London, 23 Mar 2005
This Report completes our scrutiny of the Research Councils, which we have carried out over the course of this Parliament.
We have found that the failure of OST to establish clear objectives for RCUK on its establishment in 2002 hampered its efforts to achieve a profile and a place in the policy-making framework that might have been expected. We welcome the reforms that have been made to the structure of RCUK in response to the OST's 2004 review of the organisation but we do not believe that they have gone far enough. The distinction between the roles of the Director General of the Research Councils (DGRC), on behalf of Government, and that of the Research Councils, which remain outside Government, has still not been clearly made. We have recommended a slight change in existing arrangements to make the distinction clearer. We have also criticised Government for being reluctant to allow Research Councils to express their views independently.
We have found that RCUK has performed a valuable service in promoting best practice across the Research Councils and the harmonisation of administrative procedures. However, we have not been persuaded that it is doing enough to exert influence on behalf of the Research Councils across Government. We have argued that the appointment of an independent, high profile figurehead for the organisation would be likely to increase its visibility and influence and that OST should review the existing position after a further two years.
In the longer term, we would like to see RCUK assuming complete independence in determining scientific priorities. Government should fund the science it needs directly rather than seeking to influence the Research Councils' priorities. We have argued for a system in which the value of R&D is firmly entrenched right across Government and the Research Councils are left to pursue long term scientific goals rather than those of the Government of the day. We believe that this would be a better model for the successful stewardship of the UK research base and the use of science by Government.