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6 July 2006 : Column 1091

IGER has an annual budget of about £18 million, and 38 per cent. of its funding currently comes from the council, with 40 per cent. derived from external contract income. The council has demonstrated its continued commitment by awarding the institute a 3 per cent. increase in core funding in 2006-07, to £5.3 million—not a reduction, an increase.

The increased funding provided by the research council contrasts with the declining trend in income from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Although the Department is a major investor in research at the institute, income received for contract research from the Department declined from approximately £6.4 million in 2004-05 to £5.8 million in 2005-06. IGER expects to receive only some £5.5 million during 2006-07. That was confirmed on 6 June in a written reply from DEFRA in the Official Report, column 116W. That decline in contract income reflects DEFRA’s refocusing of its research needs in line with its Ministers’ strategic priorities. It is in the process of a well-publicised shift in science programmes towards environmental objectives, and in particular climate change and energy. That is affecting all DEFRA’s land-based science contractors, not just the institute.

The institute is, and will continue to be, a very important research partner for DEFRA. The institute’s facilities and expertise provide a strategic scientific resource for the Department in understanding the environmental footprint of agriculture, in particular in relation to livestock and grassland management. The institute is contributing to all DEFRA’s sustainable farming and food cross-cutting research programmes.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council will make decisions on the future sustainability and the capacities required in its sponsored institutes, including IGER, in the light of available resources, and is discussing funding over the next few years with DEFRA. The institute is in close discussion with the Department over how it can meet the Department’s changing research needs. The reason for that discussion is to see whether IGER can take on a new role in the years to come.

Mark Williams: From the outset, I apologise for my overt nationalism. My nationalist colleagues who are usually on the Benches behind me are not here. I appreciate what the Minister said about the UK-wide, global attitudes to research and access to that research. Will the Minister clarify things more in relation to the RIPSS? I appreciate that there has been a lot of misinformation about the issue—in talking about cutbacks rather than the effects of renegotiating or reconfiguring contracts. Will the Minister elaborate on his understanding of the Government’s responsibility to research institutes? Our figures are slightly at odds. He mentioned 38 per cent. My figure was somewhat larger. But 38 per cent. is still a huge chunk of any
6 July 2006 : Column 1092
institute’s income. What are the Government’s responsibilities, as part of the RIPSS programme, to such institutes?

Mr. McCartney: I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets a detailed written reply. The responsibility is well met in the following sense. There has been a huge and sustained increase in income from two sources. First, there is direct income in terms of the overall increase in the research and development budget across the piece. Alongside that, according to the priorities of the various Departments—whether it is DEFRA, the Department of Health or the Department of Trade and Industry—there has been a significant increase in direct funding in terms of project work.

Even with those two consistent facts, there are occasions when priorities and needs change. If that did not happen, we could waste resources on research that did not meet our objectives or the long-term needs of our country. Change is inevitable in many ways. The issue is, in making those changes—difficult as they sometimes are—are we prepared to continue relationships with institutes such as IGER? The answer is yes. Are we prepared to work with them to find a way of utilising their skill base? The answer is yes. Are we prepared to work with them to find other ways of assisting the transition? The answer is yes.

I understand the pressures of somebody losing a job, but the hon. Gentleman ought not to be so pessimistic as to write off the institute on the basis that there is a need for transition and change because the priorities have changed. I hope that he will recognise that what I am saying—difficult though some of it is—is that there is a proactive and positive approach from my colleagues in DEFRA. There is also a proactive approach in relation to the overall increase in budgets and research. Additional funding is already being received from the research council. The institute is not being cast aside or cast off on its own. It is going through a period of transition, as other institutes will inevitably do, and are doing, because of changes in the priorities that they have to meet. That is a challenge that has to be met. It was met 20 years ago and I am sure that it will be met this time too.

The institute needs to continue to develop its business plans. I understand that the research council has developed a strategy for sustainable agriculture and land use and that the research conducted by the institute is in line with those goals. I am pleased to note that the collaboration with higher education institutes, including the university of Wales, Aberystwyth—I think that the hon. Gentleman also mentioned Bangor—is a critical element of that strategy. I also—

The motion having been made at five minutes past Six o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-five minutes to Seven o'clock.

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