Prior options abandoned

January 31, 1997

THE GOVERNMENT has backed down on plans to privatise research council laboratories.

The prior options study, a Government privatisation probe of more than 40 public sector research facilities, concluded that many should retain their present status.

But Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, said that the Cambridge-based nutrition research unit allied to the Medical Research Council is to be closed. He said the work of the Dunn Nutrition Unit will be "reconstituted to take advantage of the scope for rationalisation with other MRC and university activities".

Four other MRC laboratories - the Institute of Virology; Reproductive Genetics Unit; Radiation and Genome Stability Unit; and Toxicology Unit - will stay in the public sector. But Mr Lang said "there is scope for rationalisation and introduction of private sector management" at the establishments.

Mr Lang said that four Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council agricultural research institutes and three animal sciences laboratories will remain under the sponsorship of the BBSRC. These include the Institute of Arable Crops, John Innes Centre, the Institute of Animal Health and Babraham Institute.

He said the Government would like to see stronger links between the council's Institute of Food Research and Central Science Laboratory, and between the Institute of Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency. Under the oversight of the director general of the research councils, the BBSRC will have to look for ways of improving the establishments' "value of money".

Mr Lang said: "We shall explore the scope for improving control of central costs and contracting out support services."

Three of the Natural Environment Research Council's facilities - the British Geological Survey, the Centre for Coastal and Marine Sciences and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology - are also to remain in the public sector and retain their separate identities.

Mr Lang added: "I shall expect NERC to pursue the opportunities for rationalisation and restructuring identified by the reviews."

In a further indication that the Government wants stronger financial control at the councils, Mr Lang announced that a procurement adviser from the private sector has been recruited to identify opportunities "for cutting costs of all the councils and their institutes."

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