Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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

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