Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Supplementary evidence from the Medical Research Council


1.  When did discussions begin with the Minister for Science and Innovation about the process by which decisions are to be taken and with what result?

  It is for MRC to determine how to progress aspects of its corporate strategic planning. The likely need for future capital investment for NIMR has been on MRC's forward planning agenda since 1999. OST has been party to the various deliberations through their attendance at Council meetings at senior level since that time. There has also been discussion of our plans at RCUK, again involving senior OST officials, in the context of the large facilities fund. We have provided briefing for Ministers but we have not sought Ministerial views either during the work of the Task Force or prior to the Council decision in October.

2.  What precisely were the agreed respective roles in chairing meetings and producing draft reports of the Chairman of the Task Force and of the consultants employed by the MRC to facilitate its work (Q10)?

  The Task Force agreed at its first meeting that consultants should facilitate their discussions and progress some of the consultation with stakeholders and the research on other national and international funding models in medical research. In practice the work was shared between the chair, the secretariat and the consultants who worked interchangeably on occasions—this was essential in progressing the volume of business and in making optimal use of members' time.

3.  If the Council decides that neither of the two proposed options meets the necessary requirements, will the enhanced base case prepared by Mill Hill be considered as one of "all the other options" (Qq37-41)?

  All options would be reconsidered if neither of the two current proposed options can be fully developed to meet the Council's overall vision.

4.  What consideration was given to the option of redevelopment of the Mill Hill site prior to or during the Task Force's work (Qq 41-2; Q62)?

  A strategic approach to possible future development needs at Mill Hill has been part of our forward planning since before the last quinquennial review (see question 6).

5.   What other means of increasing the priority given by MRC to translational research were considered before the move of the NIMR was proposed by the FIS?

  The increasing emphasis on translational approaches, in MRC as in most medical research funding agencies in the UK and around the world, gathered momentum in 2002-03 and was articulated in the MRC 10-year Vision published in 2003 following stakeholder consultation. The strategy has had and will continue to have implications across the MRC portfolio, not just at NIMR.

6.  What consideration was given during the 2000 Quinquennial Review of the NIMR to strategic questions about the strategic direction of the institute and the need for it to remain at its present site (Q104)? For what reasons were these questions addressed by the FIS in advance of the 2005 Quinquennial Review of the NIMR?

  The need to distinguish the normal QQR of scientific achievement and future plans from a strategic review of the future of NIMR after his retirement was discussed with Sir John Skehel in 1999. This strategic review needed to be conducted well in advance of his retirement in 2006. The 2000 Quinquennial Review of NIMR focused mainly on overall research strategy and quality and on resource needs for the coming five years. The Review made some observations on future direction and the need for forward planning to identify Sir John Skehel's successor by 2006.

  The need for a strategic review of future capital investment at NIMR has already been explained in our previous submission.

7.  What discussions were held by the Chief Executive with OST/Treasury about the potential availability of funding for the NIMR with a new focus, including the proceeds of any sale of the Mill Hill site; and what account of such discussions was taken by the Task Force in its work?

  As indicated in reply to question 1, there is regular discussion with OST at senior levels, in a variety of fora, in respect of all major capital plans in MRC as in other councils. There has been no formal discussion with OST or Treasury regarding handling of possible proceeds from any sale of the site. The Task Force simply noted that "disposal of the Mill Hill site could significantly reduce the costs to MRC" of co-locating the renewed NIMR.

8.  To what extent was the need to attract serious interest from potential hosts a factor in the decision not to keep Mill Hill as an active third option?

  The decision was based on the assessment of the majority of the Task Force, and shared by the Council, that the cultural shift required for the translational aspects of the mission of the new institute would best be achieved through physical proximity to a teaching hospital.

9.  Did the Task Force give full consideration to the financial implications of the two central London bids before reaching its conclusions? Was the Task Force fully aware during its discussions of any financial constraints surrounding the relocation of the NIMR?

  Like most research funders, MRC cannot fund all the high quality research proposals we receive. That applies equally to extra-mural and to intra-mural research. The Task Force—like all MRC advisory groups —would have been well aware of the need for rigorous strategic direction and prioritisation across the MRC portfolio, not just at NIMR. The Task Force report makes clear that at the time of their report it was not feasible to give a definitive view of the cost to MRC of proposals for renewal of NIMR. Their initial financial analysis is published in their report (section 6).

10.  How did the FIS seek to engage with the NIMR on the development of its proposal to relocate it at Addenbrooke's?

  FIS developed their draft principles for future funding of medical research ("the FIS principles"—see previous submission) at their first meeting in November 2002. Each of the Directors of the four FIS sites was invited to comment on these and to discuss with the FIS committee the implications for future research strategies and positioning in their units/institutes. In the case of NIMR, the FIS committee had a meeting with the local staff side as well as with the director before developing the detailed propositions which were published for consultation in April 2003.

  Each of the four directors was sent an advance copy of the FIS report just prior to publication. The report included a set of propositions for each of the four sites. These were to be the subject of broad consultation including with staff. In the case of NIMR, it was agreed with the director that the Council Chair, the previous CEO and other senior MRC officials would visit NIMR on the following day to explain the overall vision, to set out the specific FIS propositions and to elicit the initial views of senior scientific staff. In the event, the director chose to circulate the report to all staff at NIMR in advance of the meeting. Heads of Divisions walked out of this meeting without any engagement. Subsequent engagement with staff, including some meetings between NIMR scientists and FIS members, demonstrated that resistance to the FIS propositions was implacable and led to the decision to take a different approach to engaging NIMR staff in discussions in the Task Force.

11.  What consideration was given by the Task Force to the ability of the proposed sites to facilitate all the existing activities of the NIMR and to allow scope for future expansion?

  The Task Force discussions and the current more detailed options appraisal are based on no reduction in the volume of science currently supported at NIMR.

December 2004

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