Blots on Mr Waldegrave's White Paper: After the promises, Tom Wilkie questions how committed the Government really is to science

EARLIER this year, William Waldegrave, the minister for science, promised that his White Paper on Science and Technology would put science at the heart of government and industry.

Yet events seem to be moving in the opposite direction. Mr Waldegrave is responsible for five research councils that channel more than pounds 1bn of the taxpayers' money to support basic science. Two of them are no longer to have full-time chairmen.

On Friday, Professor John Knill came to the end of his term as chairman of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and no full-time replacement has been appointed. In December, Sir Mark Richmond, head of the Science and Engineering Research Council, will take up his appointment as director of research for Glaxo, the pharmaceutical company, and will continue only part-time at the SERC.

Research councils are difficult to run at the best of times, but they face reorganisation and change unprecedented since the 1965 Science and Technology Act brought them into being. If they needed full-time chairman in normal times, how can they do without full-time direction now?

Mr Waldegrave is planning to add a new tier of bureacracy to the administration of science. The scientists who currently serve as chairmen of the research councils will be demoted to the role of chief executives (although they will be paid more than at present) and new, part-time chairmen will be brought in from outside the scientific community. When the new arrangements take effect in April, Sir Mark Richmond, for example, will have two replacements: a chief executive and a chairman. Yet the administrative burden is most acute now, not in April.

Rumour has it that the salary for the NERC's new chief executive will be some 25 per cent higher than before. A simple, back-of-the envelope calculation suggests that in direct salary costs alone, Mr Waldegrave's reforms will cost the science budget at least pounds 300,000 a year more. Superannuation and other costs will double the figure.

Yet the science budget is so tight that the SERC refused Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson, the Nobel Prizewinning chemist, pounds 30,000 for his research.

Mr Waldegrave also intends to create a new research council. The salaries of its chief executive and chairman will be a further charge on the budget. To add to the complexity, Mr Waldegrave has dreamt up a new (and expensive) full-time post: director general for the research councils, to oversee the chief executives.

Perhaps these new and previously unnecessary administrative costs go some way to explaining the departure from normal practice last month, when Mr Waldegrave's department published the massive compendium of statistics which constitute the Annual Review of Government Funded Research and Development.

The story buried in this tome is one of failure: unless there is a massive hike in science spending next year, the Government will be devoting pounds 1bn a year less to research and development than it did a decade earlier.

The annual review is a complex document and easy to misinterpret. In previous years, before John Major created a ministerial 'product champion' for science with a seat at the cabinet table, the Cabinet Office would do its best to help journalists through the complexities of the document. It would be distributed, under strict embargo, before publication so that reporters could actually read it, and then, at an informal briefing, statisticians would go through the details.

In addition to his responsiblities as product champion for science, Mr Waldegrave is minister for open government. What a splendid opportunity to display the Government's commitment to openness, by the minister himself attending the press conference.

But there was no press conference; not even advance notice of publication. It looks like a classic case of government media management to minimise bad news. The report thus represents a double failure by Mr Waldegrave: its content reveals the hollowness of the Government's commitment to science; and the handling of its publication the hollowness of its commitment to openness.

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Sport
sport
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans