Four labs face sell-off probe

May 24, 1996

Research council laboratories that have already undergone a review of their possible privatisation are to be subject to yet another study by the Government.

Declaring the findings of the Government's prior options review of a group of public sector research establishments, Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said that removing four centres' facilities allied to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council from the public sector would be "a desirable option which merits further consideration". Work on this will be done by the prime minister's adviser on efficiency, Sir Peter Levene.

The institutes affected are the John Innes Centre, the Institute of Arable Crops Research, the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, and the Silsoe Research Institute.

The announcement by Mr Lang was condemned by the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, which said the Government was "merely putting the proposed sale of scientific research laboratories on the back burner".

Mike Reynolds, IPMS representative at the BBSRC, said that research at the institutes affected is long term and has unknown strategic value. "Such research could be lost if it were handed over to agrochemical or pharmaceutical companies whose major priorities are swift financial returns," he said.

Mr Lang said that the Daresbury and Rutherford Appleton laboratories, which comprise the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils, should stay in the public sector as a non-departmental body of the Department of Trade and Industry.

In a separate announcement on the outcome of the prior options review, Lord Lindsay, Scottish Office Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Forestry, said that Sir Peter would also look at the privatisation of the Scottish Crop Research Institute and the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute. Lord Lindsay said that the Scottish Office Fisheries Research Services and Forestry Commission Research Division would become Next Step Agencies.

The prior options review covers 43 public sector research establishments employing over 20,000 people. Reviews of two more tranches of laboratories have yet to be considered by ministers.

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