8 March 1996

NIAB privatisation plans steam ahead

By Tony McDougal

PROPOSALS to privatise the UKs leading agronomy centre are proceeding at full pace despite criticism from Labour MPs.

Junior farm minister Tim Boswell said discussions were taking place with the National Institute of Agronomy and Botany with a view "to placing it unequivocally in the private sector".

The announcement has angered Anne Campbell (Lab, Cambridge), who questioned the governments logic in privatising the institute when corresponding European centres remained firmly in the public sector. "We need an independent national system of approval for var-ieties and it would be a poorer place if it ended up being aligned with commercial companies," she said.

At present, 80% of NIABs 260 employees are based at Camb-ridge and it receives 45% of its revenue from MAFF (£4m a year).

Many of the UKs agricultural research centres are being subjected to government prior option reviews and Mrs Campbell questioned how many other proposed privatisations had not been announced.

Simon Draper, NIAB deputy director, said discussions had gone beyond the "options for review" stage but declined to comment whether full privatisation of the institute would take place.

Dr Draper claimed NIAB was in a different situation, as it was a charity organisation with its own governing council. He said the government was one of NIABs major customers, adding that the institute was working in a range of activities including training, basic research, providing the national lists and some agrochemical work.

The move into the private sector is currently set to take place over an 18-month period and one likely change would be a review in farmer funding.

At present, 4000 fellows of NIAB pay a lump sum (£52) each year to receive information. &#42