• NIESR says decision to leave made by `mutual consent'
  • Research institute searches for successor to austerity critic

Britain’s National Institute of Economic and Social Research said its director will step down before the end of his five-year term after a management review.

The group said Jonathan Portes, director since 2011, will give up his post “by mutual consent and with immediate effect.” Frances Cairncross will serve as interim director, on a part-time basis, pending the appointment of a full-time successor.

A fierce critic of austerity, Portes, was more politically outspoken than his predecessor, Martin Weale, who left to become a BOE policy maker in 2010. Earlier this year, Portes was involved in a public spat with historian Niall Ferguson after he complained about a Financial Times article on the strength of the economy.

“I, and my board, decided now is the right time to step down particularly as NIESR needs a new business model,” Portes said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s nothing to do with research, economics or policy, it’s about NIESR and the business. The trustees think that it might be time to reshape the business model.”

The disagreement with Ferguson led to an adjudication by the FT’s complaints commissioner and spilled into Twitter and other publications. In subsequent articles, Ferguson accused Portes of political “nitpicking” and said NIESR was supposed to be “independent of all party political interests.” Portes said Ferguson was making the argument personal.

Before joining the Institute, Portes worked at the U.K. Treasury and was chief economist at the Cabinet Office when Gordon Brown was prime minister in the last Labour government. He will remain a principal research fellow at NIESR until April, NIESR’s Council of Management said.

“The council would like to record its thanks to the outgoing director for his service,” it said.

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