Prospect writes to Environment Secretary: Capita sale of Fera stake

4 December 2023

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy has written to the environment secretary Steve Barclay following the news that Capita has agreed to sell its stake in Fera Science Ltd.

Read the letter in full:

Dear Secretary of State,

I am writing to you following Capita’s announcement this morning that it has agreed to sell its 75% stake in Fera Science Limited (‘Fera’) to Bridgepoint Group plc (‘Bridgepoint’).

As you will know, Fera is a joint venture with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), with Defra holding the remaining 25% stake in Fera.

The joint venture model was established in 2015 when the business and operations of the Food and Environment Research Agency (an Executive Agency of Defra) were transferred to Fera Science Limited, which specialises in research relating to crop protection, sustainable agriculture, environmental management and conservation, and food and feed safety and quality.

The announcement of this sale will cause much uncertainty for the employees Prospect represents at Fera and we are urgently seeking talks with the existing and new owners to understand the implications for staff.

The uncertainty for our members will be compounded by Capita’s ongoing attempt to remove trade union recognition at Fera, which coincides with the announcement of this sale. As you are aware, Capita competes for public contracts and has recently become responsible for the administration of the Civil Service Pension Scheme. We believe these attitudes to union recognition are inconsistent with the values that must underpin those who seek to build their business on the back of public sector procurement. Moreover, the fact the threat to derecognise has been issued just ahead of the divestment decision raises other questions about the motivations involved.

Prospect is completely opposed to this de-recognition attempt which will damage both Fera’s work and the relationship between the business’ owners and its employees.

As the owner of a significant stake in Fera, your department has a key role to play in ensuring continued positive industrial relations at the organisation.

Accordingly, I am asking you to urgently meet with me at your earliest convenience to discuss the sale and de-recognition attempt.

In particular, I ask on behalf of our members the following questions:

  • What assurances has the Department sought on Bridgepoint’s plans for Fera?
  • Was the Department aware of Capita’s plans to seek to derecognise Prospect at Fera?
  • If so, what discussions has the Department had with Capita and Bridgepoint regarding the attempt to derecognise Prospect?
  • Will the Department reassure staff that it will oppose any attempt by Capita or Bridgepoint to derecognise Prospect?
  • How does Defra plan to ensure staff and taxpayer interests are protected during this sale and in the future?

I look forward to hearing from you. Given the urgency of these matters, I will be sharing this letter with our members.

Yours sincerely,

Mike Clancy
General Secretary of Prospect

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