The UK research councils are no longer respected by their customers, a leading medical researcher and former head of the Wellcome Trust told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee this week.
Speaking in her role as a trustee of NESTA, the new National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts, Dame Bridget Ogilvie said the research councils had been forced to make so many staff cuts that they were now under-resourced. She said that NESTA's success would depend on having the right kind of staff, "something which seems to have gone out of the window at the research councils".
She added: "It is becoming increasingly difficult for customers of the research councils to work with them in a meaningful way because, as their resources are cut, many of us now regard them as highly under-resourced both in the quality and quantity of their staff."
Her comments came in response to suggestions from the HoC committee that NESTA, which will each year give out around Pounds 10 million to support individuals and talent at the interface between the arts, science and technology, may have to spend 20 per cent of the return on its investment - that is around Pounds 2 million a year - on administration.
Lord Puttnam, chairman of NESTA, said the endowment was well aware of the potential for large staff costs, and they would try to keep them down. A spokeswoman for NESTA later suggested 1 to 2 per cent of NESTA's Pounds 200 million endowment from the National Lottery would go on administration - Pounds 2-4 million per year.