Visiting Groups — a geological survey in transition

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From: Allen, P M. 2003. A geological survey in transition. British Geological Survey Occasional Publication No. 1. Keyworth:British Geological Survey.
G M Brown, Director from 1979 to 1985. 1985. He died on 27 March 1997. Plate 2


In arguing for this breakdown, Malcolm Brown managed to persuade the Core Group that, except for the backlog of maps and publications, which was highest priority, no priority order was to be inferred from this list.

There are some interesting differences between his list and the one the Visiting Group produced. Whereas the Visiting Group inferred that the whole of the geological mapping programme would be conducted through the regional multidisciplinary surveys, Malcolm Brown restricted this approach to problematical areas. It is difficult to understand why he did this. He had created the Regional Geological Surveys alongside the systematic mapping programme with the aim of influencing the way the Land Survey operated. At first, he had not included the routine production of maps in the remit for the RGSs, but by 1984 he had begun to change his mind about this. Now, when given the green light by the Visiting Group, he chose to keep the RGSs separate from the routine geological mapping programme. Perhaps he was facing reality, knowing that some of the Assistant Directors managing the mapping programme were implacably opposed to the idea.

Among the other changes, he added important detail to the line on database management and brought in a mention of mineral resources, missing from the Visiting Group list. Most significantly, he obtained freedom to reshape the programme in future years by rolling the last seven of the Visiting Group’s list, which included five items that they thought should be funded by commissioned research only, into one, catch-all category.

The Core Group accepted Malcolm Brown’s revised listing, though by then, within the BGS, it had effectively been made redundant by the 1985 Strategic Plan. They were satisfied, overall, with the actions that had been set in train to deal with all the other recommendations of the Visiting Group, agreeing at the May meeting that the only significant outstanding action was the one related to the map and memoir backlog.

The Visiting Group had been critical of the BGS for not implementing the recommendations in the 1978 Visiting Group report. In Malcolm Brown’s vigorous defence of this charge he had specifically identified funding shortages as the root cause of the failure. Equally, there were resource implications to full implementation of the 1982–84 recommendations. The Visiting Group recognised this. In addition to the request for £1.21 million to clear the backlog, they made a special plea to Council to restore the BGS baseline funding to enable the Geological Mapping Programme to be continued at a level that was more appropriate for the enormous task the Visiting Group itself had identified. This was less than what was required for Plan 2000, which had been drawn up to deal with this task. It was Plan 2000, however, that was presented to Council. They approved it, but made no funding allocation to it. Nor did they enhance the baseline. The plan to clear the backlog of maps and publications in three years, as required by the Visiting Group, was given high priority within the BGS, but this also was not fully resourced. The debate between the Director and NERC HQ was about whether the money for this task could be taken out of the Science Budget allocation each year without wrecking the remaining programme or whether a special additional allocation should be made by NERC HQ. This argument rumbled on and was never resolved. The backlog was not finally cleared until 1997.

Council’s wish to exercise more control over the conduct of the BGS Science Budget Programme because of its dissatisfaction with the lack of response to the 1978 Visiting Group’s recommendations was not acted upon in the context of the Visiting Group. It was meant to be taken up during the reorganisation of the NERC that followed the 1985 Corporate Plan, but it was not until the creation of the Programme Board in 1989 (Chapters 5 and 6) that this issue was resolved.

The 1982–84 Visiting Group report was such a severe shock to the BGS and Council that it became a serious stimulus for change. Although it was overshadowed by the events surrounding the 1985 Corporate Plan, the impact that the Visiting Group report had on operational procedures in the BGS was not in any way diminished. Most of the recommendations were acted upon, though it took many years for some of them to become fully implemented. More importantly, the need for radical change was pushed into the forefront of the minds of the BGS senior staff; thus enabling the modernisation process to gather momentum and proceed at a pace that was commensurate with what was happening in the outside world.