers in the UK spend insufficient time in recording
and considering the current application of SET knowledge. More
resources could be put into ensuring that the knowledge pool links
well into information on "good" or "best"
practice in the different sectors that it covers.
10. While there is general understanding
within the SET base of how the drivers of innovation work, there
is insufficiently close adherence to these in practice in setting
the research agendas for the managed programmes within the research
councils. "Wealth creation" and "Quality of life"
have to some extent become institutionalised. Those in the policy
lead may therefore need to take a more active role in establishing
the issues to be included in research programmes in the SET Base.
Similar issues to this have been raised with the future EU R&D
11. We believe that the forthcoming White
Paper should address the issue of job security and career progression
for young scientists in the public sector. The shortage of permanent
posts and the need for many young academics to progress through
temporary contracts brings far too great a degree of uncertainty
into career progression. Not surprisingly, many of the best scientists
leave the research arena for other more secure and better-paid
12. We believe that the forthcoming White
Paper should draw clear links with the EU SET Base and with the
EU Framework Programmes in particular. The latter form a significant
impact on environmental R&D, therefore relevant areas of the
UK science policy should be integrated with EU policy and mechanisms.
13. Because of the many ways in which a
large business like the Environment Agency interfaces with the
SET base, the Agency aims to draw up a Science Plan to provide
a more transparent structure for this interface. This Science
Plan will be available for reference by external organisations
and should assist in establishing productive, and appropriate,
partnerships on specific issues with academia.
12 June 2000