Skirmish success in R&D funding battle

When HW telephoned industry figures last week to break the news that the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) had found a way to enable cash from the Horticultural Development Company levy to feature in bids for the board's £13m collaborative R&D fund for crop protection, there was initially some disbelief.

With the call for bids hours away from opening — and nearly two months gone by since HW had first sought clarification on the issue from the TSB after a concerned research scientist brought the matter to our attention — it is quite understandable that most considered this particular skirmish in the ongoing R&D battle well and truly lost.

As we noted before Christmas, what had made the situation particularly frustrating was that the classification of levy funds as public money — and hence the potential barriers to its use in combination with other sources of funding and the very considerable difficulties that created for a fragmented horticulture industry — had been raised by sector representatives directly with the environment secretary more than a year ago. Clearly, in the handover of responsibility for much of R&D from Defra to the TSB, communication on such key issues hasn't exactly been at its best.

Thankfully, the intensive lobbying from across the industry that swung into action during November and December after the problem was brought to light has had the desired effect. We should mark this down as a victory for joint industry pressure — and remind ourselves, again, that it is possible to win.

But as we know, the R&D fightback doesn't end there. For ornamentals, the picture remains bleak, bar one bright spot on the horizon, namely an attempt being made by grower and research community representatives to create an arm's length R&D vehicle able to secure funds from other public sources.

With HortLINK now being wound down, the complete absence of Government support for the ornamentals sector remains to be addressed. We repeat our call, under the Save Our Science campaign, for Defra to match-fund pound for pound the levy raised by ornamentals growers.

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