Tidied out of existence

June 14, 1996

The new unfashionableness of corporate downsizing has arrived a little late for David Evered, second secretary of the Medical Research Council. He leaves in September after a senior management review found that his job ought not to exist (page 2).

The MRC claims that the programme of such reviews has "led to a significant reduction in the number of posts at the most senior level in the public sector". Dr Evered is joined at the exit by two other senior members of MRC staff, from an already small secretariat. Their annual salaries would probably buy ten research students, or a nice piece of laboratory equipment, and anything that releases money to spend on research ought to be welcome.

But the move may be a victory for tidy mindedness over effectiveness. The other research councils do not have second secretaries, but they do have senior people close to the chief executive to provide alternative thinking, back up and experienced judgement. Both the chief executive of the MRC, Sir Dai Rees, and his imminent successor George Radda, are scientists, while Dr Evered is a medical doctor, a link to the professions which articulate MRC research.

Perhaps another way of looking at it is to calculate how many days of effort his salary would buy from a top management consultant, who would almost certainly have but a fraction of Dr Evered's experience. Viewed this way, by cutting away its experience base the MRC risks becoming a more stupid and inflexible organisation, less able to think clearly about its future and the constituencies it deals with.

The MRC is now only one of a number of major players in British medical research. Now is not the time to chip away at its organisation. But for Dr Evered, the presence of rich, astute medical research charities is all to the good - if they are awake, he should soon be considering some interesting offers.

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