Monday, 30 July 2018

The BGS Board, its Terms of Reference and Minutes of the first meeting (April 2018)

I blogged previously about the creation of the BGS Board and the quality of non-executive members that we managed to attract. It is a truly dynamic group of people which will help nurture and challenge BGS and if you have not yet checked out who is on the Board, I encourage you to do so here.

We will be releasing summary minutes of the BGS Board meetings and activities in which they are involved. You can find the summary of the first meeting, along with the Terms of Reference for the Board.

As would be expected, the Board will have oversight of both the operational and strategic activities of BGS. Our Chair of the Board, Sir Keith O’Nions, will report to the Executive Chair of NERC-UKRI, thus assuring governance relationships are appropriate.

We have already strengthened our Health and Safety activities and the Board congratulated BGS on being one of the first science institutes in the UK in receiving ISO 45001 Accreditation. 

BGS has adjusted its financial reporting to ensure full understanding by the Board, moving towards an accounting presentation that is more suited to the BGS mixed financial culture, with its Public Role and Research and Private sector sources of funding and spending.

As you will know, BGS is refreshing its strategy and will develop a new Business Plan in the coming months. We are also creating a new science governance structure which will involve the creation of an external Science Advisory Committee (SAC). The advertisement for the roles on the committee can be found at here. We would encourage staff to share the advert with senior science/data leaders from our stakeholders and partners.

As part of their induction, our Board members participated in a seminar looking at our Public Role and how we define and refine this for the future. I enclose a slide pack that I used to outline this to the Board.

John Ludden

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

BGS enters a new era

BGS is about to enter a new era. It is moving from NERC as its legal owner to the newly created UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and has created a BGS board that will function as if BGS is an arms length GovCo. The intention of this is to put BGS into the most appropriate governance structure so that it will flourish. 

Following the nomination of Sir Keith O’Nions as Board chair, BGS now has a board whose membership covers the spectrum from survey, academia, government and industry. The board will engage with the BGS executive in deciding how best to place BGS in the mix from government advice underpinned by research, innovation and also niche commercial activities. 

BGS will work closely with NERC still, although its public good activities will be overseen by the Board and independent review. We will operate the Earth sector facilities for NERC and will continue to engage with key partnerships with university departments in the earth and environment sector. 

The opportunity to operate in the new UKRI environment will allow synergies with other research council agendas and also with InnovateUK and play a role in the UK industrial strategy and global programmes led from UKRI. 

BGS finished the past financial year with a planned surplus and an increase in staff numbers to ~ 640. Here is the summary corporate PowerPoint that I presented to the first BGS Board meeting on Friday 27th April.

Monday, 18 December 2017

The BGS Annual Review

Dear Friend of BGS 

I enclose here our Annual Review for 2016-2017 

BGS is healthy as you will realise when you read the report. We are a diverse organisation working at the cutting edge of solving research problems in earth and environmental sciences.  

We are about to embark on a new era with the creation of a BGS board, which will be chaired by Sir Keith O'Nions and will be starting the search procedure to fill the posts on the BGS Board. Please apply if you feel you can contribute to BGS at this level.

 The report is organised around our regional impacts including global science.

 I hope you enjoy the read and I wish you all the best for the season and 2018. 

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The BGS core science programme

Royal assent has allowed the passage into law of the Higher Education and Research Act (2017). It is expected that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will be properly established in April 2018, following an implementation period. A UKRI Executive Committee comprising the CEOs of the research councils has been created that will ensure overall strategic coherence and maximise effective working across the entirety of UKRI. Through this transition, the BGS will seek the freedoms to allow it to flourish as a survey and, as you will see, we have already made significant progress in this.

We are in a period where BGS funding is relatively secure (Figure 1), although the funding we receive from government, currently via the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), is increasingly targeted (Figure 2). This does mean that we will have to suspend some activities or reduce them, while increasing others. This is of course an ongoing activity, but is more acute this year than in the past.

The BGS has agreed with NERC that our core budget will be ring fenced and clearly directed to national and public good (NPG) activities, including the research lines that underpin these activities and ensure that we retain our excellence as a geological survey. This explicit recognition of our NPG role is powerful for us. We will continue to compete for research council grants and will have a strong industrial and innovation portfolio in addition to having our own commercial interests. To oversee the core budget spending and activities in general, NERC will create a BGS board and will be appointing the members in the coming months.

Our projected annual expenditure is forecast at £47.6 million in 2017–18, together with capital investment of £10 million. Our staff levels have been managed down to about 580 in recent years, although associated with the development of a major infrastructure activity (see UKGEOS) we will be increasing our headcount this coming year for the first time in a decade.

Official Development Assistance (ODA)

The budget for the UK research councils was inflated in the current comprehensive spending review (CSR) settlement by a significant amount for Official Development Assistance (ODA). Some of this has been earmarked for NERC, and an amount that corresponds to about 15 per cent of the BGS core NERC budget has been identified for us to spend over the current CSR period. This means that we will need to reassign some UK national activities to overseas activities.

We are developing three platforms to respond to this: one around east African geoscience and resilience, one on south-east Asian megacities and their hinterland catchments, and one on global geological risk. These will allow us to position the BGS for additional competitive funding streams in the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) where the majority of these ODA funds reside inside UKRI.

UK GeoEnergy Observatories (UKGEOS)

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has now approved this capital project and £31 million will be invested over two years to create world-class, subsurface energy-research test centres operated by the BGS.

UKGEOS will provide scientific energy-related test beds in two geologically different locations in the UK. Each site will comprise a network of deep and shallow boreholes, enabling geoscientists to undertake long-term observation of the subsurface for the first time and in unprecedented detail. They will deliver new information for the interpretation, modelling and monitoring of the environment from the surface down to more than 1500 m.

The BGS will target about 15 per cent of its core funding to operate these sites.

Innovation funding

The BGS is an institution that sits in an applied-science space between fundamental research, innovation and commercialisation. In the future, we will explicitly map our innovation funding to science directorates with clear key-performance indicators and evaluation of outcomes. We will provide internal, flexible funding to respond to opportunities, developing our innovation pipeline in a timely way. At the same time, we will invest in an innovation hub that will include machine-technology capabilities. We expect this strategy to align with future UKRI industrial strategy and regional development. The yearly investment corresponds to approximately another 15 per cent of the core budget for the coming three years.

EU funding

About five per cent of BGS funding comes from the EU and a significant part of this is associated with infrastructure development (field laboratories and data) and in some cases we lead the core services in these infrastructures. We are hopeful that the UK will continue to invest in EU infrastructure, especially as some of these facilities are key to UK international competitiveness.

BGS staff and programme reorganisation

The overall budget for the BGS is shown in the pie charts Figures 1, 2 and 3. It is evident that once the costs of information development and management are taken into account, the balance of core budget that can be assigned to other NPG tasks is limited.

To be more effective, the BGS will restructure its directorates. We will reassign staff in the geology and regional geophysics and land, soils and coast directorates and embed them in key directorates, thus bringing our activities closer to partners, users and markets.

Across the BGS there will be focus on three challenges:

  1. decarbonisation of power production, heat, transport and industry
  2. environmental change adaptation
  3. natural geological hazard and risk

Our major science effort will be in harnessing our new infrastructure including UKGEOS; our activities in sub-seafloor science; catchment observatories, and global hazard observatories.

In general, there will be a reduced focus on rocks and sediments as indicators of past events and a corresponding increase in focus on rocks as conduits for processes that affect lives and livelihoods. Improved methods of storing and delivering information within the BGS will allow greater efficiency and an ability to do "more with less". We will also seek new ways of funding our activities through interaction with government and the private sector.

At the same time, we will enhance our regional delivery for England, in addition to that which is already specific for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We have created a Wales and south-west England focus from the Cardiff office, which has recently relocated to the Cardiff University campus. Moving our Edinburgh office to the Lyell Centre on the Heriot-Watt campus, along with our marine infrastructure facility, has brought a new focus to BGS Scotland. From England we will deliver a south and south-east England regional geology hub; a Midlands (including East Anglia) hub, and a northern England hub. All of these regional and devolved administration activities will have a presence in regional partnerships.

Most importantly, the BGS will continue to have geologists with feet on the ground to ensure that we develop a more dynamic geological map, including real-time data acquisition. We will thus enhance our training and continuous professional development for field geologists.

Overall, the BGS is about to undertake its biggest transformation since joining NERC in 1965. It will gain more independence than it has had in 50 years. Technological development in sensors, high-volume computing, and visualisation and modelling are driving us to a new form of geological survey, and we are leading the world's surveys in many of these activities. At the same time, international opportunities are growing through GCRF funding, an expanding DfID programme, and more global impact in general.

The BGS will greatly benefit from the new freedoms and flexibilities afforded to it in a new governance structure. We will continue to forge partnerships in the UK and globally with institutes, universities and industry, while maintaining our independence and social responsibility.

Prof John Ludden
Executive Director


Monday, 21 November 2016

BGS Annual Science Review

I am pleased to present the BGS Annual Science Review for 2015/16.

In the review we have chosen to focus on the BGS working with nations; the devolved administrations of the UK and nations globally.  Our strategy is focused on state of-the-art geological modelling and technology for monitoring the subsurface with our aim for people to feel confident that we know what is below their feet and how this will be managed and may change during their lifetimes.

We have activities in all parts of the UK and worked in 79 countries globally. Environmental monitoring and modelling were a strong focus in all of our UK activities this year: working on baseline monitoring for potential future shale gas extraction in northern England; monitoring heat from abandoned mine waters in South Wales and Glasgow, and subsidence monitoring of abandoned mines in Northern Ireland with the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI).

On the energy front, we worked as part of a national effort on carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Wales and looked at the sub-Irish sea floor CO2 storage potential. We are also part of the UK CCS group in Edinburgh, and are still helping out South Africa in CCS and shale gas development.

Infrastructure and data to support infrastructure development remain key parts of the BGS and we released software packages that allow better definition of borehole data and visualisation of geological cross-sections via ‘Groundhog’. In response to a recommendation by a Parliamentary report on unconventional gas, we released a database on the regional stress field that will be of use in subsurface activities including ‘fracking’, geothermal and energy storage.

Our public-good-facing activities are underpinned by state-of-the-art applied research, and our outputs in publications have almost doubled in five years with a marked shift towards high-impact outputs in highly rated science journals; in 2015-16 we wrote ~300 papers of which ~30% were in Impact Factor 5 or above publications. 

We moved our science base in Scotland to a new home, the Lyell Centre, at Heriot-Watt University (HWU), Edinburgh. Our staff are in a fully open and modern building shared with HWU and we also moved our marine operations onsite.

The Lyell Centre, BGS's new home in Scotland

This significantly strengthens our visibility and presence in Scotland. In 2017, we will move into the Cardiff University campus and hope to achieve the same for GSNI with Queen’s University of Belfast, thus creating strong academic links in all parts of the UK.

Looking forward to 2016/17 we are starting with a balanced budget, significant capital infrastructure investment in the energy sector and a growing overseas development programme as part of the new Research Councils UK Global Challenges programme.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

BGS welcomes the Keyworth and District Footpath Association (KADFA)

The BGS headquarters is located in Keyworth on the outskirts of Nottingham. We are a somewhat enigmatic place that the locals view as a positive asset to a small dormitory town to Nottingham. We know that they wonder what goes on behind the hedges and they have no idea how far back the site reaches. It is thus a pleasure that we welcomed the Keyworth Walking Club on site as part of this year’s walking programme.

They were met by me and then received an amusing and factual account of how the geological walkway was put together from Steve Parry of BGS.

Dr Steve Parry introduces the BGS Geological Walkway

The tour ended in the Core Store (National Geological Repository) which is an impressive thing to have on your door step, whilst not knowing it. It allowed me to pass on a message about energy security and answer questions on geohazards and reassure the locals that we are doing a good job for the UK and globally.

Me introducing the impressive Core Store on site at Keyworth

Trevor Lax of KADFA said "We had a tremendous morning being shown around BGS. Steve, who took us on the Geological Walk was "top class". His talk was very informative and good humoured. John Ludden was so knowledgable and enthusiastic about the most valuable work BGS carries out. It was a great community event. Thank you to all who made it happen." 

Photos courtesy of Trevor Lax, KADFA.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

BGS and the EU referendum

BGS employs the best people for the job regardless of their nationality and we will always do this.  I sincerely hope that the UK government will make it as easy as possible for us to maintain a free flow of talented staff in the future.

I have been very impressed while talking to staff recently of the degree of commitment to BGS and the firm belief that it is  a great organisation to work for.  I realise that inside BGS there are staff who will have voted Remain and Brexit and we absolutely respect the democratic decision of the UK public.

I fully expect that we will develop strong EU partnerships in the future but the way these are developed may well have to change. Irrespective of funding developments, I am sure BGS will be remain a highly effective organisation and currently we are in a very strong position in all of our science and data areas.

I invited all non-UK European colleagues to write to me with their concerns and I offered to send their letter to Jo Johnston the Universities and Science minister. You can read the letter that we have sent to him here.