No. 25 of Session 2004-05 7 February 2005


The Medical Research Council’s Review of the National Institute for Medical Research 

In a Report released today, Tuesday 8 February 2005, the all party Commons Science and Technology Committee criticises the way the proposed move of the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) to a central London site has been handled.

The Committee undertook this inquiry in response to complaints at NIMR at the way in which the Medical Research Council (MRC) had conducted the review but extended its scope to investigate serious accusations that arose in evidence about the conduct of the Chief Executive of the MRC, Professor Colin Blakemore.

The Committee found that MRC lost the confidence of the NIMR staff by failing to engage them in the original review of the institute’s future by the Forward Investment Strategy Subcommittee in 2003. This contributed to the “fragility” of their subsequent relationship.

The Report concludes that MRC was right to establish a Task Force to consider afresh the future of NIMR but describes the decision to appoint the Chief Executive as Chairman of the Task Force, rather than a more independent figure, as “naïve”. Nonetheless, the Task Force was found to have completed its job in a rational and coherent manner, with full consideration given to the option of maintaining NIMR at Mill Hill. 

The MPs conclude that the way Professor Blakemore sought to achieve consensus on the Task Force “could reasonably be interpreted as heavy handed and inappropriately forceful on occasion” but found no specific credible evidence of coercion or that he had any “hidden agenda” for the Task Force from the outset.

Whilst the process of review was found to be fair, the Report concludes that MRC has “signally failed to carry its troops with it”. The MPs commend the way the two NIMR representatives on the Task Force participated in its work but are critical of the engagement of some senior staff there, which “stopped only a little short of serious interference with the process and a deliberate attempt to undermine the position of the Chief Executive of their own organisation”.

Looking to the future, the Committee makes no attempt to second guess the final decision of the MRC Council on the proposed move. It believes that MRC should be prepared to take the necessary time to ensure that any central London option it chooses exceeds the current quality of the research facilities and environment at Mill Hill, and that full consideration is given to all potential funding sources. If the right London partner cannot be found, the Committee supports MRC’s planned alternative of reconsidering all the available options for the future of NIMR.

The Chairman of the Committee, Dr Ian Gibson, said “It is very unfortunate that a squabble between two parts of the same organisation has been allowed to interfere with important decisions about the future of medical research in the UK. Science is not just about laboratories and fancy new institutes; it is about the people inside them too. It’s the job of management to ensure that we keep in the UK scientists who are passionate about their work and committed to their institutions. MRC and NIMR must now put this dispute behind them and implement the Council’s final decision together.”

For further information, please ring Ana Ferreira on 020 7219 2793

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Notes for Editors

• Under the terms of Standing Order No. 152 the Committee is empowered to examine the “expenditure, policy and administration of the Office of Science and Technology and its associated public bodies@. The Committee was appointed on 12 November 2001.

• The Committee announced this inquiry on 21 October 2004 (Press Notice No. 73  of Session 2003-04) and held three evidence sessions with representatives from MRC and NIMR; members of the MRC Task Force on the future of NIMR; and members of the MRC Forward Investment Strategy Subcommittee. 

Membership of the Committee

Dr Ian Gibson (Lab, Norwich North) (Chairman)
Mr Tony McWalter (Lab, Hemel Hempstead)
Paul Farrelly (Lab, Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Dr Andrew Murrison (Con, Westbury)
Dr Evan Harris (Lib Dem, Oxford West & Abingdon)
Geraldine Smith (Lab, Morecambe and Lunesdale)
Kate Hoey (Lab, Vauxhall)
Bob Spink (Con, Castle Point)
Dr Brian Iddon (Lab, Bolton South East)
Dr Desmond Turner (Lab, Brighton Kemptown)
Mr Robert Key (Con, Salisbury)