Memorandum submitted by Horticulture Research
International (HRI) Staff-side (D 33)
This memorandum seeks to provide to the Agriculture
Select Committee the views of staff on HRI's financial difficulties
and restructuring plans. Trade Unions (IPMS, PCS, TGWU) within
HRI see it as appropriate to make a submission as their views
have not previously been made known to the Committee unlike those
of HRI's management and HRI's sponsor department MAFF; and not
least because some of the Trade Union Side (TUS) views have been
leaked to the trade press.
In this memorandum we provide a backdrop to
the present situation with (i) a statement of the TUS philosophy
(ii) our perception of the role of HRI (iii) the history which
informs staff opinion and the impact of (iv) external factors
and (v) internal factors on HRI's plight.
(i) TUS philosophy
The TUS throughout a difficult period for HRI
has sought to:
Safeguard the welfare of staff.
Ensure fair and equal treatment for
Support management in its endeavours
to create an efficient, viable and stable R&D organisation.
(ii) The role of HRI
The primary role of HRI is to carry out R&D
relevant to horticulture. HRI has a unique combination of people
and facilities which enable it to deliver right across the spectrum
from basic to applied research through to development. This capability
must be maintained in support of the horticulture sector of UK
The factors listed below, coupled with the regular
scienceand scientist bashingin the media, result
in extremely low morale and low self-esteem amongst staff.
Since HRI was formed in 1990 a bill
to enable HRI staff to be on common contracts of employment has
never been given parliamentary time.
HRI has been declaring redundancies
virtually year on year since 1978.
HRI has previously closed one of
its principal sites (Littlehampton in 1994-95).
HRI has lost over 220 posts in the
last four years.
Loss of posts has not necessarily
meant loss of job function which results in increased pressure
on the staff who remain.
HRI staff have no stability in their
work environment and lack job security; factors necessary for
The emphasis on short fixed-term
appointments has effectively removed any career structure for
young scientists in HRI.
The imposed over-bureaucratisation
of science management in HRI is stifling creativity and reducing
Lack of consultation in decision-making
Continual policy and management changes
destroy confidence about the future.
Turning to the key question of the current restructuring
"Why has HRI ended up, yet again, in the financial mire,
leading to the closure of Stockbridge House and the loss of 150
(iv) External factors
MAFF funding for horticultural R&D
has declined year on year since HRI was formed.
BBSRC core grant funding for basic
research has reduced irrespective of the quality of the science
because HRI falls outside the BBSRC family of Institutes and yet
our work is largely judged against BBSRC criteria.
Lack of sufficient political support
for the science base.
(v) Internal factors
TUS, whilst accepting that the root causes of
HRI's problems are external, believe that poor management decisions
have contributed significantly to our current difficulties. We
accept that mistakes do occur, but it is essential to HRI's future
viability that we learn from them.
HRI has faced and continues to face declining
financial support from its sponsors. A principal management strategy
to address these problems was to create HortiTech. HortiTech was
charged with both raising income from HRI's current business and
creating new business opportunities to generate profit which would
provide an income stream to R&D and contribute to the costs
of running the organisation. The creation of HortiTech represented
a second attempt to develop our commercial business and followed
on from an earlier and judged unsuccessful Commercial and Marketing
Department. From the outset, HRI staff expressed doubts about
the wisdom and operation of the scheme. Against this background,
staff have been successful in competing for grant income and in
identifying new funding sources.
The creation of HortiTech rather than generate
profit has exacerbated HRI's financial problems. This has been
caused by the over-optimistic income projections accepted by both
HRI Management and the Board and built into HRI's financial planning
and by the very significant costs of HortiTech (which we believe
are close to £2 million over the two years that HortiTech
has been operating). We have particular concerns over the Board
which is non-executive and seemingly non-accountable and yet is
ultimately responsible for decisions which affect staff. We would
ask where does Board responsibility and culpability lie?
HRI now intend to try for the third time to
invest in Business Development through the appointment of a Business
Development manager. TUS accepts that HRI needs to continue to
develop its business but the issue is how we choose to do this.
We can reasonably ask why a strategy that has already failed twice
will work this time?
With respect to the restructuring that is currently
in train we have grave concerns about the decisions that have
been made and how they are being implemented. It is now seemingly
too late to revisit these decisions which may well be a tragedy
for HRI in the longer term.
In conclusion, HRI has a loyal and committed
work-force that wants to see HRI thrive. We believe the core task
of HRI is to provide innovative and relevant research for the
horticulture industry and that this should be the focus of our
activities. We fail to be persuaded that the philosophical and
financial diversion of creating commercial business is cost effective.
We would wish to see a clear commitment to the core role of HRI
as an R&D provider.
This memorandum is necessarily brief. TUS would
be happy to provide additional information to the Committee should
it so require.
29 November 2000