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Evolution, not revolution

Some dramatic outcomes have been floated for the government’s review of the research councils. But Kieron Flanagan believes that incremental change is more likely than major restructuring.

It’s that time again. All non-departmental public bodies, from the Potato Council to the Competition Commission, must be “robustly” reviewed by their sponsor departments; this spring it’s the turn of the research councils. The aim is to test whether the function the body performs is still needed and, if so, whether there is a more efficient, effective and accountable way of doing it.

Since the research councils’ first and last quinquennial
review in 2001, there have been a number of ad hoc policy reviews. Research Councils UK, established following the 2001 review, was itself reviewed two years later. A 2006 review recommended that the Central Council for the Laboratory of the Research Councils be merged with the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council to form the Science and Technology Facilities Council. And in 2010 the incoming coalition government reviewed all public bodies, in preparation for the much-hyped bonfire of the quangos.

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