Supplementary evidence from Professor
Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive, Medical Research Council
RESPONSE TO THE SUBMISSION OF DR STEVE GAMBLIN
(PUBLISHED AS APPENDIX 87)
Professor Blakemore's comments are shown in italics
From Steve GamblinNIMR
Response to Select Committee Questions
CB: All email and other correspondence, whether
or not marked Confidential, has now been sent to the S&T Committee.
I urge the Committee to look at all of it, not only selected,
CB: The "handing over to consultants"
was a decision supported by the entire Task Force, including Dr
Gamblin, at its first meeting. I suggested the engagement of experienced
consultants for several reasons, all of which were agreed by the
Task Force. The main reason was because the only alternative for
the collection of material, the conduct of consultation and the
management of meetings was MRC Head Office staff, of whom the
staff at NIMR claimed to be deeply suspicious. As in Dr Lovell-Badge's
submission, there is reference to my "agenda". I had
none, and made that quite clear to the Task Force at the start
of its business. Indeed, I asked all the members to set aside
any initial prejudices that they might have had about the future
of NIMR and to enter the discussion with an open mind. Some were
better at doing this than others. When Dr Gamblin was asked simply
to introduce himself at the first meeting of the Task Force, he
proceeded to talk for 20 minutes about the benefits of NIMR remaining
at Mill Hill. You will notice that Dr Lovell-Badge acknowledges
that I showed no sign of having formed an opinion until after
the third meeting: I was probably the last person on the Task
Force to express any specific view. The criticisms of the process
that Dr Gamblin now articulates as if they were voiced thoughout
the process did not emerge until after all the meetings of the
Task Force were over. I hope that the S&T Committee will discover
for themselves the views of the "international Task Force
CB: The role of the Task Force was not to
duplicate that of the last QQR but to conduct a strategic review
its future on a 20-50 year time-scale, specifically in the context
of the impending retirement of the Director.
CB: There was a wide consultation of leaders
of research institutes and HEIs around the world. If Dr Gamblin
thought that the evidence considered by the Task Force was inadequate,
why did he not raise this during the meetings of the Task Force?
CB: It is curious that the views of Professor
Tomlinson are quoted as if to support the view that NIMR on the
Mill Hill site can quite adequately support collaboration with
clinicians when Professor Tomlinson himself has been absolutely
consistent in his view that co-location with a hospital and HEI
is the only acceptable future for the institute. I urge the S&T
Committee to read Professor Tomlinson's submission and to ask
CB: It is incorrect to say that 4/7 "thought
that the Mill Hill site was a potential long-term option"
during the fifth meeting. Indeed, the discussion was very much
influenced by a remark from one member of the Task Force, remembered
distinctly by David Smith and all the consultants, as well as
by me and other member present, namely "Mill Hill is not
an option in the long run." That remark was acknowledged
by all and was immediately followed by the drafting of the "Conclusions"
document and its approval by all present, including Dr Gamblin.
Everyone, including Robin and Steve, agreed that the Conclusion
document should record the preference for a move. But, a couple
of days after the meeting, despite the fact that the Conclusions
had already been agreed by them, Robin and Steve raised the question
of the Mill Hill site. There was extensive discussion by email
and during telephone conference calls and the wording of one section
of the Conclusions was changed to record the fact that a move
would occur only if the opportunities for partnership with a university
were more attractive than would be possible between a university
and NIMR remaining at Mill Hill. A week after the fifth meeting,
when everyone else had agreed to the final form of words, Robin,
for the first time, attempted to have the document changed further
to record the Mill Hill site as an equal third option. It was
at this stage that I offered him the opportunity to record his
disagreement with the Conclusions, which would than have become
a majority rather than a unanimous report. He agreed to sign up
to the Conclusions as agreed to everyone else. During the following
discussion, leading up to the completion of the final report,
the issue of the Mill Hill site became dominant, and the irreconcilable
differences of opinion, were recorded in the final report. Robin
and Steve supported Mill Hill as an equal third option, Paul and
Richard proposed that the Mill Hill site might be viewed as a
"fall-back", while both continuing to state their own
preference for a move to central London, and the remaining five
members thought that it would be preferable to explore first the
two preferred optionsUCL and KCL.
CB: The version of the Conclusions that I
gave to Sir Keith O'Nions and Sir Anthony Cleaver had been approved
unanimously be everyone present at the fifth meeting on the preceding
day, including Dr Gamblin. At that stage no-one expected that
this document would change, and I was asked to communicate its
contents to all those who had given presentations to the Task
Force on behalf of the London HEIs and Mill Hill. The record of
emails shows how unexpected it was that there was any subsequent
discussion on wording. In fact, the further changes were minor
and I supplied Sir Keith and Sir Anthony with revised versions
of the report as soon as it was finally agreed.
CB: This is such an unfair representation
of what actually happened! As the email exchanges clearly show,
the demand for a whole raft of changes was submitted past a deadline
agreed by everyone (including Steve and Robin) who participated
in the last telephone conference call, when only three other Task
Force members were in contact (myself, Kay Davies and Dick Denton).
They all objected immediately to the substantive changes proposed.
I did the fairest thing that I possibly could to represent Robin
and Steve's views, without totally disenfranchising the rest of
the Task Force. I asked Robin and Steve to prepare their own statement,
which was circulated to the MRC Council, alongside the report
that had been agreed by everyone else. What else could I have
done in the circumstances?
CB: This briefing paper simply provided the
background for the full report of the Task Force, which was "the
primary information given to the MRC Council", together with
the letter from Drs Gamblin and Lovell-Badge. The report described
fully the conditionality of the recommendation and the hope that
a start towards the new vision could be made on the Mill Hill
CB: I know nothing of this allegation, and
I suggest that David Smith, Secretary to the Task Force, or Heather
Bell of McKinsey is asked about it. What I do know is that some
individuals who were interviewed did not wish their views to be
disclosed to the Task Force.
CB: The decision to concentrate on London
for the future location of the Institute was indeed a strong recognition
by the Task Force of the likely break-up of research groups from
NIMR if there were to be a longer-distance move. If I understand
the final sentence correctly, Dr Gamblin is referring to the long
list of changes suggested changes in the final report of the Task
Force that he and Dr Lovell-Badge submitted after the deadline
for minor corrections, and in contradiction of the agreement of
the approval of the Task Force at the telephone conference call
two days before. As documented in the series of emails, this was
opposed by the three other members of the Task Force who were
in contact at that time.
CB: Of course it was important to take account
of the views of present staff at Mill Hill (and the restriction
of considerations of location to London was an indication of this).
However, it must be said that the function of this strategic review
is to decide how to deploy the huge public investment in NIMR
to the best advantage of medical research as a whole in this country.
It is not simply to provide the current staff with their preferred
outcome. The review is considering a 20-50 year timescale, a time
when most of the current staff will no longer be at NIMR.
CB: To say that "the process was not
driven by financial considerations" but that "only a
certain sort of recommendation would be acceptable on financial
grounds" is a parody of the way in which the Task Force worked.
As explained above, we did indeed start with a broad philosophical
discussion unconstrained by financial considerations. But it was
always clear that we would have to consider the financial implications
and we began to do this from our third meeting. However, it was
also clear that the Task Force would not have detailed business
cases and indeed that it was not part of its remit to make a full
analysis of such cases. That will be for the Council to do on
the basis of evidence presented by KCL and UCL.