Science and Technology CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Gardline Group

1. This evidence is being submitted of the privately owned UK company, the Gardline Group. We would be happy to meet the committee and/or invite Committee members to East Anglia where they can visit our facilities.

2. The Gardline Group comprises over 30 companies and is headquartered in Great Yarmouth. Our marine related businesses employ around 1800 people around the world, including offices in SW England, London, Wales and Scotland. Our turnover is around £200 million per year and over 60% of this is from outside of the European Union. We have offices in five continents and are earning valuable export venue for the UK in many emerging markets with our largest investment being in the Asia Pacific region. We have employed, on average, 40 UK marine science graduates per year for the last 4 years.

3. We specialise in marine data acquisition, interpretation, analysis and consulting covering oceanography (of all types) hydrography, hydrology, geology, geophysics, geotechnics, acoustics, biology and environmental sciences. We work for all marine users, from the oil and gas sector, to offshore windfarms and the fishing industry. We also provide high quality scientific advice and services to UK Government Departments, the JNCC, Natural England, the Environment Agency, the MMO, and overseas Governments.

4. We own and operate a fleet of 15 ocean going survey vessels and a similar size fleet of coastal vessels which service a range of sectors. We also operate a number of laboratory facilities around the UK including one of the leading benthic taxonomy laboratories.

5. We invest in research and development, for example programming bespoke positioning software as well as new technologies and methodologies for data acquisition and modelling. We have also been actively engaged in government sponsored research activities such as those funded through the now defunct Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund.

6. In the interests of transparency, we would like to put on record that we are members of the Society of Maritime Industries, Association of Marine Scientific Industries and the North Sea Marine Cluster. We understand that these organisations have also submitted evidence. Representatives of the company have also been involved in the Marine Industries Liaison Group, a sub-committee of the Marine Science Coordination Committee.

7. We would also like to preface our comments with a general observation regarding UK marine science and our evidence should be seen in this context. The UK has a strong history in marine sciences. It is something that as a nation we are good at; combining technology and systems design, practical seamanship and high quality multi-disciplinary scientific investigation. Across the country, in the public sector, private sector and NGOs, talented and committed marine scientists make an important contribution to sustainable development of our seas. As a company we would like to see the UK’s competitive position in marine science grow and our observations in the evidence below support this aim.

Since 2007 has there been improved strategic oversight and co-ordination of marine science?

8. In our view, there has been very limited improvement in the co-ordination and oversight of marine science since 2007. Notable achievements include the presence of a common strategy, the UK marine science strategy, and the publication of Charting Progress 2.

9. However, we are disappointed with the rate of progress and believe that the current oversight and co-ordination of marine science is not fit for purpose. Specifically we believe that:

(a)Investment in Marine Science is not being directed to the priority areas in a timely manner.

(b)There remains significant opportunity to improve value for money in the delivery of marine science by UK public sector organisations.

(c)The private sector has yet to be meaningfully engaged.

10. There remain a number of Government Departments, Non-Departmental Public Bodies and Executive agencies with a role and budget related to marine science. Diligent officials operating in these organisations make in important contribution to the sustainable development of our marine environment. The UK marine science strategy offers some welcomed strategic direction, however the budgets and levers to deliver the aims of the strategy remain disparate. As a result, the delivery of marine science is fragmented and the focus of co-ordination and activity to date seems to be insular and focussed on process and documentation rather than a focussed on delivery or change in outcomes.

11. There are a number of examples that demonstrate that current arrangements for marine science have yet to deliver the outcomes envisaged in the Committee’s 2007 report. High priority policy needs, such as the designation of Marine Conservation zones, have been delayed because of weaknesses in scientific evidence. Funding and responsibilities for evidence were split between at least three public sector bodies (Defra, Natural England, JNCC). Additional funding (£3.5 million) has recently been made available for the science and evidence necessary to support the implementation of Marine Conservation Zones. It can be argued that if the marine science strategy and coordination mechanisms were working effectively than this investment in evidence could have happened a number of years ago, avoiding these delays and the associated uncertainty and cost.

12. In the above example, it is worth reflecting on how the additional funding was utilised to fill gaps in evidence and science. It is a reasonable example of public/private collaboration to deliver applied marine science. CEFAS rapidly undertook an open procurement process and many private companies (including Gardline) were successful in winning work which was completed alongside CEFAS to a high technical standard.

13. The UK is embarking on a series of far-reaching reforms, such as a new marine planning system, and implementation of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive with fundamental gaps in our understanding of UK Seas. The limitations in data are well documented, with only 10% of the UK shelf covered by habitat maps.1 Whilst we do not advocate delaying welcome reforms such as marine planning, we are concerned that without adequate evidence the reforms will be undermined and/or delayed which will have a negative impact on public and private sector alike. It is concerning that there appears to be limited ambition and plans to systematically fill gaps in evidence and data. By contrast, other member states, such as Ireland, have an ambitious and long-term programme in place to investigate and chart up to their exclusive economic zone.2 The economic benefits3 of this programme have been estimated to be as high as 439 million Euro.

14. A further issue where greater strategic coordination and prioritisation is required is the balance between applied science and blue skies science. We are a supporter of blue skies science and recognise the value of investment in it. It is critical to the long term strength of our competitive science base and the sustainable development of the marine environment. We do however question whether the balance is currently right between blue skies science and applied science. Often the debate between scientists and industry is somewhat artificial. For example the academic community might be wary of being seen to fund R&D that should be funded by the private sector and the private sector become inpatient when the benefits of some science investment may be unclear or not realised for decades. This is an unhelpful debate and most people recognise the issue is one of balance and more effective collaboration rather than “either/or”.

15. We do believe that more of the public investment in marine science should be viewed through the lense of broader economic and industrial benefits for the UK. For example, 10 years ago some of the many scientific challenges and uncertainties around the scaling up of offshore energy were apparent (eg cumulative and in combination impacts, issues of marine noise) and there was arguably a case for more investment in these areas to help facilitate the roll-out of new windfarms. Much of the R&D was industry led, with some support from the Crown Estate. The lack of evidence in some cases has delayed consenting and delivery of offshore windfarms for a number of years. A proactive and strategic approach to marine science should be looking at a long-term horizon and assessing where investment in science might benefit UK plc—for example wave and tidal technologies, deep-sea marine resource extraction etc. This would also provide a mechanism to coordinate and leverage funding and investment from the private sector.

What progress has been made in delivering the 2010 Marine Science Strategy?

16. The delivery of Charting Progress 2 is a notable achievement. We have not been able to find any information on delivery/actions in the public domain for the last two years.

How Effective have the Marine Science Co-ordination Committee (MSCC) and Marine Management Organisation (MMO) been, and what improvements could be made?

17. In our view, the MSCC does not coordinate marine science. It exists as a mechanism to coordinate the plethora of departments, agencies, regulators, advisors and committees funded by the taxpayer. It is not resourced to do this properly. It is not representative of the marine science community as private sector funders, users and providers of marine science are not represented on the MSCC.

18. The only industry representation on the MSCC is via an arms-length Marine Industries Liaison Group (MILG) which is chaired by a non industry member of the Marine Science Coordination Committee. The MILG has made a very slow start, but has potential to be useful. It should not be seen as a substitute for full engagement at the MSCC level.

19. An example of the potential value of the MILG is its recent commissioning of a capability review of the private sector marine science which invites recommendations on where and how the private sector can help to deliver the Government’s marine objectives.

20. Another area where closer industry collaboration can add value is around greater coordination of research and development. As a company we would be interested in greater line of sight into publically funded R&D, including proposals that are turned down for public funding but may have value to, or be funded by, private sector operators such as Gardline.

21. The MSCC has a stated aim to improve value for money in marine science. It has failed to deliver this. To date we have not seen any evidence (eg figures or metrics) that value for money in marine science has improved and are concerned about the lack of transparency on information relating to marine science expenditure. Even basic figures, such as the amount invested in marine science per year are hard to come by. The fact that these figures are not readily available and are scattered across the budgets of a number of agencies suggests to us that a strategic overview of expenditure and value for money across the public sector marine programmes does not exist.

22. The Committee has previously highlighted the potential for cost savings and more science days at sea through better management of public sector vessels. Our own analysis of the limited information in the public domain suggests that public sector research assets are being systematically under-utilised and costing the taxpayer millions of pounds per year that could be re-invested into marine science. It is difficult to get a handle on all of the details (see above point on transparency). Different measures are used, for example a vessel might be describe as having “300 days availability” which although technically accurate is misleading as the asset may only be used or have funding for science 2.5 days per week. Similarly, another indicator that is often used is “days at sea” which can cover considerable transit times. In Gardline, our metric is “operational days at sea”—ie when our vessels are out earning revenue and undertaking data acquisition and scientific investigation.

23. By way of example, we have analysed publically available information from the NOC National Marine Facilities Sea System Programme.4 We have examined two NERC vessels over the last four years, the RSS Discovery and the RSS James Cook.

The following table outlines operational days at sea:

Operational days at Sea Year

RSS Discovery

RSS James Cook

2009

216

258

2010

224

230

2011

250

252

2012

161

216

24. By way of a private sector comparator, mean operational days from the Gardline fleet is in excess of 330 days per year.

25. In addition, it is concerning that the RSS James Cook, a vessel that was delivered to NERC in August 2006 at a reported cost of c£35 million, lost 119 days between 2009 and 2011 on refits and trials.

26. We have struggled to find figures on the utilisation of the Cefas Endeavour, but understand that current funding constraints are such that it is only being utilised on a part-time basis.

27. Given the above figures and the fact that the day rate for all Gardline vessels is considerably lower due to a much lower capital base per ship along with efficient use of resources, it is clear that limited progress has been made in terms of improving value for money of key UK publically funded research assets.

28. We have noted with interest developments in Government policy around the commissioning of services.5 For example, the commissioning of services is a core and growing part of how the NHS is operated. The Home office are considering which policing duties can be delivered by different sectors, including the forensic science labs. The MOD has long entrusted scientific and R&D services to the private sector that were once thought to be too sensitive to national security. The Department of Justice is working with voluntary organisations on the provision of probation services. The Cabinet office is trailing the utilisation of different sectors to provide policy advice to Ministers. It is therefore striking that similar debates are not happening in the marine science community.

29. The scale of the challenge in terms of delivering the growing requirements for marine science and the tough spending environment is such that new ways of delivering marine science need to be considered. Discussions at this stage seem to be kept within the many public sector agencies involved in marine science. There are many vested interests in safeguarding budgets and facilities and the current work looking at, for example, coordination of publically owned vessels risks masking inefficiency, or just sharing inefficiency between agencies. We therefore believe that there is a need for an independent cross-sector review of whether, where and how commissioning might improve value for money in marine science.

30. The committee may also like to consider relevant experience from overseas. One example is in Australia, where fisheries and immigration enforcement services for the Australian Government are delivered by Gardline Vessels.

31. We, unsurprisingly, believe that the private sector can play a greater role delivering marine science in the UK, offering better value for money and exporting this capability around the world for the benefit of UK PLC. Equally, NGOs and public sector organisations can also offer innovative ways to deliver marine science. We believe that the best way to approach commissioning is a clear and transparent view on what objectives and outcomes need to be delivered and an informed debate as to how collectively all sectors can pull together to deliver best value for money.

32. The MSCC is serviced by a highly capable but under-resourced secretariat and our concerns are directed at the MSCCs composition, terms of reference and mode of operation rather than the secretariat. A small secretariat without budget or strong levers to drive coordination is not going to deliver the aspirations of the marine science strategy. The terms of reference and composition need to be revised to include full engagement with the private sector (funders, users and providers of marine science), pooled resources, an open and transparent work programme with measurable performance indicators and outputs.

Role of the MMO

33. The committee also invited comments on the effectiveness of the MMO. The MMO has been in existence for two years or so and has made a promising start. The real proof of effectiveness will be in how well it delivers marine planning and licencing as well as ensuring the growing network of marine protected areas are effectively managed.

34. In relation to the MMO’s role as a commissioner, funder and user of marines science, the early signs are positive and we have been impressed at the dedication and professionalism of the staff. There is a strategic evidence plan which is aligned with the UK Marine Science Strategy and a transparent statement of needs.

35. The MMO has been proactive in engaging a range of its stakeholders and we were pleased to host a visit from the regional liaison officer. The MMO has also made genuine efforts to be transparent and routinely publishes information regarding high-profile cases on its website. This is a welcome approach which should be adopted across the marine science community and extend to broader set of performance indications such as value for money and how it is working across sector to support the UK science and industrial base.

36. We also note that the MMO are seeking to diversify sources of marine scientific advice. In the first 12 months we understand that there was a near monopoly of public-sector agencies providing scientific advice including a requirement for the MMO to utilise a proportion of its budget with CEFAS. The MMO is currently procuring a framework contract for this purpose. We believe that this is a welcome step forward. As an independent regulator, the MMO needs to have a choice in where it sources advice and has recognised that there are many capable private sector organisations as well as universities and NGOs that can play a role. We believe that there is scope to go further, with the MMO being resourced to play more of a leadership role in commissioning applied marine science research. Future areas could be a more strategic and transparent dialogue with other sectors on how new technologies and approaches can help meet the challenge of cost effective MPA management.

September 2012

1 http://chartingprogress.defra.gov.uk/

2 http://www.infomar.ie/about/

3 http://www.infomar.ie/documents/INFOMAR%20Options%20Appraisal%20Report_PwC.pdf

4 http://www.noc.soton.ac.uk/nmf/sea_sys_index.php

5 http://files.openpublicservices.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/OpenPublicServices-WhitePaper.pdf

Prepared 9th April 2013