§ Lord Teviot asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ What progress has been made on the programme of Prior Options reviews of public sector research establishments.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
This programme of reviews has now been completed. The final reports were submitted, as planned, at the end of December 1996. The Government are today announcing decisions on all the outstanding reviews.
My honourable friend the Minister for Science and Technology is today making announcements on a number of establishments for which my department has responsibility, as follows:
- Institute of Arable Crops Research
- Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research
- John Innes Centre
- Silsoe Research Institute
- Babraham Institute
- Institute for Animal Health
- Roslin Institute
- British Geological Survey
- Centre for Coastal and Marine Science
- Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
- Dunn Nutrition Unit
- Institute of Food Research
- Mammalian Genetics Unit
- Radiation and Genome Stability Unit
- Reproductive Biology Unit
- Toxicology Unit
- Virology Unit
Announcements are also being made today by the Minister responsible for each of the following establishments:
- Macaulay Land Use Research Institute
- Scottish Crop Research Institute
- Moredun Research Institute
- Hannah Research Institute
- Rowett Research Institute
- Horticulture Research International
- Veterinary Laboratories Agency
- Police Scientific Development Branch
- Public Health Laboratory Service
- National Institute for Biological Standards and Control
- National Radiological Protection Board
The aim of the reviews has been to ensure that the country achieves the greatest possible benefit from the substantial resources—some £690 million annually—devoted to all the establishments. Reviews have been approached on a case-by-case basis, within the context of the prior options guidelines. Decisions have been taken collectively by Ministers to ensure the reviews address the actual and potential relationships between establishments in similar or related fields. The decisions announced today are designed to ensure that establishments operate with maximum effectiveness and efficiency, and to enhance the scientific excellence for which they are renowned.
Prior Options reviews are normally undertaken on a five-yearly cycle. However, the Government have a continuous requirement to assess performance and structure against evolving objectives, and reviews may in some circumstances be necessary within the five year period. It is intended to maintain this standard arrangement for the establishments reviewed in 1996, subject to progress with the follow-up measures agreed by Ministers. These include a range of measures to improve the management and customer focus of the establishments, as set out in the individual announcements.
As with previous announcements under this programme, memoranda explaining the rationale for Ministers' decisions will be placed in the Library of the House as soon as possible.
The Earl of Orkney asked Her Majesty's Government:
What decisions they have made, in the light of recent Prior Option reviews, about the future status of establishments supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC), Medical Research Council (MRC) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
My right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade announced on 22nd May that the Government were satisfied that the functions of four BBSRC establishments—Institute of Arable Crops Research, Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, John Innes Centre, and Silsoe Research Institute—were needed, that they should retain their separate existence, but that full independence from the public sector was a desirable option which merited further consideration. In the light of this further consideration, we have concluded that these establishments should remain in the public sector and retain their separate existence. Similarly, we have 105WA concluded that the three BBSRC animal science institutes included in the second tranche of prior options reviews, completed at the end of July—Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health and the Roslin Institute—and BBSRC's Institute of Food Research, which was included in the third tranche of reviews completed at the end of December, should remain in the public sector and retain their separate existence.
I shall expect the BBSRC, under the oversight of the Director General of Research Councils (DGRC), to continue to look for ways of improving the establishments' value for money. Specifically, we shall explore the scope for improving control of central costs and for contracting out support services. We shall also consider targets for increased external income. In the case of the Institute of Food Research, we will be exploring further the potential benefits of greater collaboration between IFR and the research component of the Central Science Laboratory at Norwich and, in the case of the Institute for Animal Health, exchanging areas of work with the Veterinary Laboratories Agency.
We are also satisfied that the functions of the three NERC establishments—the British Geological Survey, Centre for Coastal and Marine Sciences and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology—covered by the second tranche of prior options reviews, are needed. We have concluded that they should remain in the public sector and retain their separate identities. I shall expect NERC, under the oversight of the DGRC, to pursue the opportunities for rationalisation and restructuring identified by the reviews. I shall also look to NERC to build on its arm's length relationship with the establishments and to improve their financial and management systems.
The MRC's Dunn Nutrition Unit (DNU), which was covered by the third tranche of reviews, should be closed and reconstituted to take advantage of the scope for rationalisation with other MRC and university activities, which will open up when the reconstituted unit moves to a new site in 1998.
We are satisfied that the functions of the MRC's Institute of Virology, Reproductive Biology Unit, Mammalian Genetics Unit, Radiation and Genome Stability Unit and Toxicology Unit are needed and that there is scope for some rationalisation and introduction of private sector management. We have concluded that:
- the MRC provision of research servicesxs and facilities at the Mammalian Genetics Unit and the Radiation and Genome Stability Unit should be reduced through contractor management or new market testing and strategic partnerships with other bodies on the Harwell site;
- a new body should be established within the private sector to commercialise the provision of research resources, information services and collaborative exploitation activities, in parallel with the Mammalian Genetics Unit;
- the Virology Unit should be transferred to the ownership of Glasgow University, subject to the resolution of practical issues;
- the Reproductive Biology Unit should remain under MRC management but be managed as a closure and reconstitution. The boundaries between it and the
- University of Edinburgh should be redrawn in areas not requiring strategic management;
- the Toxicology Unit should remain under MRC management and should continue to improve its efficiency and performance.
The research councils have recently recruited a procurement adviser from the private sector to identify opportunities for cutting the costs of all the councils and their institutes.
Further details of the measures for the bodies listed above will be published in due course.
My right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade has made a statement today on the broad outcome of the programme of Prior Options reviews of public sector research establishments which refers to the general policy on timing of Prior Options reviews.