Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Supplementary memorandum from the National Institute for Medical Research


  Q6.  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 NIMR?

  The 2000 Quinquennial Review of NIMR followed scientific reviews of each of the 18 research Divisions. It considered proposals for the future strategy of the Institute based on the results of these Divisional reviews. It was informed by a review of Institute management and resources, a review of Technology Transfer through commercial interactions, a review of the Institute's postgraduate and postdoctoral training programmes and of its communication of science to the public.

  As a result, one new Group Head and four new Heads of Divisions were appointed and plans accepted for recruitment of leaders in Physical Biochemistry and Protein and Molecular Structure; increases of £400,000 in annual recurrent expenses and £660,000 in the annual capital equipment allowance were awarded, and a laboratory refurbishment programme for the new Heads of Divisions and a major refurbishment of the animal facilities were initiated at a total cost of £3.9 million.

  These strong indications of long-term support were the result of the strategic considerations described above. There was no discussion of alternative sites with me or other Institute staff and since none was recorded in the Council minute sent to me I assume there was none at that time.

  MRC states that the need for an additional strategic review was discussed with me in 1999. To my knowledge the only discussions I had on the 2000 Quinquennial Review were witnessed by the NIMR Assistant Director. Neither he nor I can recollect a discussion on the need for an additional strategic review and we are both unaware of any MRC documentation to this effect from that time. MRC may have had "the likely need for future capital investment for NIMR (on its) forward planning agenda since 1999" but they never mentioned it to me.

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

    In his reply to Question 3, Sir Anthony Cleaver gave the reason that "the Director would be retiring in 2006 and it is normal policy that whenever the Director of an Institute or Unit retires, one reviews the future plans for it." He chooses to use the words "Unit Director" and "Institute Director" interchangeably. In practice they are not. In Units, MRC most frequently supports Directors in the single disciplines of their expertise. When a Unit Director retires or resigns the Units are often closed. NIMR by comparison is multi-disciplinary with 18 Divisions each with a leader equivalent to a Unit Director. So, although NIMR has a single Director, in my case a virologist, it is quite inappropriate to reconsider on my retirement the futures of these senior scientists who have committed their careers to MRC, as if their scientific leader was retiring. If this was "normal practice" MRC would have difficulty recruiting to its institutes any senior scientist younger than the Institute Director.

  In his reply to Question 5, Sir Anthony says, "In the case of NIMR, the concern was that the building, according to the advice that we received, was not capable in the long-term of meeting the needs of the Institute."

  I addressed this issue in point 3 of my letter to you of 15 December 2004. To summarize "during the last 12 months (2003-04) the NIMR site has been surveyed for MRC by Powis Hughes, Ove Arup and NIFES. There were no adverse comments from the consultants regarding the Institute building structure but there were comments on its increasing life expectancy through investment . . . "It is not clear on whose advice Sir Anthony formed his concerns for the long-term capability of our current building to meet the needs of the Institute. The opposite conclusion was reached by independent structural engineers commissioned by NIMR, whose report I submitted to him in October 2002.

  In his reply to Question 4, Sir Anthony states "Then in 2002 OST issued a requirement for a long-term plan which was to deal with any major capital investment. Therefore we decided that what we needed to do was look at all the major sites where conceivably there would be significant capital investment over the next ten years, or so."

  This account fails to mention the initial proposal for a review presented to me in August 2002 (Attachment 1), (not printed) entitled Planning for the Future of the MRC National Institute for Medical Research that I discussed with Sir Anthony, Sir George Radda and Nick Winterton on 19 September 2002. At this time also they presented their views on the date of my retirement and the poor state of the Institute building as the reasons for a review and as here, I indicated the inadequacy of these arguments. Subsequently, on 25 September 2002 I wrote to Sir Anthony (Attachment 2), (not printed) about my misgivings. In reply (Attachment 3a), (not printed), Sir Anthony indicated that MRC "had decided on a different approach, I enclose a copy of the revised draft Council paper." This paper was entitled Planning a Forward Investment Strategy for MRC Support and now addressed as well as NIMR the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge and the Harwell Campus/University of Oxford (Attachment 3b), (not printed). Plans for major investments at both Oxford and Cambridge sites had already been made

  The reason for detailing these events is that the shifting rationale for carrying out another review of the Institute so soon after its 2000 quinquennial review certainly influenced how the Institute received the FIS proposals. I attach here the summary of the Heads of Divisions' Committee response to the FIS proposals (Attachment 4), (not printed).

  To complement the responses of MRC and NIMR to NIM 46B (Q10) I also attach the executive summary of an independent analysis, commissioned by MRC, of the community's response to the FIS consultation exercise (Attachment 5), (not printed). This analysis demonstrated the breadth of evidence that the FIS process was improperly conducted, a view also expressed to NIMR by Lord Sainsbury. It also made it clear that the recommendations of the FIS subcommittee for NIMR were not supported by NIMR staff or the wider community.

December 2004

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