Tuesday 1 December 2015

BGS and the Comprehensive Spending Review 2015

The Chancellor released his Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) this week.  It is fair to say that our worst fear of a cut to research funding was not realised and, to his credit, the Chancellor has kept the research baseline funding at real costs - this means in line with inflation and better than the cash settlement we were expecting as a "best case" scenario. Nonetheless we should expect all of the extra funding from real cost to be targeted on specific projects most probably involving global development.

Nonetheless, the CSR does place a significant part of the research budget in a global challenges fund and as yet it is not clear how this will be managed; it could be top sliced or accounted for in the different parts of the new Research UK structure, which is likely to become a reality. Thus the various parts of the research base will report into a director of Research UK in line with the recommendations of the Nurse review, which recommends keeping the research councils, but strengthening their overall leadership.

BGS should be able to exploit the interface with a number of the research areas of Research UK and it is good that this is now an explicit opportunity, rather than something to be encouraged. However, the way research and innovation funding is awarded and evaluated will change in the next few years and BGS needs to be prepared to defend with quantitative based metrics, both its research and its public good value.  I also note that the research council has yet to decide its different allocations to individual councils and then internally within NERC.

The Midlands Energy Research Accelerator (ERA) was allocated a £60 million and the Energy Test Bed in Chester were cited. Thus we are well positioned in the geoenergy area, with investment in gas, new nuclear and energy storage.  Notwithstanding this, the decision to remove the funding from the Carbon Capture and Storage pilot projects is perplexing and we will need to evaluate where best BGS should be positioning itself.

Major infrastructure and capital investments were also outlined and BGS will need to provide the underpinning geological models.

Although the result is positive for science, both in research (discovery and applied) and innovation, this does not affect the restructuring plan that we have announced. The significant pay cost pressures on our budget from 2016/17 mean that BGS must create budgetary headroom and restructuring will enable it to position itself for new opportunities in the geoenergy, data and natural hazards areas. 

Repositioning BGS in the science landscape will be a priority in the coming months as the Research UK budget develops.

Finally, I commend the 2014-15 BGS Annual Review in which we intentionally focussed on the Public Good values of BGS, please read it: the science it outlines is excellent (sorry we cannot put all of it in a short report) and the format and presentation superb.