17 January 1996

ADAS bidders whittled down to final trio…

By Tony McDougal

THREE potential purchasers for ADAS have been shortlisted as MAFF aims to complete its privatisation programme by the end of March.

The short-list includes Genus, a consortium led by former ADAS chief executive Dr Julia Walsh, and a management and employee buy-out bid led by current chief executive Philip Needham. All three are bidding for the whole business, which involves consultancy, research and development and the Wolverhampton lab.

Although industry officials welcomed MAFFs decision not to back non-farming commercial companies, they stressed it was vital that research and staff levels were at least maintained. The NFU, which considered submitting a bid, said its primary concern was that appropriate and independent advice was maintained. It added that farmers should be told whether the successful applicant would expand or contract services and increase or decrease staffing at grass-roots levels.

Philip Needham, ADAS chief executive and head of the MEBO bid, said he believed ADAS had a bright future, adding he was dedicated to expanding the business.

Mr Needham said research was geared to improving quality to meet market requirements and environmental objectives, while its consultancy work would help British farmers overcome challenges ahead.

Richard Wood, Genus chief executive, said he believed a combined Genus/ADAS service would be able to meet the long-term needs of British farming even though the company is primarily committed to the livestock industry.

Genus, a limited company since the abolition of the Milk Marketing Board in 1994, is owned by 28,000 British dairy shareholders and had a turnover last year of £48m.

Dr Julia Walsh, who led ADAS from 1991-95, left claiming it would be difficult to combine the role of chief executive and leader of a management buy-out team without raising a conflict of interest. She has teamed up with financial accountants Arthur Anderson, and has the support of a number of former senior ADAS staff.

Politicians were less keen on the governments shortlist. Elliot Morley, Labours junior farm spokesman, said. Mr Morley stressed Labour would not proceed with privatisation if contracts had not been exchanged.

Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesman, said the drive towards privatisation had led to a huge reduction in staffing levels.

, which in turn had contributed to the lack of research being carried out on BSE over the past decade.