Partnership questions raised as spoils go south

March 24, 2000

In his budget, the chancellor showed enthusiasm for technology clusters in which regional capacity in leading-edge high-tech industries can flourish.

A pity then that a chance to encourage such a cluster was passed up with last week's announcement that the United Kingdom's next synchrotron machine will go to Oxfordshire, not Daresbury. Siting it at Daresbury would have built on Daresbury's skills and boosted universities and research-based companies in the Northwest as it is useful to everyone from geneticists to metallurgists. Instead, it will be just another facility in the overheated South. No study of possible new developments in the Northwest is likely to produce compensating investment.

Calls for a parliamentary inquiry may seem like stable- door shutting, but if an inquiry can bring into the open the role of the Wellcome Trust in the decision it could be useful. The trust is a major and welcome player in large areas of British science. In this case it seems to have used a minority investment to leverage an important policy decision in a way more commonly practised by government. With private/public partnerships becoming more usual it is time such relationships were put on a more transparent basis.

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