MPs pour scorn on scrutiny

November 25, 1994

MPs have condemned the Government's efficiency scrutiny of public research laboratories as a waste of researchers' time. The probe may also have been "profoundly and unnecessarily damaging to their morale", they say.

These are among several criticisms levelled at the scrutiny exercise in a report published last week by the House of Commons science and technology committee.

The report pours scorn on the scrutiny's suggestion that transferring establishments to universities is a form of privatisation: "It would be foolish to support such transfers solely because of the fiction that they remove activities from the public sector." Some universities have already expressed interest in certain institutes.

The MPs say that damage to morale in laboratories can lead to research teams dispersing. The report warns that reorganisation is very expensive: it can cost Pounds 30,000 to redeploy a scientist and the cost of redundancies is far higher. Yet the scrutiny team, which reported to the government's adviser on efficiency, Sir Peter Levene, has not made any attempt to cost its reorganisation proposals. "We consider that major reorganisation should only be undertaken when there are clearer benefits than those described in the scrutiny report," say the MPs.

In his evidence, Sir John Kingman, vice chancellor of Bristol University, warned that transfers of Government laboratories to universities "would be accompanied by staff reductions and other measures to increase efficiency and the university could not take responsibility for redundancy and other payments". Differences in salaries and conditions of service need also to be taken into account, he said.

The MPs also say that the timing of the scrutiny was "unfortunate" since research councils, whose institutes feature strongly among the 53 facilities covered by the scrutiny, were being reorganised following the science White Paper.

John Mulvey, executive secretary of the Save British Science Society said: "As a demolition exercise the report has done a pretty good job. We are pleased that it has taken a similar view to SBS in questioning the scrutiny's whole approach."

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