Nearly £15m’s worth of private sector investment is being made in the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) to enhance the role it plays in food safety research.
The government claimed that the £14.5m being invested in collaboration with outsourcing company Capita would strengthen the agency’s position within the UK’s £100bn-a-year agri-food industry. The venture is expected to begin in April.
But the union representing Fera staff has expressed concern that the investment is tantamount to privatisation, and the shadow secretary for environment, food and rural affairs has sought clarifications from the department’s permanent secretary.
Labour’s Maria Eagle wrote to Bronwyn Hill “to seek reassurances over the role that Capita will play in the joint venture,” the Guardian reported yesterday.
Other media sources have claimed that Capita will acquire an initial 75% stake in Fera, with further investment possible over the next five years. The venture, which also involves Newcastle University, could create 50 new Fera jobs and bring together the expertise of 40 additional researchers.
Fera CEO Hilary Aldridge defended the move: “This announcement is good news for Fera. We are a global leader in plant health, the agri-food supply chain and environmental sciences, and this enables us to grow from strength to strength. I am looking forward to working with Capita and Newcastle University to strengthen Fera’s existing scientific quality and international reputation.”
Liz Truss, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, said: “Fera has a significant presence in the agri-food market where it is already recognised as an internationally respected scientific organisation. As the joint venture partner, Capita, will bring valuable commercial expertise and experience enabling Fera to maximise its capabilities. The venture also includes the creation of a joint academic institute with Newcastle University aimed at advancing the understanding and application of science to practical agri-food problems.
“In bringing together the public sector, private sector and academia, the joint venture allows Fera to build on its reputation as an international centre of excellence and provide the invaluable scientific services that Defra and wider government will continue to require in the future.”
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019
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