Press Release

Committee says management at Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute was unacceptably poor

Session: 2013/2014

Date: Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Reference: PAC 09/13/14

Management and oversight at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) has been unacceptably poor, the Assembly Public Accounts Committee today revealed.

The Committee today published its report into the way the Institute was governed and also criticised the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which had responsibility for overseeing its operations.

Launching the report, Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, Michaela Boyle MLA said: "It is important to recognise the importance of AFBI's work to the local agri-food industry. AFBI is in the front line of the fight against animal and plant disease, and in assisting the development of a key local industry. The Committee fully supports its efforts in this regard.

"However, we are very disappointed that the delivery of AFBI's operations has been undermined by poor internal management and by inadequate oversight by its parent Department. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has provided over £250 million funding to AFBI since it was established in 2006 but our findings lead us to believe that this significant investment has not provided good value for money.

"We are also alarmed at the extent of weaknesses and shortcomings of AFBI's financial and project management but are pleased that they have recently introduced new procedures. These new processes have the potential to significantly improve the management and efficiency of AFBI's operations."

A positive finding in the report was the significant increase in non-DARD income achieved by AFBI since its establishment. Between 2008-09 and 2012-13, the Institute received over £20 million income from royalties from patents filed following scientific discoveries by Science Service (AFBI's predecessor organisation). However, the report highlights the Committee's "deep concern" that a small number of staff have received very significant shares of these royalty payments.

The Chairperson said: "We were particularly unhappy that public sector employees received further substantial awards for doing their jobs. All in all, we believe that it is important that the Committee's recommendations are now fully implemented to drive out inefficiencies and improve performance."

Notes to Editors:

The report highlights that:

  • Adequate costing systems were not introduced in AFBI until late 2012 but DARD continued to provide annual funding of over £40 million to the Institute, without having any assurance on the efficiency of AFBI’s operations.
  • AFBI’s estate is very inefficient, with £51.2 million spent on this between 2006 and 2011. Despite incurring such high costs, DARD has only recently began to develop a proper AFBI estates strategy. The report concludes that inaction in this area has been “totally unacceptable”.
  • Up to £3.5 million income was lost by AFBI due to it undercharging customers until 2011. The Committee concluded that it was attributable to poor financial management within the Institute.
  • There is a lack of hard information on the costs of scientific testing undertaken by AFBI for DARD, and of the costs of maintaining an emergency response capability to counter major disease outbreaks.
  • The management of the programme of research and development (R&D) delivered by AFBI for DARD was “unacceptably poor”. Overall, this programme overspent by £12.7 million. When DARD finally exercised some form of meaningful oversight of R&D in 2012, two-thirds of ongoing projects, which collectively cost £18.2 million, were immediately terminated. The Committee believes that these projects were “allowed to drift for far too long”, and was also particularly disappointed to learn that a seed potato breeding project which has been ongoing since 1957 has failed to deliver any degree of market success to the industry.

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