MPs have accused the research councils of wasting research money after new evidence emerged that chiefs have spent almost £570,000 on hiring political consultants in the past few years.
This follows revelations last week in The Times Higher that the research councils had spent more than £84,000 since June 2001 on training council executives to appear before tough select committees.
But Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, was forced to reveal new figures at the end of last week. Three of the seven councils spent an additional £485,000 on employing consultants to help them with "other parliamentary activities". This takes the amount spent on consultants for political purposes to £570,000.
Ian Gibson, chairman of the Commons' Science and Technology Committee, obtained the information. He said: "This is disgraceful. It is up to the people who are angry because they have not got grants to react to this. They should write to The Times Higher ."
Dr Gibson said that it was unclear what this money was being spent on, but speculated that consultants were training councils on "schmoozing" MPs.
He said councils should identify such expenditure in annual accounts, adding: "Who decides whether this is money well spent?"
The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council has spent the most on political consultants - nearly £325,000 since June 2001.
Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP and member of the science and technology committee, said: "Such a large figure is going to take some justifying."
But Ian Halliday, chief executive of Pparc, insisted it was "some of the best money we've spent".
He said: "A number of years ago we were told we were too blue-skies and esoteric and must engage Parliament in what we were doing."
On behalf of Research Councils UK, he said: "These people are professionals in making interactions (with politicians) happen in a constructive way."
Council Council Committee Sessions Other Parliamentary activities BBSRC £10,719 £0 CCLRC £14,700 £0 EPSRC £21,194 £54,4 ESRC £13,007 £0 MRC £7,020 £112,980 NERC £10,880 £0 PPARC £6,786 £317,331