NERC has been considering the merits of establishing its Research Centres, including the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), as independent bodies, outside of the public sector.
At its meeting on 4 and 5 December 2013, NERC Council considered the first project gateway - to decide whether the potential benefits are likely to be realisable and whether they outweigh the attendant risks. Taking into consideration the outcomes of the recent Call for Evidence, together with a report from an External Advisory Panel, Council accepted the view that the status quo was not a viable option, in that ways need to be found that allow NERC to focus on its primary role as a Research Council, and that the Centres must be provided with greater operational freedom.
Council has asked the NERC Executive, together with CEH, to robustly test how the status quo might be changed independently of a change of ownership, as well as developing detailed plans for independent governance that might best suit CEH’s future mission. This analysis will inform a second gateway decision, currently scheduled for July 2014, when Council will be able to take a fully-informed view of the relative merits of the present ownership arrangements and possible alternatives. While proceeding to the second gateway of this review, Council remains of an open mind concerning a decision that will have important consequences for the future of environmental science in the UK.
Professor Mark Bailey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology’s Director, noted that, “The review is both relevant and timely, recognising the changing landscape in which we operate. Any governance and ownership change must strengthen CEH’s pivotal position in NERC’s research portfolio, including delivery of national capability. Our science excellence, depth and breadth of capabilities, and impartiality remain key priorities. These strengths are not only important to NERC science delivery but also for our partners across the academic, public, private and voluntary sectors.”
CEH will now prepare a business case examining a variety of governance and ownership models and defining an optimal position. CEH’s Advisory Committee, representing many of the organisation’s key stakeholders, participated in the Call for Evidence prior to Gateway 1 and will now be working with CEH in the preparation of a robust business case.
Professor Bailey added, “NERC’s recent independent evaluation of CEH’s science and impact demonstrated the high quality of our research and also our role in the wider national context for providing a range of ‘public good’ services that benefit a range of government departments and public policy formation. CEH will continue to fulfil these roles.”
CEH results - Research Centre Evaluation (August 2013)