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Laboratory Strategy

Volume 447: debated on Tuesday 20 June 2006

My noble Friend Lord Rooker has agreed to the next stage for DEFRA’s laboratory strategy. The aim remains to secure a long-term sustainable future for DEFRA’s laboratories—the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), the Central Science Laboratory (CSL), and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA)—in order to preserve DEFRA’s access to essential scientific services.

We have considered carefully the potential to secure the long-term sustainability of CEFAS and CSL under the existing model of DEFRA executive agency, against DEFRA’s projections for the likely level and type of demand for their services over a 12-year period. At the same time, we have looked at the potential impact of different ownership models involving all or some degree of continued public sector ownership.

CEFAS will continue to be a strategic public sector partner of the Department providing high-quality science to conserve and enhance the aquatic environment, promote sustainable management of its natural resources, and protect the public from aquatic contaminants. We have concluded that the way to secure a sustainable future is to consolidate its activities out of facilities at Lowestoft and Burnham on Crouch, which are not suitable for future needs, into a new fit for purpose site along with growing its non-DEFRA business and making further efficiencies.

To this end we have asked the chief executive of CEFAS to continue working with Waveney district council, Suffolk county council and the East of England development agency to develop plans to move on to a new fit for purpose and more efficient site in Lowestoft as part of an urban regeneration programme.

We have also concluded that the Department needs to retain the capacity of the CEFAS Weymouth laboratory. This laboratory will therefore not be part of this relocation and will remain open.

It is currently anticipated that the relocation will be completed by 2009.

CEFAS has developed its non-DEFRA business and we see potential for it to continue to do this for both public and private sector clients. Recognising this, we see some business benefits from exploring further a possible change of status fully within the public sector. We shall begin this when the transformation programme is sufficiently under way.

As for CSL, against a background of changing demands for its services, we have concluded that further work should be undertaken to develop a new business plan, which better reflects DEFRA’s future changing demand requirements and wider Government needs. In parallel with the development of a new business model, consideration will also be given as to whether a change in status would bring additional business benefits to secure a long-term sustainable future for CSL. In light of this further work, we would hope to take a decision on CSL by early next year and will update the House when I have done so. We recognise that this prolongs the uncertainty faced by the agency's staff, but we are convinced that this is the right course of action given the significance of the decision that must be taken.

For the VLA, DEFRA is continuing to work with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to consider the future relationship between VLA and the Institute of Animal Health (IAH). This work is now considering all possible options for the future closer integration of the science carried out at VLA and IAH including options for closer collaboration or amalgamation. It is anticipated that it will report to DEFRA and the BBSRC by the end of 2006.