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Food and Environment Research Agency

Volume 579: debated on Thursday 1 May 2014

I am announcing today that DEFRA is launching a procurement exercise to find a joint venture partner for DEFRA’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera).

Fera is a leader in its field with an international reputation for protecting plant and bee health and food safety. A joint venture will protect and enhance its scientific capabilities in the long term, and free it from public sector constraints. This will give Fera the opportunity to access new markets and grow its non-Government business, which it cannot do in its current capacity.

Fera provides a range of high-quality scientific services that are essential to Government, with key capability in the areas of plant and bee health, and food and environmental safety, as well as providing a range of services to commercial customers, the European Union, and overseas Governments.

Fera already plays an important role in the agri-food market. Its capabilities, brand and pedigree mean it is well placed to play an even greater role in what is a very important and growing, global market. The essential statutory functions that Fera provides are out of scope of the joint venture and will remain within the DEFRA network.

As I announced in October, the bee health inspectors, the plant health and seed inspectorate, the GM inspectorate and UK Government decontamination service, all currently within Fera, will remain in the DEFRA network, due to their enforcement and statutory functions.

These functions will come together with the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) to form a new agency by October 2014. This will ensure plant and animal health inspectorate functions can be delivered more effectively in the future.

It is clear from our market exercise in November that there is potential interest from the market, keen to bid for the opportunity of becoming a joint venture partner with DEFRA for Fera.

Procuring the right external partner, with the necessary commercial expertise and experience will help Fera to maximise its market potential and grow its non-Government revenue. This would ensure that DEFRA achieves its long-term aims for a more resilient and thriving Fera and that Government continue to have access to the high-quality scientific capability it requires.

I believe that Fera offers a potential partner a unique opportunity to work with DEFRA to develop and enhance what is an internationally recognised scientific organisation. I am also confident that a joint venture would offer new opportunities to Fera’s staff, who are essential to the continued success of the business going forward.

I also informed the House yesterday that DEFRA is publishing a new plant biosecurity strategy for Great Britain, which sets out our strengthened approach to plant health. I believe that the joint venture will provide us with an opportunity to secure and grow the scientific capability we will need over the coming years to deliver that strategy.

I aim to make a final decision as to the preferred bidder (and service commencement date) for the joint venture by the end of this calendar year, once the procurement has been completed, when I will make a further announcement.