November 17 2004
Redundancies at Pirbright"making 70 staff redundant. That's about 13% of its workforce. Nigel Titchen from the prospect Union say the cuts can't be made without research suffering.
They're conducting research on BSE, Bovine Tuberculosis, mastitis, scrapie in sheep, avian flu, African Swine Fever, Blue Tongue disease, and of course CJD in man. All of those things are very important to the farming community and very important to the wider international community and the Institute clearly would have some difficulty in meeting all of its obligations if it were to suffer 13% reductions in its staffing numbers.
Our concern is that we don't know quite where the next crisis is going to come from, so an area that which at the present time isn't considered to be a high priority might well in the future be just the area where we need to have that expertise and capability."They simply do not have the money to make up the shortfalls that they have at the moment.The science base in the UK is we feel basically underfunded and in the past six months the Office of Science and Technology has launched its ten year strategy for Science and we believe, with that, comes a responsibility and a commitment to underpin the kind of research. So what we're saying is that the government should step in and ensure that facilities like the Institute of Animal Health are adequately resourced and are safeguarded for the future."The Institute says that because of the funding shortfall it has no alternative but to make the job cuts. The Director of their Pirbright site, Dr David Mackay, denies that animal or human health will suffer. "We're going to be very careful in the cuts that we make across the Institute to ensure that we're able to respond adequately to any current or future threat that we can envisage."I notice in the statement that you issued you said that "redundancies will be targeted to areas of lower scientific and stategic priority in order to maintain the Institute's strengths" Well, some might argue that three years ago, foot and mouth disease research was a low priority and look what happened there."Yes I think that's always a difficulty with animal health, that one cannot accurately predict in every case what is coming but what we can do is very carefully select those areas where we will reduce staff to those we consider are of the lowest strategic priority."So which areas do you consider of the lowest strategic priority?We will not be making any ppublic statement about the specific areas to be reduced until the BBsrc council have agreed our plan.This is the biotechnology and biological sciences research Council which is basically your bosses.Absolutely. Our parent body.One of the things which has been claimed by the union is that part of your problem is down to the fact that funds which should have come to you, which had been promised to you, have not been forthcoming, particularly funds from Europe. Is that indeed the case?There are two problems with Europe. The first is that the overhead rates that they pay are too low to support the genuine costs of research, and the second is that they are extremely slow at paying. And yes we have suffered from both of those.If the overhead rates which they pay are too low, why did you agree to them in the first place?We face a difficult balance there because of course we will get partial funding from the EU and therefore we do get better value from the UK taxpayer but the balance is that we don't do too much in new research.