Memorandum submitted by Dr Brian Grout,
Reader in Commercial Horticulture, Writtle College (D 34)
Horticultural research is funded at the "blue
skies" level by BBSRC (notably parsimonious in the level
of funding provided) and at various commercial levels by HDC and
LINK arrangements. The middle ground of applied strategic research
is strongly funded by MAFF, and these monies have been seen by
research practitioners as an umbilicus to sustain vigour in the
UK horticultural research base, working in the national interest.
HRI currently aspires to be a commercial organisation,
but is very significantly dependent on a single source of income,
notably from MAFF. The MAFF horticulture research budget is modest
and yet £11 million (1999-2000) finds its way to HRI, together
with significant funds to support staffing costs (£4.5 million,
1999-2000) and estate management (£0.3 million annually).
The MAFF Consultation Document on Research Strategy 2001-05 proposes
not much more than £11 million to be spent from their funds
directly on horticulture in 2000-01. This suggests that unless
the status of HRI is changed rapidly, little MAFF funding will
be available to other institutions in the near future. As well
as providing running costs, this level of direct funding allows
HRI to continue to improve its physical facilities and resources,
whereas development money for smaller institutions to achieve
the same goals is increasingly difficult to obtain.
A healthy and diverse research community is
essential if innovation and excellence are to drive progress in
UK horticulture, but forward movement will be limited if key players
are too heavily dependent on international funding to survive.
The expertise associated with horticultural research institutes
and organisations, and the intellectual property generated by
them, will continue to be exported from the UK as a consequence
of these funding patterns. The young talent that is vital to innovative
research is not being drawn into horticulture due to a lack of
opportunities, resulting from inadequate funding at the strategic
level outside the MAFF-HRI axis. The withdrawal of the MAFF-funded
research studentships has taken yet another strand out of the
links that used to link the institutional research community with
the national industry.
In our view it is essential that HRI move to
a fully independent, commercial status as soon as possible, and
that the obligate support of Government funding is withdrawn.
Applied strategic research, required by MAFF, should go to tender,
in a transparent system, where HRI competes on merit. They would
still be hugely advantaged by the physical resource base taken
into privatisation, but a level of competition and diversity will
have been restored and can be allowed to develop.
28 November 2000