Government's Kew strategy under fire from science and technology committee chairman

'There are national and international concerns about losing high-quality scientists,' says select committee chairman.

Kew: hearing held in December
Kew: hearing held in December

Government departments are failing to apply joined-up strategy to help Kew Gardens, which is cutting 125 posts because of a funding crisis, according to parliamentary science and technology committee chairman Andrew Miller.

Miller, who led MPs at a select committee hearing at Kew in December, in which Kew director Richard Deverell and Defra minister Lord de Mauley were questioned, said: "It's clear that despite the goodwill on the part of Lord de Mauley he hasn't got the clout to bring about what's necessary.

"It needs a (senior) minster to knock heads together and bring together the relevant departments. Culture, Media & Sport, Defra, Education and Business, Innovation & Skills increasingly govern overall responsibility for science budgets. All have different responsibilities in Kew and all have quietly left it to Defra."

He added that any clear strategy is missing. "There is a lack of engagement from Government departments and the fact that Kew has suffered from funding problems as well, altogether that is a recipe for disaster if someone doesn't get to grips with it," said Miller.

Kew is holding a briefing about the science strategy in February and would not comment on the select committee's proposed ideas.

Miller said: "Incredibly expensive science is necessary to retain, although it doesn't have any immediate payback. For example, the Millennium Seed Bank and taxonomy have incredible long-term value but there doesn't appear to be any clear strategy about how these areas of science should be maintained in the future.

"That to my mind is all down to being left to run on too loose a basis with no clarity of direction." He added that long-term projects don't expose themselves in terms of scientific papers.

The committee "rattled a few cages", said Miller. The Government gave a one-off payment of £2.3m to Kew the day before the select committee hearing. Kew has a £5.5m funding hole and lacks long-term science funding.

"I'd be surprised if the employers would massively change their employment strategy but clearly there are national and international concerns about losing high-quality scientists. Action must be taken to protect the long-term future of the science."

Deverell had said select committee hearings rarely lead to Government funding, but Miller said that was "nonsense" and cited £87m given to the Met Office for a new IT system after a science committee recommendation. But he added that committees are rarely acknowledged.

Kew Select committee recommendations

Kew is writing a science strategy but "Government departments with a vested interest should pull together", said science and technology committe chairman Andrew Miller.

"It's not the Kew side that worries me. There's a lot of worry being expressed in the UK and globally about the impact of cuts, some of it misinformed. The new strategy needs to be transparent so people can challenge it before it's too late. If it's to continue contributing to the global effort, it needs to be a clearer strategy.

"I'd want to ensure it gets the right priority across Government departments that ought to be taking Kew more seriously."

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