Outsourcing giant Capita and Newcastle University have struck a 10-year deal to partly privatise the government’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera).
Defra says the £14.5m investment “will expand the agency’s world-leading scientific capability and strengthen its role in food research”.
The venture, which will start from 1 April, will enable Fera to play an “even greater role in helping to drive growth in our £100bn agri-food industry”.
Defra secretary Liz Truss said: “This exciting investment allows Fera to grow its science capability, ensuring the security and quality of our food supply chain and keeping our plants and environment healthy.”
Fera’s chief executive Hilary Aldridge added: “Today’s announcement is good news for Fera. We are a global leader in plant health, the agrifood supply chain and environmental sciences, and this enables us to grow from strength to strength.
“I am looking forward to working with Capita and Newcastle University to strengthen Fera’s existing scientific quality and international reputation.”
However, the Prospect trade union, which represents 400 scientists at the York-based Fera institution, warned “science must not be overtaken by commercial interests” in the deal.
Prospect national secretary Geraldine O’Connell said: “We will want to ensure that the new provider focuses on delivering good quality, long-term science and is not simply concerned with making money.
“Equally, we will be seeking commitments from Capita to safeguard the future of the workforce and all their terms and conditions of employment.”