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January 14, 2011

LWEC's future lies in partnerships

To many observers, cross-research council funding programmes were particularly vulnerable to government cuts. So how did they do? Andrew Watkinson of the cross-council funded Living With Environmental Change programme says growing pressure on funding makes partnership working increasingly important for LWEC and others. 

A theme of collaboration runs through the recent announcement on the allocation of science and research funding (2011/12 to 2014/15) from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. This includes a continuing commitment to the cross-council programmes in research areas of key national importance in the Digital Economy (£129 million), Energy (£540m), Global Food Security (£440m), Global Uncertainties (£120m), Lifelong Health and Well Being (£196m), and Living With Environmental Change (£562m).

The LWEC programme uniquely includes contributions from all of the Research Councils: Arts and Humanities RC (£7m), Biotechnology & Biological Sciences RC (£54m), Engineering & Physical Sciences RC (£54m), Economic & Social RC (£39m), Medical RC (£100m), Science & Technology Facilities Council (£3m) and Natural Environment RC (£305m). The total of £562m over the four-year spending-review period compares with £363m over the last three years, bringing the total contribution from the Research Councils so far to £925m.

To this must be added the significant contributions of the other 16 publicly funded LWEC partners which include government departments, agencies and devolved administrations. Their future financial contributions will inevitably come under significant pressure as a result of the UK Government’s Spending Review. It is widely recognised, therefore, that partnership working will become increasingly essential through co-design, co-production and co-delivery if the aspirations of the LWEC partners are to be delivered.

With the merger of LWEC, the Environmental Research Funders Forum (ERFF) and Global Environmental Change Committee (GECC) earlier in 2010, LWEC is now seen as a transformative cross-government partnership to optimise the coherence and effectiveness of UK environmental research funding. Its aim is to provide government, business and society with the foresight, knowledge and tools needed to mitigate, adapt to and capitalise on environmental change. By engaging business, policymakers, local authorities and society LWEC also aims to identify and prioritise the environmental sectors and new markets with most potential to unlock green economic growth. It is in this context that the LWEC partners, led by NERC and the Technology Strategy Board, are working with the LWEC Business Advisory Board to identify business priorities and commercialisation opportunities for environmental research.

The research council commitments to the cross-council programmes are detailed in their new delivery plans, with NERC taking the lead on LWEC. These plans will form a significant input into the strategic frameworks that the LWEC partners are currently developing for the six challenge areas over which LWEC operates: climate, ecosystem, sustainability, health, infrastructure and social. These will define the research opportunities over the next four years and the delivery outcomes for business and society. The research, as in the first phase of LWEC, will embrace themed programmes, research centres and institutes, innovation platforms, key elements of responsive mode funding and targeted elements of knowledge exchange. Key to the success of LWEC will be the extent to which it can transform the way in which the partners work together with business and society to achieve greater impact and efficiency and deliver outcomes that will enable people, business, NGOs and local government to adapt to environmental change.

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