Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum 16

Submission from Gardline Environmental Limited

USE OF THE PRIVATE SECTOR TO DELIVER COST EFFECTIVE MARINE SCIENCE

1.  EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  It is widely recognised that the marine environment contains huge resources of economic significance as well as supporting marine food webs that are of global significance in maintaining our climate. Many of these processes are poorly understood but are likely to dominate political and economic policy in the coming decades. Research in the marine environment is of particular importance to the UK where our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) includes resources of enormous economic importance such as oil and gas, as well as fisheries and resources of conservation significance that require protection under the EU Habitats Directive and other legislation. Thus the importance to the UK of properly funded and organised research to our environmental and economic future has to be recognised, and the Select Committee on Science and Technology's efforts on this are applauded. For too long, research has been organised almost exclusively from within the public sector with scant regard for value for money.

  Although the UK scientific community has for many years sustained an internationally recognised expertise in Marine Science, research effort in this field is expensive in terms of manpower, ships and equipment. To sustain our leading international expertise in Marine Science, and to meet the economic and management requirements of the UK under the forthcoming Marine Bill, as well as the UK's response to major global issues that will affect our coastline in the coming decades, two fundamental issues must be addressed:

    (a)  Marine Science needs to be funded effectively. Without this the marine scientific community cannot provide the necessary robust science for Government and Industry to make informed decisions on how our marine resources can be managed in a sustainable fashion whilst at the same time meeting the conservation requirements of a changing global climate.

    (b)  Funding to Marine Science needs to be managed cost-effectively. It is acknowledged that funding will always be constrained, however, proper management will ensure that the maximum amount of quality information is obtained from the available funding to ensure the delivery of the goals as outlined in (a).

  This submission suggests ways in which these two items may be addressed. It briefly discusses the present funding of marine scientific research and goes on to suggest alternate means of funding. It also addresses the issues of cost management and how a wider use of the private sector in all facets of marine science would result in better value for money.

  In this submission it is assumed that "marine science in the polar and non polar oceans" also includes seas, territorial and coastal waters.

2.  ORGANISATION AND FUNDING

  Funding for marine science must be increased, particularly with regard to identification of seabed resources that may require conservation and management in relation to infrastructure and other developments in the UK Exclusive Economic Zone. In particular, seabed mapping has been achieved in sufficient detail in only relatively small areas of the UK's seabed and requires major investment to meet the requirements of the Marine Bill and the EU's Habitat Directive.

  Currently there is no coherent funding strategy to support the long-term requirements of marine resource management in the seas and oceans that are of economic significance and in the national interest of the UK. Some work is funded through the Research Councils (notably the Natural Environment Research Council: NERC). National funding is also directed through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra) R&D programmes, as well as through specialist research initiatives such as the Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF) which is directed towards how aggregate mining on land and at sea can be managed in a sustainable fashion. Funds derived from a levy on the offshore renewables industry are managed through the Collaborative Offshore Wind Research into The Environment (COWRIE) programme that is administered through the Crown Estate. Like the ALSF, this programme has been developed to assist in our understanding of how UK commitments to increase renewable sources of power can be achieved sustainably in UK waters.

  Other programmes are funded through international collaborative initiatives including the Mapping European Seabed Habitats (MESH) programmes in Irish waters and in the North Sea, the Channel Habitat Atlas Resource Map (CHARM) funded through the EU Interreg II programme, and the INFOMAR programme.

  These National and international collaborative programmes deliver significant benefits for UK Policy and management advice. However, there is neither a strategic overview managing the research that is currently carried out under the wide variety of funding sources nor are these programmes generally required to meet objectives that have been defined in a coherent fashion to meet UK Policy objectives. The difficulty of matching long-term requirements of marine research and short-term funding imposed by arbitrary limits imposed by Financial Year management from Government is also widely recognised.

  There is clearly a case for a Marine Forum to guide and oversee the research requirements for the UK in the coming decades, and to ensure that this work is funded on a sufficiently long-term basis that facilitates the studies that are required to manage and sustain marine resources of economic and political importance to the UK. This would provide a sound science-base to UK policy in response to major global issues that will affect our coastline in the coming decades.

3.  EUROPEAN FUNDING

  Historically, UK public sector research bodies undertaking marine science have been slow to draw on the wide range of EU funding available. This may be due in part to a general reluctance to fund projects through the EU or simply due to the sometimes onerous task of supplying the relevant information for grant application and subsequent award.

  The private sector is much more successful in drawing down EU money for a wide range of services, including product development, as demonstrated by the Advanced ROV package for Automatic Mobile Investigation of Sediments (ARAMIS) and SEABEE EU funded projects which included the UK private sector and other EU research institutes, marketing and development initiatives and even research programmes. This is most likely because some organisations rely heavily on this type of funding but also because the private sector is more used to the submission of detailed technical and commercial documents to acquire work and, in this case, funding.

  Therefore, by inviting the private sector to undertake or manage a greater portion of the marine science work in polar and non polar regions it is likely that there will be a larger volume of EU funding available to the marine science sector. This case would be strengthened if the submissions for funding submitted by the private sector were to be supported by UK research or other public sector bodies.

4.  COST EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT OF RESEARCH ASSETS AND PROGRAMMES

  In marine scientific research the biggest drain on funding is the offshore vessel. This is ably demonstrated by the CEFAS research vessel Endeavour, which is purported to cost in the region of £17,000 to £22,000 per day to operate and cost £24 million to build, and the newly acquired James Cook which cost £36 million to build.

  These vessels will join a European public sector research vessel fleet that is already oversupplied. A fleet where each individual EU member state, and each research institute within it, feels the need to have its own, dedicated resource. In addition to the costs associated with the initial build and the subsequent loan and depreciation on these assets, there is also the huge duplication of base facilities required to keep these vessels at sea or, in many cases, alongside for a large part of the year.

  Given that there is a finite pool of money available for marine science research as a whole, these costs limit the total amount of research that can be done. Clearly it is therefore very important to make sure that these costs are as low as possible, consistent with the money being well spent to maximise the quality of the science undertaken.

  Compare this to the private sector of the UK marine industry where there are upward of 20 vessels that could undertake marine scientific research work in polar or non polar regions operated by a number of companies. While some of these vessels would not fall into the same category in terms of technical excellence as the Endeavour and the Cook, many would be more than capable of undertaking the research programmes required and as an aside it should be noted the entire Gardline fleet of 10 ocean going vessels costs less than the purchase price of the James Cook alone.

  In addition to the basic costs of the vessel, there are also the resources to operate and support a fleet of vessels. Clearly, the cost per vessel is drastically reduced when it is combined in a fleet consisting of a number of vessels and this still does not take in to account the significantly higher costs of public sector manning over private sector manning, as well as the more effective operation of private vessel fleets as opposed to public vessels.

  Therefore, by involving the private sector in either the supply of research vessels or the operation of the existing fleets, the research institutes and public bodies can reduce the costs of the "tools" required to undertake the work, and so release some of the funding for more detailed and prolonged studies. This is already an approach that has been implemented by EU member states, for example Briese Schiffahrts GmbH and Company KG, a privately owned company, operates a number of the German research vessels and indeed SMIT operate the Endeavour on behalf of CEFAS.

5.  THE ROLE OF THE UK IN MARINE SCIENCE

  The UK has been the leader of marine science both in the public and private sector for many years and it is a position we still hold today.

  The main driver for development and innovation within the private sector has been the strong offshore oil and gas market. The technology and expertise that has been developed over the last 35 years in this sector is now exported world-wide and the UK is seen as a centre of excellence for offshore exploration and development.

  A focused partnership between the public and private sector, funded through innovative solutions such as Public Finance Initiatives, would enable the UK to retain its reputation as a leader in marine science. This would also enable it to build on the expertise of both sectors to offer assistance, guidance and indeed acquisition of marine research programmes on an international basis. However, this will only be achieved if the partnership is mutually beneficial and if any private funding for such projects is transparent and managed effectively.

6.  DEVELOPMENT OF TECHNOLOGY

  By its very nature, the private sector is a highly competitive environment where clients and companies alike are constantly looking to differentiate between service providers and where evermore demanding technical solutions offer combined efficiencies of cost and schedule. This breeds a supply chain that is constantly reviewing how it undertakes its operations, how they can be improved and what new technology is available to realise cost savings and maximise market share and profit. The marine science market place is no different.

  There are myriad examples that could be supplied but one of the most significant in marine science in recent years is in the development of systems able to undertake seabed stills photography and video imagery. These are not Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) which have been widely used for many years but units specifically designed for use in marine environmental research. In the past two to three years technology has moved along at pace from analogue to digital and increases in picture quality, definition and the depth capabilities of such systems. Whilst the private sector has embraced these developments, a number of issues including funding, running costs and lack of knowledge of the latest technologies available have restrained the public sector and research organisations. As a result, outdated systems are being employed on research programmes, resulting in poor data quality, slow acquisition speeds and resultant cost implications.

  The private sector with its higher utilisation of newly developed systems can offer the marine science community better quality data with the resultant improvement in the strategic decisions based on these data, and in all probability with little or no overall increase in cost. In fact, it is more likely that such technology will significantly reduce the length of research programmes and save costs that could be employed on additional programmes.

  Conversely, there are systems and technologies that have been developed either exclusively by, or in close association with, the public sector or research institutes. However, rather than offer this equipment to the private sector and thereby promote better practice through better technology (and also recovering some of the costs of development, construction and maintenance) use of these systems is so restricted or prohibitive due to inflated charges that they remain unused within the organisations. The result is that research and development within these organisations is reduced because funding is limited and there is little or no return on developed systems. Often the private sector then goes on to develop systems that supersede the publicly funded systems. Examples of this would be the (Wide-Angle Seabed Photography (WASP) system developed by the then Southampton Oceanography Centre that has been surpassed by modern systems and the Sediment Profiling Imagery (SPI) camera system at CEFAS that would have real benefit and great potential if it could be used more widely in the private sector.

7.  UK RESEARCH AND SKILLS BASE

  The issue of the reduced number of suitably trained marine scientists available to public and private sector organisations and in particular the lack of support for the training of marine scientists was recently raised in the House of Lords.

  This is clearly an industry-wide concern and an issue that will have a major impact on the ability of the UK's to deliver our own marine research programmes and our standing within the marine science international community.

  For many years the public and private sectors have supported student placements, student sabbaticals, and gap-year employment. However, when it comes to taking these individuals to the next level of their professional rather than academic training then the process becomes much more difficult.

  There is a case for the public and private sector to work much more closely in the future to meet the industry's training needs. There are a number of ways that this could be achieved but in essence two concepts are at the core. Firstly, that either the public or private sector offer and receive funding for more vocational training following the completion of formal academic training. Secondly, that the private sector employ personnel who obtain training from the private sector but who also have designated roles within the public sector or research bodies.

  The first option is attractive because it offers a discrete mechanism for staff training, which then can be apportioned funding, or operate on a commercial basis. The second option enables the public and private sectors to co-operate and spread the costs of both staff employment and training whilst enhancing the links between the public and private sectors: it would also go a long way to enhancing the joined-up thinking required to develop cost and time effective strategies for the delivery of crucial marine science research to address issues such as those surrounding climate.

8.  USE OF MARINE SPECIAL AREAS OF CONSERVATION (SACS)

  It should be a major consideration of the Committee that coastal and territorial waters are the location of both the greatest productivity and the greatest pressure on the marine environment from a wide range of factors including resource removal, global warming, pollution and recreational use.

  The UK has an obligation under the EU Habitats Directive to conserve and sustain the biodiversity of the marine ecosystem. This is implemented through the identification of "Special Areas of Conservation (SAC)" in UK coastal waters.

  The main issue with regard to the identification and management of marine SAC's relates in many ways to all the items detailed previously in this submission. There is not enough funding presently available to effectively delineate Special Areas of Conservation let alone to monitor the impact of other legitimate users of the seabed. Recent plans to map the UK's marine candidate Special Areas of Conservation (SAC's) were severely curtailed due to overspill from the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) farm subsidy budget overrun.

  In addition, the funding that is available is not being effectively employed with poorly targeted surveys or surveys which overlap with other programmes, thus duplicating effort and expenditure. It should be considered that private sector research carried out on behalf of oil and gas exploration companies in UK waters could provide a wealth of as yet untapped information on seabed habitats, often where no other information exists.

  If SAC's are to be identified and managed then significant additional funding will need to be employed. The alternative is a series of "white elephants" around the UK that have limited scientific value and alienate a raft of potential users whose access to these areas is restricted through a lack of understanding of the potential impacts.

9.  CONCLUSION

  In summary, more funding is needed for the research that will underpin our marine policy over the coming decades. It is realised that this will always be limited, so it beholden on all of us in the marine sciences to ensure the best use is made of this funding. The UK private sector should have a major part to play in the coming decades, not only in drawing in and potentially providing additional funding, but also in effective management of research facilities and funding. Only with the private and public sectors working with one another will we ensure that we have a marine environment that is suitably protected but also is well understood and effectively utilised by a wide range of potential users.

January 2007





 
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