Press Office


Newcastle University in joint bid for the Food and Environment Research Agency


Defra today announced £14.5 million of new investment in the Food and Environment Research Agency through a joint venture with Capita and Newcastle University.

Capita plc (‘Capita’) has been selected, following a competitive procurement process, as the preferred bidder to form a joint venture with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to operate the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) in York.

And as part of the proposal, the company have named Newcastle University as their strategic science partner to run the research part of the new organisation.

Capita will make an initial investment of £20m for a 75% stake in the joint venture, with further investment, in cash, kind and dividends, during the following five years.

The joint venture will create 50 new science jobs in York and, in partnership with Newcastle University, an institute that will bring together around 40 researchers.

Professor Rob Edwards, Head of the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development at Newcastle University, said: “This is an exciting new role for the University and we are delighted to be working with Capita on this collaboration.

“The bid includes our plan for an institute, led by Newcastle University but drawing on the expertise of the existing scientific team at Fera, our academic colleagues from universities both across the UK and internationally as well as Government and industrial partners.

“This new collaboration would give us a real opportunity to drive forward innovation in areas such as food security and crop protection and help us to maximise the opportunities for our research to impact on agriculture and modern food security challenges.”

Fera employs nearly 400 scientists near York and specialises in translating scientific knowledge into practical applications, ensuring food safety and quality ‘from farm to fork’, sustainable crop production, environmental management and conservation.

Fera’s scientists recently led the way in identifying horse meat in the food chain and are carrying out vital work to understand the cause of declining bee populations – a multi-million pound worry for crop growers.

The proposed new £9m Joint Research Institute would be led by Newcastle University and be core to enhancing UK science capability through collaborative work programmes and the development of a new generation of scientists.

The institute would also benefit from the unique facilities at the University's two research farms - Cockle Park and Nafferton - as well as its state-of-the-art food testing facilities linked to the Human Nutrition Research Centre.

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Rt Honourable Elizabeth Truss, said: "(Today's announcement) is part of Defra's ambitious science programme and recognition of the importance of cutting-edge research.

"The joint venture will expand the agency's world-leading scientific capability and strengthen its role in food safety research. It will enable Fera to play an even greater role in helping to drive growth in our £100 billion agri-food industry.

"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." 

Capita chief executive, Andy Parker, said: “The excellent science being carried out by staff at Fera has not yet been able to reach its full commercial potential because of obvious limits on investment, recruitment and marketing.

“Capita’s commercial know-how will complement the Fera team’s scientific expertise, helping it to grow the scientific capability it can offer existing and new customers. Working together, we will create a more efficient and improved organisation allowing scientists to focus on the science and its delivery.

“Crucially, the additional capabilities of Capita and its partners, including Newcastle University, will enable the joint venture to drive commercial and government sector growth. The science services market is one we’ve been excited about for some time and we see this joint venture as laying the foundation for an additional growth market for Capita.”

published on: 11 February 2015