HL Deb 19 July 2001 vol 626 cc141-2WA
Lord Hoyle

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the outcome of the first stage of the quinquennial review of the six grant-awarding Research Councils will be announced; and what are its principal recommendations. [HL495]

The parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

I am today able to announce the outcome of the first stage of the quinquennial review of the six grant-awarding Research Councils. I shall be placing a copy of the stage 1 report in the Libraries of both Houses.

Quinquennial reviews of Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs) are a key part of our programme to modernise government. The Government are committed to achieving better public services that are of higher quality and are more responsive to the needs of the people who use them. Regular NDPB reviews are an important element in ensuring that we have in place the right structures to deliver the Government's agenda effectively and to provide a strong focus on improving future performance. Under Cabinet Office guidance (31 January 2000), such reviews should be conducted in two stages.

The terms of reference for this review set the following objectives:

  • the first stage would examine the role and organisation of the Research Councils, by reference to their charters and missions, and evidence of past practice. It would set the detailed terms of reference for the second stage;
  • the second stage would examine the efficiency and effectiveness of the councils' operations and look for further opportunities for improving performance.

The principal recommendation of stage 1 is that the Research Councils should continue to be executive NDPBs. The review concluded that:

  • the councils are a necessary mechanism for the delivery of government policy for scientific research and postgraduate training;
  • the councils, individually and collectively, are an important source of independent scientific advice to government;
  • the councils' existing individual missions provide an effective focus for their communities;
  • none of the alternative organisational models would offer equivalent benefits to the UK science and engineering base at the present time;
  • the councils have made considerable progress in adopting new ways of working to generate efficiency savings, demonstrate value for money and maximise spending on science;
  • NDPB status remains the most appropriate organisational model for maintaining the Haldane principle, ensuring effective accountability for public funds and engaging the scientific communities.

Stage 2 of the Review will now examine four broad themes which were identified following the extensive stage 1 consultation. These are: mission, structure and governance; relations between the Research Councils and their clients; priority-setting and decision-making; the councils' management and internal processes. Working groups, whose members will include a wide range of stakeholders, will be considering these areas, and there has also been a second written consultation.

I welcome these recommendations, and I am grateful to the members of the steering group for their work on this review.