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Update on NERC Review of Governance and Ownership of BGS and Other Research Centres

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is currently reviewing ownership and governance of four of its research centres – the British Geological Survey (BGS), the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS). A call for evidence was issued in summer 2013, and the Geological Society responded jointly with the PESGB, BGA and CHUGD. Our submission stressed the importance of safeguarding BGS’s national capability and other nationally important functions, and securing equitable access to its publicly funded datasets.

NERC Council met on 4-5 December 2013 and reviewed these responses. It decided to consider in more detail proposals to make changes to the governance and ownership of BGS and the other research centres. In common with the other centres, BGS is currently developing business plans for implementation of alternative possible scenarios. These include the establishment of BGS as a public corporation, a charity, a company limited by guarantee, or a trust. Under some of these models, a commercial company might also be established to carry out some BGS functions.

An important driver for this review is that BGS, as a government-owned entity, is subject to government accounting rules, which can restrict freedom of action. Lack of flexibility in setting salaries may restrict BGS from recruiting the best scientists. It also cannot currently retain surpluses from year to year in order to build reserves, which would help to ensure its sustainability, particularly at a time when public funding is being cut in real terms (and may be reduced further). BGS also wishes to ensure that its future structure and governance allow it to stay in the forefront of national geological survey organisations worldwide, to continue to diversify its income streams, and to compete effectively for work.

BGS and NERC are both fully cognisant of the importance of safeguarding the wide range of national capability functions delivered by BGS. Detailed consideration is being given to how any new model should deal with BGS assets, including data sets. Other priorities are to protect the interests of BGS staff, and to ensure that there is no conflict of interest between its commercial and non-commercial functions.

We will keep Fellows informed about further developments.


NERC’s call for evidence and responses:

GSL response:

Report of NERC Council meeting, December 2013:

NERC Chief Executive Duncan Wingham’s evidence to House of Lords Science and Technology Committee: