Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by The Institute of Horticulture (D 19)

  The Institute of Horticulture (IoH) is the National Professional Body for Horticulture in the UK. It also has members working in professional horticulture worldwide. It represents all facets of horticulture from the commercial production of crops to landscaping and amenity horticulture and includes in its members those concerned with research on horticultural topics.

  The IoH is pleased to provide evidence for this further review. However, we wish to point out that the timescale given for submitting evidence does not comply with the Cabinet Office Modernising Public Service Group's advice contained in its "How to conduct written consultation exercises" advice that a minimum of eight weeks be given and, if a shorter period is allowed, the document should specify why a longer response time could not have been given.

  Notwithstanding the shorter response time allowed, we wish to comment as follows:

  If any industry is to flourish it needs to be supported by an effective research organisation. This is especially true of UK horticulture that relies on its ability to rapidly take up new opportunities as a means of competing with imported produce. HRI has a well-deserved international reputation earned over many years by the efforts and successes of its staff. It is, therefore, well placed to support the UK industry, but it has been disadvantaged since it was formed by several factors.

  The main resource of any organisation is its staff. This is especially true of a research organisation. The morale of the remaining HRI staff has certainly been damaged by previous and the current redundancies, and uncertainty about the future. An added complication is the apparent requirement to take on the work previously done by those made redundant such as the essential work on Specific off Label Approval of pesticides. In addition, applications for any appointments necessary to take advantage of new opportunities might be prejudiced by the uncertainty.

  Over the last 10 years MAFF have supplied about £60 million to support the closure of GCRI and the transfer of staff to the excellent new facilities at Wellesbourne. But, throughout this period, MAFF have reduced their recurrent funding by 33 per cent, the BBSRC has increased funding for basic research and the industry has maintained the support it provides. Unfortunately HRI have been unable to replace the decreased support from MAFF from other sources.

  This reduction in research funding from MAFF is not peculiar to horticulture. It is repeated in all the commissioning departments. Although the funds provided by the Research Councils to support fundamental research have been increased recently, this investment cannot be exploited without further development work. The development work for horticulture has been supported in the past by MAFF. To this end, they have taken the lead in concentrating most of the UK horticultural research expertise and facilities in HRI. Although there is some expertise in the universities and SCRI, only the latter has facilities to match those at HRI and these are fully utilised. This concentration of effort is confirmed in MAFF's previous submission to the committee stating that 80 per cent of their funds for horticultural research are placed with HRI.

  In this situation, the comments in paragraph 12 of the MAFF memorandum that maintaining HRI is not a policy objective, but that they do need to maintain a body capable of doing the necessary work, are contradictory. There is no other organisation able to do the work unless other research institutes are diverted from their existing programmes, and these also are under threat from the reductions in MAFF funding.

  It is clear from the published discussions between the committee and HRI that despite MAFF's disclaimers, they have a very real control over HRI through the funds they provide and their very tight control of their commissions. These tend to ignore the very real costs of maintaining the infrastructure of a research organisation.

  The current proposals for the reorganisation of HRI resulting from the shortfall in MAFF funding will raise many problems for the management of HRI, not least from the further projected decrease of between £0.6 million to £1.1 million over the next three years. In these circumstances, MAFF's memorandum to the committee could have been more helpful. They must bring forward a Bill that will give HRI more freedom of action, resolve whether HRI owns its facilities and simplify the terms of employment of the staff. It cannot be sensible to have staff with three different types of contract and expensive facilities under-utilised.

23 November 2000

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