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Grant-Awarding Research Councils: Quinquennial Review

Volume 622: debated on Tuesday 13 February 2001

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asked Her Majesty's Government:When the Quinquennial Review of the six grant-awarding research councils will take place; and what the terms of reference for the review will be. [HL714]

I am today launching the Quinquennial Review of the grant-awarding research councils.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.The purpose of the six grant-awarding councils is to deliver government policy for publicly funded research and postgraduate training. It would be impossible to conduct a fundamental review independently from that policy. For this reason, although quinquennial review of the six councils was due in 1999, it has been appropriate to postpone their quinquennial review until the outcome of the relevant policy reviews had been completed, so that the role of the councils could be considered in that context. Together the White Papers on Science and Innovation (

Excellence and Opportunity; Cmd 4814) and the Knowledge Economy ( Opportunity for All in a World of Change; Cm 2250) now provide the context for the review.

The terms of reference for the review of the research councils are:

The review will consider the six grant awarding research councils individually and collectively.

The review of the councils will be undertaken in two stages.

The first stage will examine the role and organisation of the councils, by reference to their charters and missions, evidence of work already undertaken to review and improve performance, current best practice for NDPBs and the councils' contribution to the delivery of government policy for publicly funded scientific research and training in the context of the new White Paper. It will set the detailed terms of reference for the second stage.

The second stage will examine the efficiency and effectiveness of the councils' operations. It will look for further opportunities for improving performance by reference to such issues as boundaries between the councils, management structures, aims and objectives, role of funded institutes, performance targets and service standards, use of processes and new technology, delegated authority and accountability and changes to the operating environment since the councils were awarded their Royal Charters in 1994, including the Modernising Government agenda.

The review will consider, in particular, how the councils can best fulfil their strategic role in identifying the key areas for future investment in research that will offer the best opportunities for science, social development, industrial application and economic growth.

The review will be conducted in accordance with the current Cabinet Office guidance (published on 31 January 2000) and will include consultation, either in person or in writing, with members of council, staff of the executive and the councils' customers and key stakeholders. It is expected that a number of working groups will be established to address key issues in detail in the second stage.

The review team will be directed by a review board which is chaired by the Director General of the Research Councils, Dr John Taylor, and with a membership which will include key representatives of both industry and academia drawn from the stakeholder communities. The review board will ensure that Ministers, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office, and the staff and customers of the councils are kept informed of the progress of the review and will facilitate the gathering of information for the review team and their communication with staff and other stakeholders.

The review team will be supported by officials in the Office of Science and Technology, with specialist advice as appropriate. The aim will be to complete the review within approximately six months, as recommended in the Cabinet Office guidance.