Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mr Malcolm Bradley (D29)

  I would like to make the following points for the committee to consider when they reconvene:

  1.  HRI is a public body (NDPB) and must behave as one. The lack of consultation with the UK horticultural industry with regard to the structural changes that are being proposed is totally unacceptable.

  2.  We are told that the closure and redundancies are necessary as part of a business plan and that the plan has been approved by MAFF. However there is concern that the plan was simply rubber stamped by MAFF without detailed scrutiny. In order to ensure that the plan is viable it should be carefully vetted by independent experts.

  3.  Whilst the concept of having research, development and technology transfer within a single organisation was good in theory it has not worked out in reality. After 10 years of trying it must be time to acknowledge this and make necessary changes. HRI has effectively done so by indicating that it intends to concentrate on science in the future as stated in the earlier presentation to the Agriculture Committee. It has confirmed this by closing Stockbridge House and reducing the development function at Efford and Kirton.

  4.  The UK horticultural industry needs new technology in order to survive and prosper. That need is increasing with the added economic pressures of the global economy coupled with other issues such as environmental protection, food safety, energy conservation, etc. Whilst scientific progress such as GM will benefit the industry in the future businesses need to survive until then and therefore more immediate technology is essential. That technology is the main product of Stockbridge House which is being abandoned by HRI.

  5.  Having invested so much money in HRI over the past 10 years it should be supported in it's attempt to establish itself as a scientific research organisation. It will have more chance to success without the distraction of development work and technology transfer. Future financial support should be based on a three year plan leading to privatisation by 2003.

  6.  The development work and technology transfer functions that are so important to the industry can be carried out by other organisations with co-ordination by the Horticultural Development Council.

  7.  When the HDC was formed it was meant to be an industry/government partnership for the funding of development work and technology transfer. The HDC levy income is approximately £3 million. This should be matched with an equivalent amount from the MAFF R&D budget to ensure that there is a dedicated combined budget for development work and technology transfer.

  8.  The announcement that HRI no longer required Stockbridge House was met with amazement by the industry. The Stockbridge team is very highly regarded and the site has excellent specialist facilities.

  9.  Following the announcement of the closure of HRI Stockbridge House plans are well advanced to enable the site to continue as an independent industry owned and funded operation known as the Stockbridge Technology Centre. This development has widespread support and will play a leading role in the development of new technology for the industry in the future. Potentially the STC could form close links with the CSL as the expertise and facilities of the two organisations are complementary.

  10.  It is important that MAFF recognise the potential value of the Stockbridge Technology Centre to the UK horticultural industry and that they ensure that all available assistance is provided to set-up and establish the new organisation.

20 November 2000

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