In the news

June 11, 1999

As only the second director general of the research councils, John Taylor has been in the job just six months. But he is enjoying it, as befits someone in charge of the biggest ever cash injection for British research, including last month's Pounds 150 million for the first round of the Joint Infrastructure Fund, a joint venture with the Wellcome Trust.

Taylor, 56, says his arrival in Whitehall was eased by his long-standing contact with the research councils as a member of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and of numerous government committees. So far, he says, there have been "challenges" but no huge surprises.

He argues that the post of director general is now accepted as a necessity, partly because the work of the seven research councils needs to be looked at as a whole and partly to allow them to present a common face to the outside world, including the public. New disciplines are constantly appearing and the borders between sciences are fluid, so central machinery is needed to ensure opportunities are not missed.

Before joining the Office of Science and Technology, Taylor ran the Bristol research laboratories of electronics giant Hewlett-Packard. H-P is a big spender on innovation, but Taylor is used to the idea of arguing for the cash that British science needs. The idea that researchers have a right to be funded will cut little ice, he knows, with the Treasury paymasters.

Having arrived in time to enjoy science's victory in the 1998 comprehensive spending review, he is now preparing for the next round. The Treasury has instructed all concerned that they need to be clearer about how much research costs and who pays for it, the subject of the current transparency review. The fact that the Joint Infrastructure Fund uncovered a huge demand for better facilities suggests serious underfunding to Taylor, so he needs the strongest possible case to argue for more cash next time round.

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