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

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

Session: 2013/2014

Date: 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."

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