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Walport praises UKRI pandemic response in farewell message

Image: UK Research and Innovation

Outgoing chief executive says Covid-19 crisis demonstrated power of collective working across the research councils

UK Research and Innovation’s outgoing chief executive has commended the funder’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic in a final message to the research and innovation community.

In the open letter, published on 26 June, Mark Walport praised the funder’s “excellent response” to the crisis, during which it “demonstrated the power of the collective working of the nine councils”.

“Although ghastly, Covid-19 is exactly the kind of scenario that UKRI was set up to deal with—requiring an interdisciplinary approach, global in outlook, that demonstrates the benefits of research and innovation to everybody in society, whether through progress on a vaccine, identifying therapeutic interventions through the hugely important work in the RECOVERY trials, understanding the economic, cultural and social consequences, or working with partners across the world,” he said.

“All our councils have taken on extra work, adapting and delivering at pace to support not just work on Covid-19 but also maintain business as usual as far as possible.”

Walport, who is due to leave his role at the end of the month, was appointed in 2017 to form and lead the umbrella agency for the UK’s research councils and the Innovate UK funder.

Before joining UKRI, Walport was government chief scientific adviser and head of the Government Office for Science from April 2013 to September 2017. He is also a former director of the Wellcome Trust and was knighted in 2009.

Reflecting on his time at UKRI, Walport said he was particularly pleased with the cross-cutting programmes launched by the funder, including the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the Strategic Priorities Fund and the Strength in Places Fund.

“These major investments would not have been possible before UKRI existed,” he wrote.

“We have worked hard to reinforce our relationships with our traditional partners in the research community, but I’m particularly satisfied by the efforts of colleagues across councils to continue building successful partnerships with the business community.”

Walport is set to be replaced by Ottoline Leyser, a professor of plant development and director of the Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge.

Earlier this month, Research Professional News revealed that Walport would stay on at the national funding agency for a “transitional period” to help provide support during the coronavirus crisis.