Memorandum submitted by the Chairman,
Humber Growers Ltd (D 32)
The recent plans announced by HRI in response
to the need to cut costs have caused a great deal of controversy
within the horticultural industry. At first, this was probably
a knee-jerk reaction to the plans, exaggerated by the fact that
no-one within the industry, and indeed not even the HRI station
advisory boards, had been consulted.
As the dust settles we hopefully take a more
objective view, but that still leaves some very real concerns.
Nobody will deny that HRI needs to make savingsin
today's business climate that is understandable. However those
savings are to be made, some will consider them unfair or unreasonable
and will protest.
Surely the criteria which should be used in
judging the plans are quite simply:
1. Can HRI still deliver what it was established
2. Will the proposals lead to the cost savings
required in the most efficient way?
Taking the latter point first, without being
privy to the detail of the plans(which in itself is of
concernthe plans were made public on 11 September 2000,
11 weeks ago. As Chairman of the NFU Protected Edibles Groupthe
group most affected by the closure of Stockbridge House, and as
Chairman of Humber Growers Ltd, one of the biggest HDC levy payers,
I would have thought that some more detailed information would
have come forward by now)it is very difficult to comment
upon whether or not the cost cuts are being achieved in the most
To deal with the other point, can HRI deliver
what it was set up to do? The industry concern is that it cannot.
In particular, how will it deliver the SOLA
programme? I understand that Stockbridge House is the only site
currently owned by HRI which has a "Good Laboratory Practice"
certificate, essential to carry out this work. Also, the staff
who are employed on the SOLA programme have all indicated they
are not willing to move to Wellesbourne, an essential part of
the HRI plan. Indeed, without these staff, I am sure HDC would
move the SOLA work elsewhere.
The industry needs a fully effective research
and development body, and for the Treasury, it must be cost-effective.
Stockbridge House is the one site owned by HRI
which had the glasshouse space to carry out the "muddy-boots"
side of HRI's workwithout it, the transfer of knowledge
to the Industry will be lost. In this case, HDC will not be able
to deliver its projects to its levy payersthe industry,
so what becomes of HDC? If it has failed its paymasters, then
one can assume that in the next quinquennial review, in 2004,
it will be voted out. That will be the death of the type of research
needed by the industry.
For our industry, it is essential that HRI and
HDC are successful, but decisions made by HRI seem to be more
to do with HRI survival, than with industry survival. They were
proposing a "scorched earth" policy for Stockbridge
House, the only benefit of which would be protection for HRI.
There are now moves afoot to set up Stockbridge
House as the Stockbridge Technology Centre, run and funded by
the industry itself. The aim would be to carry on much of the
work currently being done at Stockbridge House, and to provide
a sound base for development and technology transfer. This should
be music to the ears of the Treasurythe industry saying,
okay, if you won't back it financially, we will.
The only real stumbling block to the success
of this initiative is the potential reaction of HRI and MAFF.
If we all work together we can make it work. If HRI see it as
a threat to themselveswhich it doesn't have to be and nor
should it bethen they could prevent it from working. Equally,
MAFF could be obstructiveit cannot work without their goodwill.
In short, I do not believe HRI can currently
deliver what it needs to deliver, but I am convinced its long
term success is essential for the future of the industry. If HRI
is prepared to work with the industryand vice versa, and
the Stockbridge Technology Centre is set upeveryone pulling
together, not in opposite directions, then we would have exactly
what we wantan effective, efficient research body, capable
of leading the industry forward.
28 November 2000