All eyes are on Sir Mark Walport, the new supremo of UK science

The establishment of the £6bn umbrella organisation for UK science funding, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has provoked debate across the research community since it was first mooted. Brainchild of a review by Sir Paul Nurse, UKRI will create what is in effect a new ‘super’ research council, sitting above the seven existing councils, and rolling in Innovate UK and Research England (the research arm of the Higher Education Funding Council for England).

The vision behind UKRI has not found favour in all quarters of British science. Martin Rees, former president of the Royal Society, has been particularly vocal in his opposition to UKRI, fearing the disruption it will bring, at exactly the same time as Brexit is generating wider uncertainties for research funding. Others fear a creeping bureaucratisation and loss of autonomy across the existing funding bodies, with their individual chief executives ceding status and influence to their new UKRI boss.

Last week’s announcement of Sir Mark Walport as UKRI’s inaugural chief executive – a role which was advertised last autumn with a salary of £300,000 – has not quietened the anxiety of some. Lord Rees has spoken out again about the dangers of “single point failure” in such a large “monolithic structure.” Others are more positive, and perhaps feel a need to be circumspect, or to give him a chance before forming an opinion.

Walport, former director of the Wellcome Trust, is currently the government’s…

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