Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Sixth Report

5  Resourcing

97.  The funding of high containment laboratories can be considered in two parts: the capital costs provided to construct the laboratory and the ongoing maintenance costs. There are particular generic issues with maintenance which we discuss here, followed by a closer examination of specific redevelopment projects.

98.  Internationally there has been a programme of building in this area including a significant expansion of high containment laboratories in the USA,[184] projects in Germany[185] and in Australia, where the Government has announced a Networked Biosecurity Framework with $25m funding to upgrade the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Victoria and to invest in biosecurity infrastructure.[186]

99.  Robert Osborne, Biological Safety Adviser at the University of Glasgow told us that at Glasgow and other UK universities CL3 facilities are often not built as a strategic investment but are funded "on a piece-meal project/grant basis … typically they are small, disparate and have been developed with extensive inefficiencies" and may consequently be "underused or non-operational due to funding changes."[187] Other witnesses told us that the grant-based funding system means that applications do not always truly estimate the cost of biosecurity and maintenance and Full Economic Costing has not been met with an increase in total funding, leaving facilities under-resourced.[188]

100.  It is important to take into account the significant cost of maintaining high containment facilities to avoid breaches of biosecurity. Michael Stephens from the ISTR told us that:

    a Category 4 facility, for example, may occupy one per cent of the floor space of a laboratory building, it may actually eat up to ten per cent of the on-going maintenance and utility cost annually of the whole building and that is really quite substantial.[189]

Small facilities have high overheads and can be three times more expensive to run per m2.[190]

101.  A number of witnesses highlighted difficulty in harnessing funding for ongoing maintenance;[191] for example Professor Chris Thorns of the VLA told us that:

    these facilities cost an awful lot to run and maintain and often organisations like ourselves are given the capital investment but then everybody forgets the extra money needed to run these facilities.[192]

Professor Griffin described how in academia "we have to beg and scrape and get money for routine maintenance".[193] As a result of paying for necessary maintenance, money is diverted from science.[194] This problem is not restricted to the UK. The USGAO has discovered that in some cases the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases funded the construction of facilities but not their ongoing maintenance. Given the proliferation of high containment facilities in the USA, the issue may be a difficult long-term question to resolve.[195]

102.  The importance of maintaining high containment laboratories was underlined by the leak of FMDV in 2007 where Professor Brian Spratt highlighted the role played by a lack of funding for maintenance at Pirbright :

    The poor state of the IAH laboratories, and the effluent pipes, indicates that adequate funding has not been available to ensure the highest standards of safety for the work on FMDV carried out at this ageing facility … There had been concern for several years that the effluent pipes were old and needed replacing but, after much discussion between IAH, Merial and Defra, money had not been made available.[196]

Government ministers did not accept this, however. Lord Rooker, Defra, told us that there was "no way the previous under-investment could account for the poor biosecurity at the site," and Ian Pearson, MP, DIUS, concurred: "What I would not accept is that the problems that occurred at Pirbright were as a result of under-investment … if the problems of the drains had been known, they would clearly have been dealt with."[197] We find Professor Spratt's conclusions more persuasive than those of the Ministers in this regard.

103.  The costs to human or animal health and to the economy of a breach of biosecurity at a high containment laboratory are devastating, as seen at Pirbright in 2007. We urge all those who fund high containment research to consider more seriously the cost of maintaining and running high containment laboratories. All funders of high containment laboratories must ensure that long-term funding for running costs is provided, sustained and protected to ensure risk management can take place effectively. The Government has a particular responsibility in this regard. UK research laboratories should be maintained by their operators to a high, internationally acceptable standard.

Redevelopment projects

Pirbright and IAH

104.  BBSRC acknowledge that the IAH in Pirbright has suffered from a lack of investment.[198] This was also the conclusion of the Spratt Review[199] and a BBSRC-commissioned report by Sir Keith Gull in 2002 which described the facilities at Pirbright as "shabby".[200] A redevelopment programme in collaboration with the VLA was agreed in 2005[201] with the laboratories to be commissioned in 2012.[202] Construction work has now started on the site and there is common agreement that the Pirbright redevelopment project must go ahead,[203] with the IAH director, Professor Martin Shirley describing it as "really, really, really important as a national facility".[204]

105.  In 2003 the cost of the redevelopment was estimated at £121m but this has now been revised to £165m. According to the BBSRC, this was "partly due to redesigns and partly due to inflation."[205] Both BBSRC and VLA expressed concern that those funding the project should also consider the significant long-term running costs of the new facility.[206] The detail of how the increase in costs will be met has yet to be decided by those committed to fund the project (BBSSRC, Defra and the DIUS Large Facilities Capital Fund).[207] Ian Pearson MP told us that:

    Exactly what pockets some of the additional money comes out of will have to be decided between us but the project will go ahead. It will be a mixture of funding from Defra, the BBSRC and its own capital resources and it will be a mixture of funding from the large facilities capital fund. We are not in a position to say exactly what those levels will be at the moment.[208]

106.   Ian Pearson MP informed us that the decision on the Large Facilities Capital Fund monies was likely to be made in May 2008,[209] but we were concerned by Defra's seeming reluctance to accept responsibility for the increased cost of the project. Lord Rooker told us:

    It is not a bottomless pit though in the sense that we have agreed what we will put in but we are not responsible … for every overrun, and this is why we have to get control of building costs. We have put in the money that we have agreed over the last few years.[210]

107.  The Pirbright redevelopment is of considerable national importance. We recommend that as a matter of urgency DIUS (via the BBSRC and Large Facilities Capital Fund) and Defra settle how they are to share the cost of the Pirbright redevelopment project as it now stands. At the very least, the final settlement should be announced by the time the Government responds to this report.

Future structures

108.  The future of the Pirbright site has been considered afresh following the outbreak of FMDV in 2007. In his report on the handling of the outbreak Dr Iain Anderson suggested that Defra should take the lead in transforming IAH into a 'National Institute of Infectious Diseases', supported by funding from government and elsewhere and with links to universities. He also suggested creating an Independent Advisory Committee on Animal and Emerging Infectious Diseases to take a strategic view of animal health.[211] In his report on the future of the IAH, Sir John Beringer concluded that "the redeveloped Pirbright laboratory should be positioned as a new 'National Centre for Animal Viral Disease' and should be founded upon a joint BBSRC-Defra science strategy for animal health and welfare."[212] The report suggested that there is a need for a national research strategy to co-ordinate the funders of research in the area of animal health. It further suggested that this should be led by Defra, closely co-operating with BBSRC, and should function through the formation of a new funding body whose members would include the Chief Veterinary Officer (or their deputy) and BBSRC Chief Executive.[213]

109.  As an "admittedly radical and longer-term solution," Sir John Beringer suggests a new national agency be formed for animal health and welfare with a ring-fenced or independent budget. This agency would take responsibility for animal health (from Defra), the VLA and the Pirbright site. The report suggests that this would make animal health "less vulnerable to budgetary fluctuations and border disputes between organisations".[214]

110.  Chris Thorns of the VLA told us that the VLA supports a merger between VLA and IAH.[215] The Government is still considering its response to the Anderson and Beringer reports.[216]

111.  The future of the Pirbright site and IAH and the question of its merger with the VLA must be settled as a matter of priority and in any case by April 2009 in line with the Beringer report recommendation on the ownership and management of the site (see below). Whilst Pirbright is undergoing redevelopment, we urge the Government to use the opportunity to develop a long term plan for animal health, considering the recommendations of the Anderson and Beringer Reviews.

112.   The question of the creation of a national centre at Pirbright, a national research strategy for animal health with a new funding body and a new national agency for animal health arose late in our inquiry and does not fall strictly within our terms of reference. However, we recognise that it is an issue of great importance and we recommend that as a matter of urgency the Government produce a White Paper to clarify its strategy for the future of animal health and welfare in the UK, provision of containment laboratories for research and diagnostics and how these would be used in an outbreak.

Core funding and clarity of governance

113.  The Beringer Report was clear that any National Centre at Pirbright with statutory responsibilities should not be funded "primarily through the award of research grants and contracts" and that long-term core funding should be provided:

    We recommend that core funding for the new National Centre at Pirbright should be administered as a single stream with a planning horizon of at least five years. Core funding must include adequate provision for core staff, running costs, maintenance and renewal of infrastructure, so that safety and biosecurity needs are satisfied.[217]

The Minister for Science and Innovation, DIUS, agreed:

    Beringer talks about long term, core funding and core funding is the right distinction. It does not mean long term, total funding to the organisation ... The principle that long term, core funding needs to be provided to the organisation … is one that I would support and certainly I know the BBSRC does.[218]

114.  Our predecessor, the Science and Technology Committee, published a report on Research Council Institutes in March 2007 which included an examination of the financial relationship between Defra, the BBSRC and the IAH. It expressed concern that:

    The financial difficulties which have been experienced for some time by certain BBSRC and NERC institutes [including IAH] indicate that not all stakeholders are prepared to acknowledge the part they have to play in ensuring the sustainability of this part of the research base.[219]

115.  The Science and Technology Committee Report highlighted the part played by the Research Council Institute and Public Sector Research Establishment Sustainability Study, sponsored by DTI but now owned by DIUS. This Study recommended that if a Government Department contributes more than 15% of the turnover of a Research Council Institute, then the Permanent Secretary should be jointly accountable "for developing joint scientific and investment strategies for their cross-boundary research interests."[220] However, speaking to us, Lord Rooker was categorical about Defra's position:

    That is an untenable proposition if that is the proposition that is still floating around. We do not accept that simply because we have to have the capacity to let contracts to a variety of institutions … If the implication is that therefore we fund without an outcome, as someone that does not own or control the site, when we have other funding requirements, that is a major, major policy change … I ask you then to look at the consequences of that for science and other laboratories in the country where the same kind of contract relationship applies. In recent months, I have visited HRI, John Innes, IGER and Rothampstead, all of which we fund and are vital. We do not fund core funding.[221]

116.  Related to this is Sir John Beringer's further recommendation that clarification be provided over who owns and manages the site:

    BBSRC and Defra must agree long-term arrangements for its ownership and management. If there is no prospect of agreement by April 2009 the matter should be resolved by referral through DIUS and Defra to the Cabinet Office[222]… there must be a single owner.[223]

Lord Rooker accepted in this instance that "if Ministers cannot agree, this would go to Cabinet."[224]

117.  We support the provision of long-term core funding for the redeveloped laboratories at Pirbright. Whatever the future of the Pirbright site, we support Sir John Beringer's recommendation that by April 2009, Defra and BBSRC should settle the long-term ownership and management of the Pirbright site; otherwise the issue should be referred to the Cabinet Office for resolution.

118.  The Government should set out clearly its policy on the provision of core funding to research institutes with reference to the Research Council Institute and Public Sector Research Establishment Sustainability Study.


119.  During the inquiry we visited Porton Down and saw for ourselves the need to redevelop the HPA facilities at Porton Down. HPA explained that:

120.  It is not acceptable that scientists at HPA Porton Down are asked to work in such ageing facilities. We recommend that the Department of Health consider the redevelopment of the HPA's Porton Down site a priority. Any redevelopment could be viewed as an opportunity to look at the UK's likely future wider requirements for containment facilities.

184   USGAO, High-containment biosafety laboratories: Preliminary Observations on the Oversight of the Proliferation of BSL-3 and BSL-4 Laboratories in the United States, October 2007, pp 8-14 Back

185 Back

186  Back

187   Ev 77 Back

188   Ev 97, 103  Back

189   Q 280 Back

190   Ev 103, 156 Back

191   Ev 68, 98 Back

192   Q 200 Back

193   Q 36 Back

194   Qq 36, 201 Back

195   USGAO, High-containment biosafety laboratories: Preliminary Observations on the Oversight of the Proliferation of BSL-3 and BSL-4 Laboratories in the United States, October 2007, pp8-16 Back

196   Professor Brian Spratt and review team, Independent Review of the safety of UK facilities handing foot-and-mouth disease virus, August 2007, p5 Back

197   Qq 337-339 Back

198   Ev 108 Back

199   Professor Brian Spratt and review team, Independent Review of the safety of UK facilities handing foot-and-mouth disease virus, August 2007, p 34 Back

200   Sir Keith Gull, Review of the Institute for Animal Health - Pirbright Laboratory, July 2002, Back

201   Q 198 Back

202   Ev 108 Back

203   Qq 152, 245, 281, 336, 338  Back

204   Q 245  Back

205   Q 198 Back

206   Qq 198, 200, 245 Back

207   Ev 108; Q 198 Back

208   Q 342 Back

209   Q 343 Back

210   Q 336 Back

211   Dr Iain Anderson, Foot and Mouth Disease 2007: A Review and Lessons Learned, 11 March 2008, p 6 Back

212   Review of funding, governance and risk management at the IAH, A report for BBSRC Council, Sir John Beringer, April 2008, p 16, Back

213   Ibid, p 27 Back

214   Ibid, p 29 Back

215   Q 201  Back

216   Qq 344-345 Back

217   Review of funding, governance and risk management at the IAH, A report for BBSRC Council, Sir John Beringer, April 2008 Back

218   Q 347 Back

219   House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2006-07, Research Council Institutes, HC 68, para 48 Back

220, Recommendation2 Back

221   Qq 346, 350, 351 Back

222   Review of funding, governance and risk management at the IAH, A report for BBSRC Council, Sir John Beringer, April 2008, p 20 Back

223   Ibid, p 3 Back

224   Q 355 Back

225   Ev 117  Back

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