MPs highlight financial management problems at Kew Gardens

3 Mar 15

Ministers need to work out a stable way to fund the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, as current financial management arrangements are a ‘recipe for failure’, MPs have warned.

A hard-hitting report from the Commons science and technology committee noted that recent financial problems at the world-leading botanical science site had led to 100 people losing their jobs, including 50 scientists. The MPs warned that this risked damaging Kew’s reputation as a centre for botanical studies.

Their report criticised the lack of discretion Kew has over its funding, particularly compared to the Natural History Museum, which has freedom to spend 96% of its budget as it sees fit. The ‘stop-start’ nature of the funding was also singled out as unhelpful.

‘The way the government provides funds to the Royal Botanic Gardens leaves them with little ability to plan for the future and is undermining Kew’s capability to produce world-beating plant science,’ said committee chair Andrew Miller.

‘The government must work out a stable way of funding the gardens that provides greater long-term certainty for Kew’s important work.’

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it fully supports Kew and had provided good settlements, maintaining the gardens’ operating funding at 2013 levels until April next year. The issue about the level of restricted funding was recognised and the department was working with Kew to resolve it.

A Defra spokeswoman said: ‘Kew is a world-leader in plant science and research. We are proud of the vital work carried out by Kew – that is why we have given it on average more money per year from 2010 than in the preceding three years, with more money next year provided as “unrestricted” funding.’

The Public and Commercial Services Union said the problems at Kew were emblematic of the government’s ‘short-sighted’ approach to public spending.

‘Rather than just react with kneejerk announcements when the spotlight is trained on the issue, ministers must commit to proper, long-term funding to allow Kew to continue its work as a world leader in science and botany,’ said PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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