Examination of witnesses (Questions 60
WEDNESDAY 13 DECEMBER 2000
and MR DAVID
60. the name of CSL was mentioned and
it was mentioned in the context by those representing the growers
as a possible white knight who might have come in and saved Stockbridge
House. Why should they have believed the Central Science Laboratory,
a government owned facility, would have any remote interest in
taking over this enterprise? Why were they encouraged by CSL?
(Professor Wilson) I cannot answer that question.
I understand weHRI Stockbridgemay have done a little
bit of work with CSL, but they certainly did not inundate us or
shower us with money or projects or largesse when we were running
61. Are CSL short of the kind of bodies that
(Professor Wilson) They have a different mission from
us. They have a statutory role as an Agency to ensure plant health
and so forth. They have very good pathologists and so forth.
62. Would they have had an interest in the SOLA
(Professor Wilson) I cannot answer for them. They
may have done as a contract.
63. Let me ask one final question about Stockbridge
House. You are looking for it to contribute I think over £4
million by virtue of its sale to fund the cost, is that right?
(Professor Wilson) No, that is not correct. The Buildings
and Estate Management Department of MAFF have put a value on Stockbridge
House. I think it is probably inappropriate for me to cite that
number because that could affect the market value of the site.
It is nothing like £4 million. It is but a fraction of the
restructuring cost, which is the number you quoted, £4.5
64. Am I wrong then that the sale of the assets
and the savings are not the source of the seed corn funding for
the restructuring costs of HRI? Have I got the wrong picture?
(Mr Siddall) It is a factor. I think that we have
to look to MAFF to provide the funding for the restructuring in
the best way they choose. This is one of the sources that they
intend to use, but it is not our asset. It is really up to them.
They have committed to support the plan.
65. At this moment in time, we do not know what
Stockbridge House is worth. We have some idea of what the saving
on the staff might be. What could the site be used for?
(Professor Wilson) Again, that is up to MAFF's Building
and Estate Management Department. I imagine it could be used for
any purpose whatsoever once given permission. There is some light
industry in the area. There are business parks and various retail
66. As the owners of Stockbridge House you have
(Professor Wilson) We are not the owners.
67. You operate it.
(Professor Wilson) We lease it from MAFF.
68. You put forward the idea of the sale, did
(Professor Wilson) No, no.
69. This is not your idea?
(Professor Wilson) Not at all.
70. Not invented here?
(Professor Wilson) No.
71. MAFF are the ones. Is it MAFF who pops up
one day and says "Ah, we can realise this asset and we can
fund your restructuring plan", is that how it works?
(Mr Siddall) It was part of the discussion.
72. It was part of the discussion. So it is
both of you?
(Mr Siddall) No, no, let us be clear.
73. Yes, let us be clear because I am just trying
to understand where this plan originated.
(Mr Siddall) The sequence of events was we needed
to restructure. We had a number of options. We decided that the
closure of Stockbridge was one of the options. As I think you
have understood already, most of the £3 million savings do
not come from that. The discussion was we close Stockbridge. Stockbridge
is a MAFF asset. In the course of the conversation, when the sums
were done, the costs of restructuring amounted to £4.5 million
and it was considered that some of that money would come from
the sale of their asset, the site.
74. We had better ask the Minister then all
those questions about what it is worth and what can it be used
(Mr Siddall) No, I think I would rather look at it
the other way, if I may. I think the important point for us here
is we do not have any financial capacity. We do not own the assets.
We do not have any security of tenure over the assets. Our whole
constitutional positionI do not want to go over this again
but as I pointed out to you the last timewe have not any
capacity to do any financial arrangements like this. We have to
go cap in hand to MAFF and MAFF have to think about how it fits
in with their programme and that is what took months.
75. So you would agree with Dr George Thorburn
who said "This sorry tale has shown that non departmental
public bodies are a complete waste of time and money"?
(Professor Wilson) An interesting thesis.
(Mr Siddall) No. We have heard the thoughts.
76. I would like to move on and look at your
management position because we have talked, for example, about
the need for a Head of Business Development. I want to take you
to paragraph IV on page two of the note which you sent to us and
I quote "At the same time, HRI announced that it would be
strengthening its senior management team by recruiting a Head
of Business Development and an Operations Manager, to fill posts
vacant since October 1999 and August 2000, respectively".
So where are we with these posts? What will these people do? How
much are you offering to pay them? Give us a flavour of what paragraph
(Professor Wilson) Those two senior management posts
are both vacancies; one created by the departure of Mr Thorburn
last October, the other created by the unfortunate loss of Mr
Mark Woodget who is now doing a job with the Blood Transfusion
Service. In any case that was August of this year.
77. It looks like you need a financial transfusion.
(Professor Wilson) We have advertised those positions.
We have received a significant number of applications. We have
shortlisted six in each case. We are taking up references and
we anticipate interviewing in January to fill both those posts.
In the case of the Head of Business Development we are specifically
looking for a person coming with a scientific background, preferably
up to PhD level but certainly having worked in management, in
multi-national industries, agrichemicals, whatever. We are not
prejudging this, but obviously we are looking for the strongest
candidate inevitably. We are looking for someone with a sympathy
for the complexity of HRI, its core business, research and development,
the adding of value, the bringing of new contracts from the commercial
sector, trading and exploiting intellectual property in all its
various forms, and basically looking after and integrating, as
it were, the projects that we have from all of our funders, not
just from the commercial sector because of course, the HortiTech
Business Development Department is but a department of HRI.
78. What are the salaries, say, for the Head
of Business Development? What are you going to pay these people?
(Professor Wilson) I am advised by a number of senior
colleagues that to attract the right sort of person we have to
go to the maximum that we can offer. In the private sector, of
course, these sorts of people command much higher salaries than
we can do. We are looking at £60/70,000 for the Head of Business
Development and circa £40,000 for the Operations Manager.
79. You are looking for a Superman or woman
to fill this post at a salary under what you deem as the competitive
rate outside. What performance criteria are you going to set for
these people given that they are going to inherit a plan, which
is already worked out, as to how you are going to financially
recover this business? What happens if they come along and say
"Well, I do not agree with this"? Clearly you want to
get somebody who is competitive, who can develop their own strategy
and yet you have worked it out beforehand.
(Professor Wilson) No, we have not worked it out in
detail beforehand. What we have done is we have been preparing
the ground, as it were. Since we last met with you, we have done
a very thorough analysis of all the business units. Again, since
we last met with you, independently of the restructuring exercise,
we have improved our team building. We have focused much more
on research teams and themes across the organisation. We are clearly
bringing in new high value business on the back of our research
and development capability.