Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Association of University Teachers


  1.  The Association of University Teachers is the recognised trade union which represents the non-clinical scientific staff of the Medical Research Council.

  2.  The union and its members are committed to delivering top quality research at the MRC and in universities and colleges across the country.

  3.  We welcome the decision of the Science and Technology Select Committee to launch an inquiry into the MRC proposals to move the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) to one of two central London sites.

  4.  We do not believe that these proposals have merit. We believe they will have a detrimental impact on the ability of NIMR to deliver the high quality research it is rightly famed for. We believe the decision has been taken in a way that has not taken full account of all the available options. We further believe that the decision to move the Institute into central London may be unwise in the current international political climate.

  5.  We are relieved that the MRC has, at least, accepted the need for the NIMR to remain on a single site as a single entity. It is vitally important, due to the collaborative nature of the work carried out by the Institute, that physical cohesion is central to any discussion about the future of the Institute.

  6.  We also welcome the recognition of the Chief Executive Officer of the MRC, Professor Colin Blakemore, that the NIMR can play a more central and important role in aiding the development of research into clinical practice. This has been a strategy of the scientists who work at the NIMR for many years.

  7.  We also believe that Professor Blakemore shares our commitment to maintaining NIMR's basic medical research to underpin the desire to play a greater role in developing clinical practice.

  8.  However, it is at this point where the view of the staff at NIMR diverges from Professor Blakemore and his management team.


  9.  We have failed to receive an adequate explanation from anyone involved in framing the proposals of why staying at the Mill Hill site and developing it further is not included in the options.

  10.  It seems to the AUT that the Mill Hill site is the ideal location for the NIMR. It is secure. It is a single site. It does not have the same monetary land value a London city centre site would surely have. Most importantly, there is more than adequate space and infrastructure for future development, allowing Professor Blakemore to deliver his vision of a more central role for the NIMR.

  11.  We also understand that it is unlikely that the full range of research facilities available to NIMR in Mill Hill will be located at a single central site. The space available and the cost would both appear prohibitive.

  12.  This possibility has already been considered in the MRC Task Force, but appears to have been relegated to a position where it has no bearing on the decision. We see no feasible way for the necessary animal accommodation and nuclear magnetic resonance facilities to be provided on a single site in central London.

  13.  With the lack of explanation from the management of the MRC, we are left with the conclusion that the decision not to include staying at Mill Hill amongst the options is based on the value of the site on the open market. This is not the basis for making far reaching decisions about the future of medical research in the UK.


  14.  We also believe that the scientific case for the move has not been made. We believe that many of the current cadre of scientific staff at Mill Hill would not seek to move with the Institute into central London. They have chosen to work outside central London for a reason and this will inevitably lead to the break up of many high-quality and well-respected teams. This seems a strange way to ensure the future and development of the NIMR.

  15.  There has not been a level playing field in making the proposals between the Mill Hill site and the two other sites in central London. A direct comparison of the benefits of the three options is the least that the staff and the public purse can expect.

  16.  We also believe that one of the main attractions of the NIMR in working with other seats of scientific research (most notably the university sector) is its independence. Delivering the name, resources, background and some of the staff to a single university could well lead to a reduction in the amount of collaborative work the NIMR will be involved with. One university's immense gain will be a loss to UK medical scientific research.


  17.  The NIMR has Category 4 containment facilities for dangerous and potentially lethal pathogens. We are frankly astonished that with the ever present dangers of terrorist activity in the current political climate that the MRC could even propose to move such facilities into central London.

  18.  The NIMR has extensive and secure animal facilities, essential to many areas of research. Given the current level of protest by animal activists at Oxford, Cambridge and outside NIMR, it is very doubtful if new animal facilities could be built in central London without much disruption.

  19.  If a decision is made that these specialist facilities should not be in central London or Mill Hill, a matter on which we are sure that the Government, emergency services and security services would have strong views, then this could potentially lead to the break up of the NIMR.

  20.  We do not believe that this possibly lethal material would be as safe in central London as it currently is in the very secure Mill Hill site.


  21.  We believe that the MRC should explain why the current Mill Hill site is not included in the options.

  22.  We believe that the MRC should explain how they expect to replicate the current facilities at Mill Hill at a single site in central London.

  23.  We believe that the MRC should provide full details of the risk analysis of the proposed move to central London.

  24.  We believe that the MRC should seek the advice of the emergency and security services about the relative safety of the potentially lethal material currently stored at Mill Hill if this work is moved to central London.

  25.  We believe that the MRC should seek the views of current and prospective scientific partners about the possible impact on future working relationships if the NIMR is placed within a single university.

  26.  We believe the MRC should be asked to provide a full financial breakdown of the costs required to move all the facilities, staff and material at Mill Hill to an adequate and safe central London location. These figures should be made available to the Committee and the trades unions at NIMR before any decision is made.

  27.  We believe that the MRC should ensure that staying at Mill Hill should be one of the options considered and an analysis of the benefits and problems of Mill Hill and the two proposed London sites should be published prior to any decision being made.

  28.  The AUT is also concerned about the move away from support of full-time Research Institutes. This has great importance to the staff at NIMR and AUT members in general.

  29.  Considering our objections to the proposals made by the MRC working group on financial, scientific and security grounds we would welcome the opportunity to give oral evidence to the Select Committee if you feel that would be appropriate.

  30.  We thank the Committee for the opportunity to produce this evidence and we look forward to your deliberations.

22 November 2004

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 8 February 2005