The Committee's concerns
4. The Committee has three areas of concern about
the UKCMRI project and its management. First, there is the question
of the finances. There are few hard figures available about the
eventual cost of the project. It is in any case salutary to recall
that the estimated cost of the failed project based at the former
National Temperance Hospital site rose from £320 million
to £367 million between July 2005 and December 2006, an increase
of nearly 15% in under 18 months.
The current estimate for the UKCMRI is £500 million, which
the MRC Chief Executive described as "a broad figure"
and "a reasonably accurate figure overall", but with
some caveats, including the cost of the land which was a further
£85 million. The
breakdown between the four partners was given in oral evidence
as "round about £260 million overall" from the
MRC, £150 million from Cancer Research UK, £100 million
from the Wellcome Trust and £46 million from UCL.
MRC later clarified that "MRC has agreed to contribute £47m
to the cost of purchasing the [British Library] site and in addition
we are planning on the basis that our contribution to the building
will be of the order of £250m taking account of current estimates
We are concerned that these figures are unacceptably vague and
that MRC should ensure as a matter or urgency that it is in a
position to provide a more accurate breakdown of its contribution.
5. The funding from the three private partners is
not open to scrutiny by this Committee but the ability of the
MRC to meet its projected share of the costs is. The MRC plans
to meet the £297m bill through the sale of the National Temperance
Hospital site (purchased in 2006 at a cost of £28m), the
eventual sale of the NIMR site at Mill Hill, presumably after
planned completion of the move to UKCMRI in 2013, and through
a bid to the Large Facilities Capital Fund (LFCF), for which a
Business Case has to be approved by RCUK, DIUS and the Treasury,
successively. The bid
currently submitted to the LFCF is for £118m, which is less
than the £140m earmarked from the fund for the NTH project.
However, this figure was based on plans to use significant funds
built up in the MRC's own Commercial Fund for this purpose. Recently
the Treasury decided to invoke previously unused rules to claw
back £92m of these savings, leaving the MRC faced with preparing
a bid to the LCFC for £180m to £200m to meet their undertakings
in respect of the UKCMRI.
The Treasury has also put a cap on the gross income from the fund.
We are at a loss to understand
the rationale for this behaviour by the Treasury and request an
explanation. Encouraging the MRC to be
self-financing to a degree and then appropriating its savings,
thus forcing the MRC to come cap in hand for funding, is hardly
redolent of good faith. Doubts over the MRC's ability to finance
the project and science on at least the current scale must be
resolved as soon as possible.
6. Our second major area of concern is the timetable
and project management of this ambitious scheme. One obvious potential
source of difficulty is the MRC's dependence upon funding by the
LFCF. Securing funding approval can be a long-drawn-out process,
as the MRC will know from previous experience. In this case, the
Outline Business Case for £118m has been submitted to RCUK
and to DIUS. Before a final decision is taken, the MRC has to
complete and gain approval for a full Business Case which will
be "prepared once the design work is completed".
We note that project managers and designers have not yet been
appointed, and that MRC anticipates that the timetable for this
will "be completed during the first half of next year".
In any case, the current preliminary work on the LFCF bid relates
to the original request for £118m, rather than the larger
sum which will be needed. MRC told us that these additional funds
will not be needed until the next CSR period
which raises the possibility of further uncertainty and delay
whilst awaiting the result of the next Spending Round for 2011/2012.
7. Other challenges to the timetable could arise
from the competition for construction and project management skills
posed by the 2012 Olympics and any delays in gaining planning
approval. We note that at the time of our evidence session, the
partners had not opened discussions with Camden Borough Council,
the local authority for the site and that a planning brief in
2003 indicated that Camden wished to put housing on the site.
The objections expressed by residents to both the loss of land
for housing and the proposed use of the site for a medical research
centre indicates that gaining planning permission may not be straightforward.
8. Our third and most important concern is the science
vision for the centre and what, if anything, is likely to be lost
from the current research portfolios supported by the partners.
The scientific planning is to be led by a committee under the
chairmanship of Sir Paul Nurse, President of Rockefeller University,
New York, which will determine the shape and direction of the
research work to be carried out and the facilities that will be
needed to enable this. The committee will:
look at the detail of the science that is
actually being proposed. They will look clearly as to what is
going on in NIMR, they will actually look also at what is going
on in the London Institute of Cancer Research UK, together with
the work that is going on at University College, and the importance
is actually to begin to develop a cohesive unit to ensure that
those elements that can actually work very well in a complementary
fashion are the ones that are actually being brought together
on this site, to help determine how best to use the capacity of
that site to further the sort of integrated science that we would
like to see.
This will include determining controversial questions
such as the provision of high security laboratories and animal
housing on the site.
The MRC Chief Executive also stressed that the committee would
"have the capacity to make alterations and changes as we
go along, such that [the strategy] remains responsive".
9. We welcome the appointment of Sir Paul Nurse and
the delegation of the development of the science vision to such
a committee, described by the MRC Chief Executive as providing
an "independent opinion".
We would be concerned if the membership of the committee proved
to be too close to the executive and failed to have sufficient
current scientific expertise. According to the MRC Chief Executive,
Sir Paul Nurse has proposed that there should be representation
from all four partners and "has been involved in discussions
as to who those representatives should be".
He can veto an appointment, but "he does not have total control"
on membership. We
will take a close interest in the membership of Sir Paul Nurse's
committee and will expect it to include representatives of researchers
as well as the directors of affected institutes and also as a
result to take on board valid concerns of researchers at the Mill
10. In the meantime, before the scientific vision
is developed and expounded, there is the potential for great uncertainty
among current staff of the four partners, especially at NIMR.
We were reassured that the MRC Chief Executive emphasised that
no assumption need be made about "breaking up" the institutes,
given the large capacity of the site.
However, he also told us that "nothing is ruled in and nothing
is ruled out at this stage at all"
and that "it is impossible for me at this point to give an
assurance that all the staff and the work currently undertaken
are necessarily going to transfer over".
11. We appreciate that the work has not yet begun
to determine the science vision of a centre which is still some
six years off realisation and accept that the Nurse committee
needs to have a free hand in determining the future direction
of the new UKCRMI. However, we expect the MRC in particular to
give serious consideration to the impact upon NIMR staff of the
continuing uncertainty over the mission of the institute and the
future of individual research programmes and facilities. The MRC
Chief Executive correctly identified that "the history that
NIMR has been put through" had led to "considerable
apprehension by staff" and that "it is going to be up
to us to ensure that we can convince them that this can go ahead
and that the science is not going to be impacted on adversely".
We welcome his recognition that the priority "is ensuring
that we have a proper communication strategy with the staff"
and that "they feel that their views are being taken on board
and are being taken seriously".
Early indications of the shape of the new centre, as far as compatible
with proper consideration by the Nurse committee, will be an important
part of maintaining staff confidence and engagement in the project
as a whole. As an example of good practice, we welcome the MRC
Chief Executive's reassurance that basic science will not be sacrificed
to translational research.
12. The four partners in the proposed new UKCRMI
stressed the synergies which will be created by bringing together
the NIMR, the Cancer Research UK laboratories, the expertise of
UCL in biological and physical sciences and the translational
opportunities offered by UCL's four partner hospitals in central
London. The Wellcome
Trust also underlined the importance of the location next to the
However, we remain concerned that the sponsors and proponents
of this scheme have not seriously evaluated other options outside
London, particularly as the proposed location has planning considerations
which may prove fatal to the project. It remain unclear what impact
the UKCMRI will have on fundamental and transitional research
in other centres of excellence.
13. We can see the immense benefits that should result
from the realisation of this exciting vision. Given the time and
goodwill that has been wasted on previous projects to renew the
NIMR, it is vital that the UKCMRI is a vision which delivers the
first class science and facilities promised and that the project
is implemented on time and to budget. We
expect to receive quarterly updates, beginning in March 2008,
on the development of the project with particular reference to
the concerns highlighted above from the MRC and DIUS and would
much welcome similar briefings from the other partners.
We should very much like to see the project succeed. We believe
that a centre of such ambition would place the UK firmly at the
forefront of world-class medical research, with substantial benefits
for the public as well as for British science.
1 http://www.mrc.ac.uk/NewsViewsAndEvents/News/MRC004253 Back
Ev 15 Back
See, for example, Fourth Report from the Science and Technology
Committee, Session 2004-05, The Medical Research Council's
Review of the Future of the National Institute for Medical Research,
HC 6-I, and Fourth Report from the Science and Technology Committee,
Session 2006-07, Research Council Institutes, HC 68-I.
Fourth Report from the Science and Technology Committee, Session
2006-07, Research Council Institutes, para 119 Back
Q 78, 75 Back
Q 78 Back
Ev 15 Back
Ev 15; Fourth Report from the Science and Technology Committee,
Session 2006-07, Research Council Institutes, para 119
Q 79 Back
MRC told us that "As part of the CSR07 settlement, there
is a cap on the gross income from the Commercial Fund in each
of the three years - £49.2m in 2007/08 rising to £53m
by 2010/11. Below the cap, MRC can retain 100%, but any excess
has to be surrendered to the Treasury. The exact amounts to be
handed over to the Treasury will thus depend on the levels of
income achieved during the next three years." (Email to the
Clerk of the Committee, 14 January 2008) Back
Ev 15 Back
Q 85 Back
Ev 15 Back
Q 72 Back
Q 22 Back
Qq 69-71, 63 Back
Q 26 Back
Q 27 Back
Q 54 Back
Q 25 Back
Q 28 Back
Q 46 Back
Q 98 Back
Q 100 Back
Q 49. Translational research involves using scientific discoveries
to develop practical applications. Back
Qq 4-6 Back
Q 4 Back