Rescue talks follow ill-judged Silsoe closure decision


Rescue talks follow ill-judged Silsoe closure decision

Prospect has condemned the ill-judged decision by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) on 23 April to withdraw core funding from Silsoe Research Institute (SRI), in 2006.

The measures would transfer up to 40 staff and related funding at the specialist Bedford site to other BBSRC sites across the UK, but leaves the future of the remaining 160 staff in doubt.

The unique biological engineering research institute brings together scientists of many disciplines – engineers, physicists, chemists, mathematicians and biologists – to tackle a wide range of projects at the interface of biology and engineering.

However, to save the loss of this unique institute, Prospect is in talks with a large private-sector company to mount a rescue package for about 85% of the site’s work.

The closure decision was made even though after a two-month consultation exercise, 95% of stakeholders, funders, customers and staff supported SRI remaining publicly funded and independent. In its submission, Prospect calculated it would cost £20-30m to close the site.

"This decision flies in the face of reason and confirms our worst fears. It will lead to the break up of many world class research teams," said Nigel Titchen, president of Prospect’s science, engineering and technology group.

Though at an early stage, the proposals for a private-sector rescue package are based on a model outlined in Prospect’s submission to BBSRC Council. A further announcement is expected within two months.

"Although we are bitterly disappointed that BBSRC did not have the vision to maintain a publicly-funded integrated science and engineering organisation, Prospect is pleased to be working with a major player in the environment field to develop a cost-effective research and development business at Silsoe," said Titchen.