Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Annex 2


Comments are in italics.


  Dr Lovell-Badge's emails of 22 and 26 July are included in the complete sequence of messages that I have supplied to the Committee. They include various criticisms and accusations, each of which I should be more than willing to respond to individually. These messages arrived shortly after the attempt by Drs Gamblin and Lovell-Badge to introduce a large number of changes, some of them substantive, into the final Report of the Task Force, after the deadline for the communication of minor corrections, and just two days after a telephone conference call, attended by most members of the Task Force, including Robin and Steve, which had approved the precise wording of the Executive Summary and the entire text of the Report. Please note that the only two other members of the Task Force who were in email contact when Steve and Robin's changes were received (Kay Davies and Dick Denton) both wrote immediately to object to these changes. How could we possibly incorporate these changes with no approval from any other member of the Task Force? What I did was to ask David Smith to make all the changes that he could, without changing the thrust of the document and then to ask Steve and Robin to write a letter to the Council, describing their position. This letter was presented to the Council, alongside the Report, and Professor Flavell was invited to attend the Council meeting specifically to represent the views of Steve and Robin. What more could I have done without disenfranchising all the other members of the Task Force?

  The decision to exclude Robin's two messages from the correspondence on the MRC website was not mine but that of David Smith, secretary to the Task Force. He wrote to me, as well as to Robin to explain his decision. I presume that he took legal advice before making this decision. In any case, all the messages have now been submitted to the S&T Committee.


  Dr Lovell-Badge writes as if he and the "international colleagues" had no influence on the work of the Task Force. They were, of course, equals in the process to all other members of the Task Force. Robin writes as if he were excluded from the work of the Task Force by the fact is that he was not only a member of the Task Force but he was also a member (with Paul Nurse, Dick Denton and myself) of the sub-committee that drafted the final report. The record of communication between members of the Task Force shows that he contributed more to the discussion that most of the other members of the Task Force.


  Despite what Dr Lovell-Badge now writes, consensus was reached on the important issue of the preference for the institute to move into co-location with a London HEI and hospital. This is most clearly expressed in the press release following the crucial fifth meeting of the Task Force: "An international Task Force, set up to advise on options for the future of the MRC National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), has recommended that, if an appropriate partnership arrangement can be negotiated, the institute should move to a central London location in association with a leading university and hospital, in order to carry out more patient-based research." Robin not only individually approved this press release, but contributed the following quote for it: "This has been a difficult period for staff at the institute and I am sure that they will appreciate these positive recommendations, which would secure the institute's future."

  The only reason why "the final TF report was submitted to Council without several members of the TF having even seen information that was only forthcoming in the last few days before its completion" is that this information was submitted after the deadline for minor changes. The only other members of the Task Force in contact at the time refused to accept the substantive changes.


4.  Question 1.

  Robin implicitly criticises Dr Elias Zerhouni, Director of NIH, for being a clinician, but he fails to mention that the doubling of the NIH budget was gained on the basis of promises of health delivery not on promises of more basic research. Of course basic research is still important, and MRC has no intention of reducing its investment in it. But if MRC gains substantial new funds in this and forthcoming Spending Reviews, that new money will also have been gained on the back of promises of delivery, and at least part of it will be used to push forward translational and clinical research. I am confused by Robin's response, given the fact that he, like everyone on the Task Force, embraced the proposal that mission of the renewed NIMR should be more translational. And Robin also supported the proposal that co-location with clinicians would help to implement this mission. The statement is the first indication that Robin has given that he is opposed to the vision of increased emphasis on translation and to the preference for a move into co-location with a hospital and HEI.


  No-one's input to the consultation was "ignored". The transcriptions of interviews, letters and the results of the web-based consultations were all discussed by the Task Force.

  6.  Question 2.

  I simply don't understand why Robin is raising these arguments now. At the meetings of the Task Force he offered no objection whatever to the view, accepted by all, that the future mission of NIMR should be more translational. These are entirely new arguments, presented four months after the Task Force completed its report.

  7.  Question 3.

  Again, it is hard to believe that Robin is raising such arguments at this stage. The advantages of co-location are central to the recommendations of the Task Force, and no objection was ever raised to this argument, even in the last-minute changes proposed by Steve and Robin. Again, I draw your attention to the press release after the fifth meeting: "An international Task Force, set up to advise on options for the future of the MRC National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), has recommended that, if an appropriate partnership arrangement can be negotiated, the institute should move to a central London location in association with a leading university and hospital, in order to carry out more patient-based research."

  8.  Question 5.

  Robin states that for me to chair the Task Force was an "obvious conflict" but doesn't mention that his own and Steve Gamblin's membership was at least equally conflicted, given the difficult if not impossible dual role of participating as individuals in the Task Force's discussions and yet being compelled to represent the opinions of Sir John Skehel and all the staff of NIMR.


  It is interesting that Robin criticises the fact that Steve Tomlinson and Alan Bernstein (who attended and contributed to several meetings by video and telephone input) expressed their initial views in advance. Robin and Steve Gamblin also made their opinion—that the institute should be kept at Mill Hill—patently clear from the start. But unlike Steve Tomlinson and Alan Bernstein, who were willing to shift from their stated positions in the interest of compromise, Steve and Robin now reveal their unwillingness to give an inch.


  It is outrageous that Robin should now complain about "delays" in the release of summaries of meetings. Inspection of the record of emails reveals that these delays were invariably produced by objections from him and Steve Gamblin to wording that had been agreed by all the other members of the Task Force. As far as I know, the only email message marked Non-Confidential that was not displayed "on the MRC website has been described above, with the reasons for its exclusion by David Smith. The conversation with the" two young NIMR postdoctoral researchers", to which Robin refers, followed a telephone conference call in which I was called "facile" by Steve Gamblin. I did indeed cancel a proposed visit to NIMR because of this because I was unwilling to expose myself to further humiliation. I was well aware of the way in which heads of division at NIMR had walked out of a meeting with Sir Anthony Cleaver and George Radda. The only letter that I sent "on behalf of the Task Force" was that of 19 July to Guy Dodson of NIMR (see the attached sequence of correspondence). Robin knows that I was compelled to reply to that letter under instruction from the OST, because Lord Sainsbury wanted to see my reply for a meeting with Sir John Skehel and Andrew Dismore the next day. In that letter I wrote: "Thanks for your letter of 16 July to which I'm sure you and your colleagues would like a rapid reply. I haven't been able to consult all the other members of the Task Force but I'll try to represent their collective views. I've already forwarded your letter to them; I'll send them copies of this reply and I'll let you know if there are objections to what I've written." I copied the letter immediately to the entire Task Force and there were no objections at the time. It is disingenuous of Robin to say that I informed "KCL and UCL that it would be a straight fight between the two of them against the spirit of our agreement at the meeting". The Conclusions of the fifth meeting were unanimously agreed at that meeting and I was specifically instructed by the Task Force to communicate the document to KCL and UCL. I simply read out the appropriate sections of the Conclusions over the telephone. Robin was present at that meeting and he agreed that I should telephone KCL and UCL! Moreover I made it absolutely clear to KCL and UCL that any offer would have to be better than could be achieved at Mill Hill for it to be acceptable.

  11.  Question 7.

  At the request of the Task Force, at its third meeting, all the London Colleges were invited to present proposals for a single-site institute. The proposal for a "federated", split-site institute came from Imperial College and UCL, in response to that request. Robin and Steve Gamblin tried very hard to have it ruled out before the Task Force could even consider it, but I thought that it would have been insulting to IC and UC for the Task Force not even to have considered it. They did so, at their fourth meeting, and rejected it. This seems to me to have been an entirely fair and democratic process.


  The Task Force had indeed been stood down.

  13.  Questions 8-10.

  For its first two meetings, the Task Force conducted a broad discussion about principles, dependent only on scientific arguments rather than financial constraints. This led to the unanimous conclusion (now apparently abandoned by Robin) that the institute should be renewed with its future mission orientated more towards translation, with a greater proportion of clinician scientists on the staff. Subsequent discussion was coloured by financial considerations. There is confusion between capital costs (for which an approach to government is indeed possible) and recurrent costs in Robin's statement. There was general agreement that the funding envelope for recurrent costs could not increase, given the fact that only 60% of alpha-A grant applications were, and still are, being funded. But there was also the hope that the fraction of income from other sources could be raised from its present level of 9% (low compared with most MRC units and institutes). Also, co-location would provide additional support for the institute from members of the host university.


  The Task Force concluded unanimously at its fifth meeting, with Robin present, that "moving NIMR to central London in partnership with a leading university and hospital—on a suitable site, with appropriate governance and financial arrangements—would strengthen the NIMR's ability to deliver this renewed vision" (ie a multidisciplinary institute with a stronger focus on translational research). This is incompatible with Robin's statement above, yet he signed up to the Conclusions of the fifth meeting and provided a quotation for the related media release.

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