Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (ENRA) research programme 2022-2027: mid-programme review report

Findings of the mid-programme review of the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture research programme 2022 to 2027.

11. Underpinning National Capacity

The Underpinning National Capacity programme provides funding for several key research capabilities including services, PhD studentships, post-doctoral appointments, outward- looking strategic links and alliances with universities and other research providers. It also funds a responsive support to policy capability, providing a network of scientists at the research institutions, available to respond to questions from RESAS analysts and SG officials.

The assessment of the services within the Underpinning National Capacity (UNC) programme identified the following findings. The grant offer for UNC in 2023-24 was


Underpinning National Capacity Elements and Key Observations

Support to Policy

Policy Context: Having access to specific expertise in the MRP is seen as critical to

supporting policy officials. Feedback from users of the service this year, is that this is a priority service and should be secured or funding increased in portfolio management discussions.

Outcome of review: Although an identified underspend from 2022/23 would indicate that the Support to Policy Services is not delivering value for money. However, data gathered from the current delivery year (2023/24) would indicate that the MRPs are on track to spend the full budget and meet SG commitments.

This is thought to be due to improvement in visibility and management of the service. SG have also reduced alternative responsive funding routes and the Support to Policy service is picking up responsive needs from SG. Stakeholders have verbally indicated that this service is valuable to providing quick priority analysis. For example The JHI call down service was used to undertake a rapid evidence review on the implications of not treating bracken with the pesticide asulam. The review was used as part of a package of evidence to directly inform a Ministerial decision that was eventually taken by Cabinet on whether asulam should be licensed for use. The support to policy service was highly effective for producing such rapid and needed evidence.

This is a priority service and should be secured or funding increased in portfolio management discussions.


Scottish science also needs to be outward looking, building strategic links with key partners, making joint appointments, and to be far sighted – investing in ‘speculative’ science that may be required for future programmes of strategic research, or may lead to increased innovation from the research supported.

Outcome of review: Overall more work could be undertaken to better communicate value and impact to Scotland from this investment. Especially the funding used to explore new areas of science & develop new ideas including writing proposals, and seedcorn projects should be better mapped to leveraged funding. We may want to consider specifying an expected balance across the seedcorn activities delivered to maximise value for money.

Value for money of studentship can be presented qualitatively as developing the future of Scotland’s science base. We are aware from previous programme evaluation that the benefits of the additional skills gained through PhDs can be valued using figures identified by the National Foundation for Educational Research (Lynch et al,2015). This highlighted returns to the Exchequer from change in tax revenues associated with several vocational qualifications and identified a one-off benefit to the Exchequer of £56,000-£81,000 (£2015).

Overall Scottish Government is satisfied with the maintenance and development of key long-term data sets of national significance. It is clear how this service underpins research being delivered within the Strategic Research Programme, for example, the Langhill dairy herd database underpins several projects in Topic B2 Livestock Improvement.

A lot of these data sets are connected to ongoing statutory commitments or international agreements. For example, work in the Centre for Sustainable Cropping (CSC) is linked to the Scottish Government approach to alignment with EU laws including the Soil Monitoring Law, Nature Restoration Law and Farm to Fork strategy. The CSC shows how management interventions can be combined to meet the multiple goals of improving soil health, enhancing biodiversity, reducing losses and maintaining crop yields.


Policy Context: Many statutory commitments and/or international agreements are met through the delivery of our services. For example, Maintenance of the Rubus (raspberry) and Ribes (blackcurrant) high health stock collections contributes to the UK’s responsibilities under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

The services provided in UNC are:

  1. Maintenance of potato germplasm collections
  2. Maintenance of Rubus (raspberry) and Ribes (blackcurrant) high health stock collections
  3. Maintenance and development of the barley collection
  4. Provision of biomathematical & statistical services
  5. Maintenance of pathogen and pest collections
  6. Soils and related environmental data – collection, management, application, dissemination and governance
  7. Maintenance of the National Soils Archive
  8. Maintenance of a responsive and reactive capacity to develop diagnostic tests
  9. DNA technologies, skills and infrastructure
  10. Underpinning Open Science and Open Data

Outcome of review: Overall Scottish Government is satisfied with the delivery of the vital services delivered within the Underpinning National Capacity programme.

Services (annual SG grant of £1.4m) have been able to leverage circa £11m funding for the Main Research Providers. However, many services do not fully record the leveraged funding, or are made freely available at no charge, therefore the total leveraged funding should be considered as an approximate but minimum sum. More effort should be made to better map services to leveraged funding.


Policy Context: The Scottish Government see platform funding as critical to promoting scientific and financial sustainability across the research landscape in Scotland by enabling a research institute, in the absence of access to other funding streams, to accept an offer to provide research activity from a funder at a Full Economic Cost (FEC)-minus price

Outcome of review: MRPs in receipt of this funding (annual SG grant of £4m) have ongoing research projects in 2023/24 worth circa £28m all receiving of platform support.


Email: SRF@gov.scot

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