Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Departments of Trade and Industry and Health


  1.  The Departments of Trade and Industry and Health welcome this inquiry. This paper sets out the involvement of OST and DH in the MRC's review of the future of NIMR.

  2.  It is the responsibility of the MRC, guided by its Boards and other structures, to decide what medical science it should fund to deliver its Charter objectives and its mission. OST's input focuses on monitoring MRC's performance in relation to agreed objectives, ensuring its activities are consistent with government policies and aims as set out for example in:

    —  "The Quinquennial review of the Grant Awarding Research Councils" published in November 2001 (weblink:;

    —  "The Science Budget 2003-04 to 2005-06" published in November 2002 (weblink;; and

    —  the "Science and innovation investment framework 2004-2014" published in July this year. (See

  3.  In relation to MRC's review of NIMR particular attention has been given to ensuring that the process MRC follows is clear, transparent and has involved staff and other stakeholders in appropriate ways. OST believes that MRC's review of NIMR is consistent with its remit and with these requirements.

  4.  The science at NIMR has consistently been highly rated. It makes an important contribution to the excellence of the UK biomedical base. OST is therefore pleased that MRC is looking for the best way to sustain and build on this as it considers the future of NIMR in the academic and health care environments of the future.

  5.  In that context, OST welcomes the MRC's intentions to strengthen translational research in the UK to improve still further the benefits of our excellence basic research for the benefits of patients and the economy. How best to achieve this goal is a matter for MRC to decide in light of all the options and competing priorities.


  6.  A senior OST official sits as observer on the Governing Council of each of the Research Councils to ensure its activities are consistent with government policies as described in paragraph 2 above.

  7.  Senior Health Department officials (including the Director of Research and Development at the Department of Health) also sit on MRC's Council to ensure that their views and priorities are considered by the Council during its deliberations.


  8.  The first Quinquennial Review of the Research Councils took place in 2001. This concluded that the Research Council system was working well and made a number of recommendations on how to optimise this.

  9.  This Quinquennial Review considered the role of institutes and the Councils review of these. It indicated that Councils should, as part of their review, consider strategic options for the future of institutes and encouraged collocation of institutes with universities. It suggested that reviews should question the need for Institutes, and consider alternative ways of meeting these needs, including changes of ownership or management.


  10.  The MRC has a responsibility to keep under review all the scientific work it funds within its establishments and directly-supported units. It undertakes to do this in a fair and open manner and to ensure that the same standards of objectivity are applied to all scientific reviews.

  11.  In line with the Quinquennial Review, MRC routinely reviews its institutes and units on a five yearly cycle. The review includes an evaluation of the remit and value-four-money of scientific work undertaken by the institute/unit and the use of resources in its research establishments. MRC Council is advised on whether direct support remains appropriate, on the remit of proposals for future work, and whether the allocation of resources is cost-effective and consistent with its overall research priorities and portfolio.

  12.  The current review of NIMR is appropriate in that it is normal practice to consider ongoing need and overall investment in a unit/Institute at a strategic points such as when the tenure of the director is due to expire. In the case of NIMR, the need for substantial forthcoming capital investment to underpin the long-term future of the Institute also made a strategic review timely.


  13.  In many areas of science, UK researchers need access to large scale facilities of increasing cost and complexity. This is essential for them to stay internationally competitive. The Government and the Research Councils produced the UK's first Large Scale Facilities Strategic Road Map in 2001, and revised it in 2003. This Road Map sets out a 15-year forward look at the most important large facilities which UK scientists wish to see completed. These facilities are both national and international, across the whole range of scientific disciplines. The Road Map has enabled significant discussions with international partners and within RCUK on the prioritisation of major facilities.

  14.  The Government has set aside a Large Facilities Capital Fund, to help Research Councils meet the irregular capital demands associated with construction of major facilities such as the redevelopment of the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright, the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge and a replacement marine research vessel.

  15.  Demand always exceeds available funds and priorities need to be agreed across all areas of the science base. It will be for the MRC to make the case for inclusion of NIMR in the Road Map, and for any funding from the Large Facilities Capital Fund. Funding from the Large Facilities Capital Fund is generally conditional upon a council itself contributing a significant proportions of the overall capital funds required (from their own budget and/or through agreement with a third party). When the MRC has decided its preferred way forward for NIMR, MRC and OST will need to discuss how any major capital funding from the science budget should be addressed within the Roadmap process.


  16.  As an NDBP, the location of MRC's Head Office was considered as part of the Lyons review. In addition to its Head Office MRC, seven of its 32 research institutes and units are located in London. The review concluded that the siting of these was a matter for the Council to consider in the light of its scientific remit and following the process set out in the Quinquennial Review and that they should not therefore be included in the Lyons Review of MRC.


  17.  The UK Health Departments and the MRC have a common interest in promoting research into all areas of medical and related science with the aims of improving the health and quality of life of the UK public and contributing to the wealth of the nation.

  18.  Since 1981, formal agreements have provided the basis for a partnership between these organisations. The current Partnership Agreement states that MRC will take into account, before reaching any funding decision, the needs, priorities and realities of the NHS when it is considering funding R&D which will have immediate or future cost implications for the NHS and that it will balance these against all other relevant criteria. It also states that the Health Departments will seek to ensure that the NHS meets legitimate service support and treatment costs associated with MRC-funded research.

  20.  The UK Clinical Research Collaboration was established in April 2004 and brings together the major stakeholders in clinical research in the UK including the MRC and the UK Health Departments. It aims to harness the UK's strengths in biomedical research to improve the nation's health and increase the nation's wealth. The UKCRC is considering the areas necessary to deliver this aim, including translational research. MRC's consideration of the future of NIMR was already well advanced when UKCRC held its first meeting, but all UKCRC partners will clearly need to take account of UKCRC's emerging views and plans as they consider their future support for clinical and translational research across the country.

  21.  Most recently, the MRC and the UK Health Departments have formed a Joint MRC/DH Health Research Delivery Group to co-ordinate their work in areas of common interest including developing agreed positions on research issues to be discussed and developed into proposals at UKCRC. This group will play an important part in discussing and agreeing a common way forward on MRC and DH support for translational and clinical research.

23 November 2004

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