Summary & highlights of the 2003 Science and Management Audit

The main issue

The BGS provides expert services and impartial advice in all areas of geoscience. Our client base is drawn from the public and private sectors both in the UK and internationally.

  1. It is the BGS's core survey brief which distinguishes it from the academic and commercial sectors, and which in turn justifies its unique existence as a NERC funded body.

  2. The funding available to keep survey staff in the field, referred to by the BGS as other recurrent or OR funding, including provision for heads such as travel, subsistence, consumables and drilling support has steadily reduced in real terms in recent years. For the current financial year OR funding stands at £1.2m which equates to just 11% of non-staff funds within the BGS core funded programme.

  3. Given the BGS's raison d'etre, at 11% of non-staff funds there is simply not enough OR funding to maintain a meaningful staff presence in the field. For example much of South Wales remains unsurveyed since the mid-nineteenth century. The consensus view of the sister survey representatives on the Panel backed up by views within BGS was that a figure nearer 25% to 30% of non-staff funds would be more appropriate, and this is endorsed by the Panel.
    • BGS management commentary
      The BGS agrees that the current levels of other recurrent funding, derived through the science budget allocation, are inadequate.

  4. Other issues flow from the severe constraints placed upon the Survey by the paucity of OR funds. At present the BGS derives approximately half of its income directly from NERC with the balance being earned from a series of government, agency and commercial contracts. Because of its heavy reliance on external contract funding, management regularly feels the need to give commercial activities priority over core NERC funded survey and research work. The Panel felt that the core work of BGS should be given priority.
    • BGS management commentary
      At the present levels of NERC science budget funding, the BGS has no choice but to pursue a vigorous programme of commissioned research, and deliver to customers. With this imperative in mind the BGS gives a 'strategic priority' to the core programme, but a 'tactical priority' to the CR programme. Across any full year, the core programme always gets the manpower allocation for which the salaries component of the science budget pays.

  5. At the same time the OR funding shortfall seriously detracts from the ability of Survey and research staff to quickly make the results of their work publicly available in peer reviewed journals. The BGS output in this respect is not as high as might be expected given the number of scientists employed.
    • BGS management commentary
      The 1997 SMA team concluded that 'conventional bibliometric measures do not accurately reflect the outputs from BGS because it is much more than simply a research organisation'. The BGS would be delighted to increase its output of papers in peer-reviewed journals. Some measures to address the issue were already in place before the SMA, but it is accepted that further progress needs to be made. The availability of increased science budget OR can be translated, in part, into more flexible time for staff to write up papers, particularly from CR contracts, where UK government and other research funders often simply refuse to include such a component in the contract.

  6. The existing OR funding difficulties need to be addressed without delay. In considering this issue the Panel recognises the added intellectual, personal development and revenue opportunities that the BGS's commercial activities bring, and is not arguing that the BGS should be fully funded by NERC. It does, however, believe that the present level of commercial activity has grown to the point where the emphasis is now over and above that of the NERC funded core survey and research brief.
    • BGS management commentary
      At the present levels of NERC funding, and in line with Government policy, the BGS has no choice but to pursue a vigorous programme of commissioned research. In so doing the BGS satisfies the needs of a wide variety of stakeholders. Nevertheless, BGS accepts there are some day-to-day conflicts of priority between the core and commissioned research programmes.

  7. The conflict between commercial and core manifests itself less about money and more about the deployment of skilled people. BGS's current commercial work is disproportionately based on more or less direct selling the skills of talented people, hence the conflicts with the core programme. If the core survey and research programme is to be reinstated to its rightful place at centre stage, then the balance of the use of skilled people between core work and contract research needs to swing more towards core work.
    • BGS management commentary
      Conflicts for skilled people do arise. During the past four years at least, considerably more staff time has been spent on the core strategic programme than on the commissioned research programme. An important part of the BGS business strategy is to build income from value-added products and services that do not rely on directly selling the skills of talented people.

Consideration of the Terms of Reference 1 Consideration of the Terms of Reference 12

See also