29 November 2021 – today’s press release

PM must stop sale of vaccine manufacturing centre

The Liberal Democrats have demanded that Boris Johnson immediately steps in to halt the sale of the Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Centre at Harwell near Oxford, describing the move as “short-sighted penny pinching.”

It was reported this morning that the centre is being sold off to recoup some of the money invested by the Government.

On a visit to the centre last year, Boris Johnson claimed that the new vaccine centre “will be able to manufacture enough vaccine doses for the whole UK population… which would transform how we beat this virus and prepare for future pandemics.”

Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP said:

Boris Johnson must immediately step in and stop the sale of the Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Centre, and reassure the public that the Government isn’t cutting back on our ability to manufacture the vaccines we need.

The Prime Minister himself underlined how important this centre will be to protect against Covid and future pandemics.

It is astonishing that the Government is even contemplating selling off this vital national asset, when the Omicron variant means we may soon need to manufacture new vaccines.

This looks like short-sighted penny pinching, at a time when ministers should be doing everything they can to keep the country safe from this and future Covid variants.

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  • David Garlick 30th Nov '21 - 9:39am

    The future is all about resilience, sustainability and security. Energy, food medicines et al will all become key issues as climate change, world economic leveling up and dictatorships become ever more pressing.
    I am no little Englander but we must be sure that sales like this one do not make the country, and if we are the generous nation we claim to be the world, a hostage to fortune. Retaining “control” looks after us and makes looking after others possible.

  • I’d find Daisy Cooper’s demand rather more convincing if she could give some specific reason why the VMIC wouldn’t work if it was privately owned. But as far as I can see, the only arguments she’s provided are that it’s part of our national infrastructure and we’ll need to manufacture more vaccines: Sadly, neither of those arguments hold water, since plenty of bits of national infrastructure work very well under private sector management (think: Airports, food manufacture and distribution, Internet services, energy distribution, etc.). And the private sector has also shown itself amply capable of making vaccines. So what’s different about VMIC? If there is a good reason why it, uniquely, should remain nationalised, then Daisy should probably explain what that reason is – otherwise a demand not to sell it looks a bit like the kind of ideological opposition to private enterprise that you’d normally expect from the left of the Labour Party.

  • Peter Chambers 3rd Dec '21 - 3:12pm

    The reasons why the VMIC was originally designed to be in the public sector are very well set out in the book ‘Vaxxers’ by Professor Sarah Gilbert (‘Sarah’) and Dr Catherine Green (‘Cath’). They explain that once the Oxford Jenner Institute (Sarah) had a prototype design then test production could be managed by Cath, ideally using the VMIC. In the event they had to work harder for longer and using more difficult contracting arrangements. More broadly ‘front end’ work is best done in the public sector for risk reasons, with ‘back end’ work better done in the private sector, as AZ did in the UK.
    This notion is well discussed in the book ‘The Entrepreneurial State’ by Mariana Mazzucato. It worked for the Apollo Programme amongst many others. The private sector under neo-liberalism simply does not invest for the long term nor for the public good. It does invest when the case is obvious and the payoff high. As with vaccines.

  • Peter Chambers 3rd Dec ’21 – 3:12pm:
    The private sector under neo-liberalism simply does not invest for the long term nor for the public good.

    Not far from the VMIC is the Milton Park Scientific Hub where Tokamak Energy is working on nuclear fusion. The company is largely funded by venture capital…

    Tokamak Energy: World-class research building on solid foundations:

    The company has more than 50 families of patent applications and has raised over £100m of private investment.

    Once realised, fusion energy will be clean, economic, and globally deployable – a key enabler for meeting international climate policy goals.

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