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Response to the review of funding, governance and risk management at the Institute for Animal Health (IAH), chaired by Professor Sir John Beringer CBE

14 April 2008

At its meeting on 9 April 2008, BBSRC Council considered and accepted the Beringer Review, and is acting on the most pressing of its recommendations earlier than the report indicated. This reflects the importance of the IAH and the urgency and importance of the issues raised by the Review.

The Beringer Review endorses recommendations of the Anderson Report that, as the lead Government Department, Defra should lead on Animal Health and Welfare issues. BBSRC looks forward to this and is committed to working closely with Defra.    

BBSRC’s contribution to this work, building on the Beringer Review’s recommendations is:

  1. to re-emphasise its commitment to redevelopment of the Pirbright site of IAH to enable sustainability, as far as it lies within BBSRC's capability, pending final agreement of Defra's funding contribution beyond 2008-09
    (Recommendations: 1-4)
  2. to produce, by October 2008, a full, long term business plan of the way forward for IAH as a sustainable, BBSRC Institute, with the aim of resolving any outstanding issues by the end of 2008
    (Recommendations: 3,4)

    In both of these areas BBSRC wishes to work as closely as possible with Defra

  3. to accept full responsibility for risk management at IAH- Pirbright, (working closely with the VLA)
    (Recommendation: 8)
  4. To take responsibility for, and implement as soon as possible, an unambiguous, single line of management and governance for IAH. BBSRC’s favoured option is for it to take immediate responsibility as a Corporate Trustee (this is being pursued immediately in concert with the IAH Governing Body)
    (Recommendations: 5)

BBSRC is taking these priority actions, and others in response to the Review, in the light of several important general principles which were clearly identified by the Review, and which BBSRC accepts. These are:

  • that long term, sustainable funding is crucial if the Review’s recommendations are to achieve their objectives
  • that many of the Review’s recommendations are indivisibly linked, and a coherent and holistic approach is needed
  • that an effective partnership with Defra, with clear delineation of responsibilities, is core to the successful planning and delivery of long term sustainability for Pirbright. This includes BBSRC agreeing with Defra ways to deliver long-term national needs in the provision, respectively, of knowledge-generating, world class fundamental research on animal diseases, and the surveillance and control of these diseases
  • that such planning must address changing scientific and socio-economic factors, including the diminishing distinction between endemic and exotic diseases of animals, the importance of major animal diseases that can transmit from livestock to humans, the requirements of the livestock sector; and the need for coherent approaches across funding bodies and relevant Government Departments, not only between BBSRC and Defra
  • the Review makes some recommendations that require immediate response, and some that are longer term and depend upon broader consideration of animal health research

Commenting on the Review, BBSRC Chief Executive Steve Visscher said: "We greatly welcome the way this independent review has clarified BBSRC’s responsibilities in what has been a complex situation that had evolved over many decades. We accept the challenges and opportunities the Review has highlighted and are acting swiftly to address the key areas."

In addition to the actions listed above, BBSRC Executive has set up a small expert working group to review the current IAH research portfolio and advise the Council on issues raised in the Review around possible relocation of research from the Compton site of IAH to Pirbright.

Mr Visscher continued: "The BBSRC Council and Executive are extremely grateful to Professor Beringer and his review panel for the thoughtful and incisive nature of their report. It provides a real basis for BBSRC to move forward and to resolve the regrettable but inevitable uncertainty under which IAH staff have been working. I would like to take this opportunity to repeat BBSRC’s ongoing support for those staff who are continuing to deliver vital research, for example on Bluetongue Disease, during this period."

BBSRC responses

Recommendation 1: We recommend that the Pirbright Site Redevelopment Programme must be carried through to completion without delay.

Accepted: BBSRC has renewed its commitment to its share of the partnership with Defra to effect this redevelopment.

Recommendation 2: We recommend that the redeveloped Pirbright laboratory should be positioned as a new ‘National Centre for Animal Viral Disease’ and should be founded upon a joint BBSRC-Defra science strategy for animal health and welfare.

Accepted

Recommendation 3: BBSRC and Defra must jointly provide long-term core funding to ensure the sustainability of the new National Centre at Pirbright. We do not believe it appropriate to fund a national facility with statutory responsibilities primarily through the award of research grants and contracts.

Accepted

Recommendation 4: We recommend that core funding for the new National Centre at Pirbright should be administered as a single stream with a planning horizon of at least five years.  Core funding must include adequate provision for core staff, running costs, maintenance and renewal of infrastructure, so that safety and biosecurity needs are satisfied.

Accepted

Recommendation 5: In line with the previous wishes of the IAH Governing Body, BBSRC should take over direct responsibility for governance of IAH.  As an interim measure to resolve the current ambiguity of governance, and in recognition of the scale of change facing IAH, we recommend that the IAH Governing Body should invite BBSRC to become a Corporate Trustee for IAH, in order to accelerate the planned move to bring governance under more direct control.

Accepted and being acted upon in concert with the IAH Governing Body.

Recommendation 6: We recommend that a clear single line of management and reporting is established for all staff within the new Centre at Pirbright, for example through seconding relocated VLA staff to BBSRC or vice versa.  This will require explicit agreement between BBSRC, IAH and VLA management in advance of the staff moves.

Accepted

Recommendation 7: In view of the importance of new Centre at Pirbright as a national facility, and the potential economic and social impact of serious disease outbreaks, BBSRC and Defra must agree long-term arrangements for its ownership and management.  If there is no prospect of agreement by April 2009 the matter should be resolved by referral through DIUS and Defra to the Cabinet Office.

Agreed – BBSRC believes that the question of management must be resolved by the end of December 2008

Recommendation 8: We recommend that appropriate IAH and VLA staff develop jointly agreed risk management procedures.  In order that procedures are in place well in advance of the movement of VLA staff to Pirbright, this process should begin immediately.

Agreed

Recommendation 9: We recommend that BBSRC Council’s decisions regarding the future of IAH Compton and investment in endemic disease research should be based on a thorough assessment of scientific and strategic need.

Agreed. BBSRC has established a small expert working group to assess the scientific and strategic need as a matter of urgency

Recommendation 10: We recommend that, provided Council is persuaded by the scientific and strategic case, work should be relocated from Compton to join the new Centre at Pirbright.

BBSRC Council is sympathetic to this recommendation but considers it premature to comment further until the results of the assessment of the expert working group, which is due to report to BBSRC in June.

Recommendation 11: We recommend that Defra, working closely with BBSRC, should lead in drawing together the main funders and stakeholders of animal health and welfare research to develop a joint national strategy for science and funding to underpin the management of risks from animal diseases, both endemic and exotic

Agreed. BBSRC looks forward to Defra leadership in greater national coordination of animal health and welfare.

Recommendation 12: We recommend that Defra, working closely with BBSRC, should lead in setting up a funding body for animal health and welfare research, surveillance and associated functions, as a route to developing a joint national strategy and improving coordination across the relevant funders.

Agreed – as recommendation 11.

Recommendation 13: We recommend that a new Animal Health and Welfare agency should be established.  Animal health and welfare is simply too important to remain as at present; it must be given clear leadership and be made less vulnerable to budgetary fluctuations and ‘border disputes’ between organisations.

BBSRC Council is sympathetic to the aims of this recommendation but considers it premature to explore this recommendation in detail at this time, until progress is made and can be assessed on the priority areas addressed above.

Notes

1. The Beringer Report
This report is from an independent review panel established under the chairmanship of Professor Sir John Beringer in December 2007.  The panel’s remit was to advise BBSRC Council on the future funding, governance and risk management at the Institute for Animal Health (IAH), which occupies sites at Compton (Berkshire) and Pirbright (Surrey).  The review was instigated following the Government’s response to the foot and mouth disease outbreak in summer 2007.

The report can be viewed at: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/organisation/policies/reviews/operational/0804_iah_governance.html

Membership of the Beringer Review Panel was:

Name Affiliation Position / notes
Professor Sir John Beringer CBE (chair) Independent Formerly University of Bristol;
Member of Council for Science and Technology;
Chair, John Innes Centre Governing Council
Professor Keith Gull CBE FRS FMEdSci University of Oxford Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow;
Professor of Molecular Microbiology;
Chair, IAH Governing Body
Professor Tony Minson University of Cambridge Professor of Virology and Pro Vice chancellor for Planning and Resources
Dr Alistair Penman Independent Formerly Unilever;
Former member of BBSRC Council
Professor Simon Pollard Cranfield University Head of Department, Sustainable Systems;
Professor of Waste and Environmental Risk Management
Mr Meurig Raymond MBE National Farmers’ Union Farmer; deputy president, NFU
Mr Alick Simmons Defra Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

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