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


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Environment Agency


  The Environment Agency submitted evidence in June 2000 to the Science & Technology Committee's inquiry into "Are We Realising Our Potential?" This additional memorandum is submitted in response to the further invitation to submit evidence, commenting on the new Science & Innovation White Paper on the Science Budget.

  Comments on six issues are set out below. The first three relate to areas of concern addressed in the Agency's earlier evidence. Comments are made on the extent to which the White Paper meets those concerns. The latter three are additional issues arising from the White Paper.


  Our earlier evidence indicated that there are a number of constraints to achieving effective team-working between organisations in the science, engineering and technology (SET) base and public sector organisations like the Agency that use the research. The White Paper appropriately recognises the need to strengthen the links in the chain of innovation in the UK and the need to embrace each stage of the innovation cycle. It is essential that users, researchers and others involved in the R&D chain work together to address the weakest links.

  The difficulties experienced in financing the development and demonstration stages of the innovation cycle, as discussed in our earlier evidence, are recognised in the White Paper. The funding initiatives described in chapter 3, for example the higher education innovation fund, the extension to the university challenge competition and Faraday partnerships should provide a welcome boost to key development activities. It will be important to monitor the effectiveness of these initiatives, taking particular account of feedback from industry and public sector organisations.

  The White Paper points to the need for a diversity of excellence in universities, including both research excellence and knowledge transfer (chapter 3, paragraph 6). Our previous evidence expressed some concern that a focus solely on scientific excellence, particularly as measured by the number of scientific publications, as the basis for funding of academic institutions could be counter-productive in respect of promoting close relationships with industry and end-users. It is therefore encouraging that guidance for the next Research Assessment Exercise indicates that equal weight should be given to basic and strategic research done in confidence for business, alongside papers published in peer reviewed journals.


  The White Paper appropriately emphasises the need to encourage universities and public sector research establishments to develop mechanism for the effective exploitation of their intellectual property. The Agency has commented separately on the Government consultation on its response to the Baker Report on these issues. A particular concern is the proposed presumption in favour of the ownership of intellectual property residing with the contractor in respect of research sponsored by non-departmental public bodies. The Agency considers that this assignment of rights could be counter-productive.

11 January 2001

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