Examination of witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 13 DECEMBER 2000
and MR DAVID
80. Can you give us a concrete example? Mr Temperley
talked about this in glowing terms and you said you were going
to bring it in. Can you give us some comfort that there are some
really solid meaty contracts which are going to transform your
(Professor Wilson) Well, I think Mr Temperley referred
to the interest that we had through the Regional Development Agencies
and the establishment of Enterprise Parks. We have had examples
already within HRI of multi-nationals setting up a research capacity
on a site. Currently we are negotiating with two individuals who
are coming out of a multi-national which has recently been created
by merger. They have some intellectual property that they are
looking to develop which is very relevant to the work that we
do in HRI in terms of genomics and gene flow, variation of the
environment and interactions between pests and crops. We are actively
negotiating with companies from the States, for example, who are
developing radical new crop protection technologies and are looking
for a European base, a platform. Coincidentally it turns out that
we have scientists in HRI who have been participating in the underpinning
research for that sort of work, therefore we are extremely attractive
as a base to this company. I am confident that given the right
calibre of Head of Business Development, given the new enthusiasm
in my senior scientific group, and given my own activities in
this area, we will be able to build new businesses which will
add value, add diversity, add niche markets to sectors of the
horticulture industry, and will have radical new technologies.
81. My final question on this. Are these two
people, particularly the Head of Business Services, going to be
on any performance related bonus?
(Professor Wilson) Yes.
82. Their head is on the block if they do not
achieve the numbers?
(Professor Wilson) Absolutely. We have a saying in
HRI, it is called the Messiah syndrome.
83. If I could link in directly with Michael
Jack's questions because I am interested in the business recovery.
Now, this was obviously key when last time we talked to you. How
is this going? How are you actually looking to get new business
in? You talked a lot about your cost savings, I want to know where
the revenue stream is?
(Professor Wilson) We are preserving those parts of
the existing business units which are profitable, now that we
have got really into them and looked at what is profitable and
what is not profitable. The new business is coming in through
competitive bids; of course there are traditional sponsors like
BBSRC and the Department for International Development and so
forth. We have been increasingly successful in that. We are participating
in a huge number of European networks now. We have submitted EU
bids, I understand, of the order of £17 million involving
HRI. We will not be successful in all of those, but our standard
hit rate at the moment seems to be about 30 per cent. The other
activities we are getting engaged in: we have consultants now
working for us who are again connected to these high value agri-business-type
operations and who are making introductions on behalf of HRI to
companies who can introduce radical new technologies which would
benefit the UK horticultural industry.
84. When will the corporate plan for 2000-2005
actually be presented to Government?
(Professor Wilson) It has to be presented before the
end of March.
85. Is that dependent on these other changes?
(Professor Wilson) It will reflect the changes up
to this point. I would imagine that, on the timescale we are looking
at, I would be surprised if we had a Head of Business Development
in place by then. As far as we can prepare the ground and get
our lines in order then the plan will reflect all of that, and
86. Presumably this is one of the roles of the
new Business Development person?
(Professor Wilson) Yes. We do not want to pre-empt
or prejudge what that person will bring to the organisation.
87. You have not said much about the HortiTech
business units which obviously is one of the reasons you got into
such difficulty. Where is the recovery plan for that? Is it in
(Professor Wilson) We have rationalised these, if
that is the polite word for it. We are putting our Business Units
effectively under our three overarching themes which are broadly
speaking: crop protection; crop breeding and plant development;
environmental/plant physiology and so forth. At the moment, we
have very able young scientists who are acting as conduits, if
you like, between commercial opportunities across the range of
potential customers and the scientists under those themes within
the research teams. We have stepped back to realise that our future
does lie in added value, in commercialising, in the most appropriate
and profitable way, the various R&D programmes that we do.
The only Business Unit nowapart from those three connected
to the themesthat seems to be doing reasonably well, ie
it is making a small profit, is our Seeds Unit which at the moment
we are continuing with. It has quite a lot of customers. Again,
it will be up to the Head of Business Development, I guess, to
take a view on that.
88. From your answers, frankly, you would be
better off in the private sector, would you not?
(Professor Wilson) At the moment, and I think I said
this last time, we would not be better off in the private sector
because we are still in transition. I think, what is the word
(Mr Siddall) We are half way. This is what I said
to you last time. I think that would probably be the long-term
outcome. It is not essential for us to become viable.
89. How long is long?
(Mr Siddall) I think it is going to take us about
three years to demonstrate the success of this strategy, what
we call the mixed economy strategy. In that time period it would
be interesting to see just what happens to public sector funding
of R&D. If it goes up then that changes things; if it continues
to decline, then I think it is a one-way street.
90. It is going to be another of these surprise
New Labour private sector initiatives perhaps?
(Mr Siddall) To a degree our problem is to manage
within the framework which we find ourselves.
Mr Todd: Fine.
91. Gentlemen, thank you very much. If it is
any consolation to you or spiritual help the Salvation Army has
got a carol concert at one o'clock in Westminster Hall.
(Mr Siddall) Thank you.
Chairman: I wonder whether that might be the
last resort. Thank you very much for coming. It has been most
interesting. We will no doubt want to watch your progress. Thank
you for coming today.