The Nurse Review: A response from Defra’s scientists

As Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser I convene a group of Chief Scientists and equivalents from Defra-sponsored public bodies[1].  Members are responsible for ensuring the credibility and impact of government investments in science, evidence and specialist capabilities in the areas of policy and delivery related to environment, food and farming, and plant and animal health.  As a group, we wanted to provide our response to Ensuring a successful UK research endeavour.  A Review of the UK Research Councils by Paul Nurse, (the Nurse Review[2]) published on 19 November 2015.  Defra’s scientists wish to convey the following views:

We welcome the Nurse Review and the continued commitment it makes to the Research Councils as a critical part of the UK national research capability.  The ambition to improve the effectiveness of cross-Council working is particularly welcome.  There needs to be more support for multi- and inter-disciplinary, challenge-led research that stimulates innovation within a context of wider strategy-setting.

The review opens up opportunities to improve the delivery and outcomes of the wider ‘research endeavour’ by ensuring that science and research can (as rightly pointed out in the Nurse Review) “benefit society and the public good, e.g. driving a sustainable economy, improving health and the quality of life, and protecting the environment”.

We also agree that the ‘research endeavour’ should be “permeable and fluid, allowing the ready transfer of ideas, skills and people in all directions between sectors, across research disciplines, across institutions, and between providers and potential beneficiaries”.  This is a priority in the July 2014 Defra-wide Evidence Strategy.  Implementation of the recommendations from the review will increase the opportunities there are for alignment between the objectives of the Research Councils and Government departments.  This alignment needs to be balanced alongside the requirement to maintain specialist facilities, capability and career paths to encourage scientists to develop their careers.

We are especially pleased to note that “the best research should be funded wherever it is found” and, in particular, would be happy to support the proposal to pilot arrangements for Public Sector Research Establishments (PSREs) to access Research Council funding in collaboration with universities.  We represent a number of public bodies that qualify as PSREs and among them there are both world-class scientists and excellent facilities.

In addition, we welcome the suggestion that Research Councils “should be focussed on establishing strategic priorities and relationships with key players in their wider research communities, including universities, government, business and the charities sector”.  The agencies and bodies we represent are committed to supporting effective, efficient and equitable strategic partnerships that enable Research Councils to set research strategies reflecting these priorities.  We want our capabilities including infrastructure, data and skills to be a part of this wider endeavour.

In particular, we will contribute to research mapping activities and the analysis of relative strengths and weaknesses of research across the UK.  We commit to production of a single Evidence Plan for Defra so that we can engage with the Research Councils about where research priorities lie that are in the national interest.

We support in principle the proposal to establish Research UK as a “formal organisation with a single Accounting Officer, which can support the whole system to collectively become more than the sum of its parts”.  We agree that this would enable more effective delivery of cross-Council strategy, and enable each Council to focus on its core strengths.  We stress the importance of ensuring that RUK can deal effectively with cross-disciplinary and challenge-led research analysis and horizon-scanning.  We stand ready to assist in enabling the transition to RUK.


 

[1] Animal and Plant Health Agency, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Marine Management Organisation, Natural England, Veterinary Medicines Directorate, Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Rural Payments Agency

[2] The Nurse review was announced as part of the government’s science and innovation strategy in December 2014. The Government will respond in detail to Sir Paul’s report in due course.

 

 

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