'Mismanagement is holding back science'

April 4, 2003

British science is being held back by deep-rooted mismanagement within the government and its research councils, according to a report published today.

The report, commissioned by the centre-right Centre for Policy Studies, accuses the Department of Trade and Industry and the Office of Science and Technology of weak management, and claims the new Research Councils UK strategy group lacks power.

The author of the report, Stuart Lyons, told The THES : "What we have is six grant-awarding fiefdoms reporting to the RCUK, which has no authority and no teeth, operating within a disenfranchised establishment."

The report raises questions about how the DTI will manage its increased science budget, which is set to rise to almost £3 billion in 2005-06.

The report says there is no real analysis of how science funding is used and whether it is used successfully.

Mr Lyons said the Treasury commandeered much of the OST's responsibility for science strategy and dictated too many of its priorities. "The OST is a bureaucracy without bite. It has failed to earn respect and confidence within government," the report concludes.

The report describes the establishment of the RCUK last year as an opportunity to introduce effective management into UK science. But, Mr Lyons argued, the RCUK fell far short of its potential.

He criticised the research councils, saying that they suffered from antiquated working practices, with too many committees and inadequate financial reporting.

The DTI rejected the claims of mismanagement this week. It said research councils were accountable to the government. It said the councils carried out detailed analysis of where money was applied. The DTI also denied the allegation that the Treasury had usurped its science responsibilities.

A spokesperson said: "The money for science was awarded to the DTI with no strings attached, a clear sign that it is not the Treasury but the OST and the RCUK that are setting the scientific agenda."

The RCUK also disputed the findings of the report, which it said contained factual inaccuracies.

 

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