Science and Technology Committee criticises Government's financial management of Kew

The Government's financial management of Kew Gardens is a recipe for failure, the Science and Technology Committee has warned in a new report out today (4 March).

Committee chair Andrew Miller MP said: "The way the Government provides funds to the Royal Botanic Gardens leaves them with little ability to plan for the future and is undermining Kew’s capability to produce world-beating plant science. The Government must work out a stable way of funding the Gardens that provides greater long-term certainty for Kew’s important work."

Recent financial problems have led to more than 100 people losing their jobs, including almost fifty scientists, and fears being raised over the ability of Kew to sustain its world class botanical and mycological science.

While the management is criticised for failing to produce a strategy (eventually published on 23 February) ahead of making changes and introducing redundancies the Committee has confidence in the management to carry out its plan to ensure the future of both Kew and its scientific mission.

Indeed, the report blames the pace of change on the difficult situation created by the restricted and stop/start nature of funding from the Government.

Miller added: "The Government does not needs to micro-manage Kew’s finances, it must give the Botanic Gardens the same financial freedom as similar leading scientific institutions. The Natural History Museum is thriving with far fewer restrictions on its budget from Government. We think it is time the Government ensured that there was a greater parity in treatment between these institutions".

The report raises concerns that too little of Kew’s funding is unrestricted. It points out that the Royal Botanic Gardens suffers in comparison with Natural History Museum, with 96 per cent of the Natural History Museum’s budget unrestricted so it has the freedom to choose how it is spent.

In Kew’s case Defra ends up making decisions better taken by management. The forthcoming Triennial review of Kew provides an opportunity to consider whether there should be more consistency of treatment between Natural History Museum and Kew according to the MPs.

A Royal Botanic Gardens Kew representative said: "We welcome the Science and Technology Committee’s recognition of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s 'world class' science, and their interest in the long-term future of Kew.

"Kew is home to the largest concentration of plant scientists at a botanic garden anywhere in the world and our expertise is a vital part of the UK’s science infrastructure. Our recently published science strategy, which was developed in lockstep with the new science structure, provides a focus and clarity to Kew’s science. It will enable us to fulfil our mission to document and understand plant and fungal diversity in order to address the enormous challenges facing humanity. 

"We agree with the Committee that for this world class science to thrive, Kew needs long-term investment backed by Government. This will ensure that we are able to adequately care for our collections, which are not only a priceless national asset but also an extraordinary global resource.

"We have made great strides in improving our financial health, including rapidly growing our self generated income. We continue to work closely with Defra, and across Government, to secure the long-term investment needed for Kew. Our aim is to ensure a vibrant and a successful future for Kew as a leading international research organisation and visitor attraction bringing plant and fungal science to the public."

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "We believe government cuts at Kew are emblematic of a shortsighted, politically motivated and hugely damaging approach to public spending.

"Rather than just react with kneejerk announcements when the spotlight is trained on the issue, ministers must commit to proper, long term funding to allow Kew to continue its work as a world leader in science and botany."

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