The United Kingdom Centre for Medical Research and Innovation

Notification of the contamination of the bidding process to the lead contractor

March 4, 2011
This email went to the entire executive board of Laing O’Rourke. The emails used were, ray.o’, des.o’,,,,,

None of the emails bounced so there is a good chance some at least of the mean board will read the email.  Robert Henderson


4 March 2010

 To: Ray O’Rourke – Chairman and Chief Executive Laing O’Rourke

 CC Des O’Rourke – Deputy Chairman

      Bernard Dempsey – Deputy Chairman

     Anna Stewart – Group Director of Finance and Commerce

     Roger Robinson – Chief Executive Officer, Europe

     Andrew Wilson – Chief Executive Officer, Australia and South East Asia

     Paul Neely – Company Secretary

Dear Mr O’Rourke, 

I see that Laing O’Rourke has just signed the contract to build the UKCRMI laboratory on land behind the British Library.  There is a complication of which I suspect you are unaware: the bidding for the site was a sham. There is consequently the possibility of legal action from the failed bidders and other interested parties.

I have used the FOIA to demonstrate that Gordon Brown fixed the result of the bid for UKCRMI by his personal influence.  He had done so even before the period for expressions of interest was over. 

To make the matter as simple as possible, I shall not at this stage send you all the documents relating to Brown’s interference, merely those which form a paper trail from the period before the closing date for expressions of interest  to the announcement of the sale of the land by Gordon Brown.   I have highlighted  (by bolding) the passages in the documents which refer directly or indirectly to Brown’s interest.  Where a figure such [40] appears, that means redaction has occurred under one of the the exemptions in the FOIA, the number referring to a paragraph or clause in the Act.  These documents will also give you a good sketch of the background to the bidding process.

Further relevant documents can be found at

I shall be happy to allow you full sight of the documents I have obtained under  the FOIA. 

You may wish to  reconsider the contract in the light of this information.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson

See for the documents supplied with the above email


O’Rourke wins prized £350m superlab contract

March 4, 2011

O’Rourke wins prized £350m superlab contract

Aaron Morby | Wed 2nd March | 8:23

Laing O’Rourke has secured the biggest publicly-funded building job to be bid in London this year.

The project to build a new national nerve centre for biomedical research next to St Pancras International station is shrouded in secrecy. Firms have been reluctant to talk about bids because of strict confidentiality clauses.

But the Enquirer understands that Laing O’Rourke has just won the main contract for the superlab after pitting its wits against rival teams from Mace/McAlpine, Bovis, Bam and Skanska.

Laing O’Rourke secured the £40m concrete basement package of the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation several weeks ago.

Since then it has been on tenterhooks to find out whether its main bid to run the entire four-year long job was also succesful.

An insider told the Enquirer: “Everybody involved appears to have taken a vow of silence but Laing has won the entire job.

“It’s very strange that the client is keeping it under such tight wraps, particularly because it is publicly funded and advertised in the Offical Journal.”

Plans to build the 80,000 sq m centre for biomedical research were unveiled by then prime minister Gordon Brown in a fanfare of publicity as one of the world’s largest centres of biomedical research.

The UKCMRI is expected to attract the brightest and best scientific minds to the capital to work on cures for cancer, heart disease and degenerative conditions linked to ageing.

Research complex will be built behind British Library, next to the St Pancras International railway station

Main construction on the building designed by architects HOK with PLP Architecture is expected to start in a May and take about two years to complete.

A further two years will be spent fitting out the institute, installing equipment to run building services for advanced laboratories.

The building’s vaulted roof is arranged into two shells and will be fitted with solar panels.

A third of the building will be below ground to reduce its visible mass.

Around 1,500 scientists will work in the building trying to find cures for cancer

Posted in Lead contractor

Report and commentary on the STC hearing of 2nd March 2011

March 3, 2011

 HoC Science and Technology Committee (STC)

Thatcher Room

Committee members present: Andrew Miller (Chair) Labour , Gavin Barwell , Conservative, Stephen Metcalfe Conservative , David Morris Conservative, Stephen Mosley Conservative, Pamela Nash Labour , Graham Stringer Labour, Stephen MacPartland Conservative

Evidence given on Wednesday 2nd March 2011 between at 10.53 am and 11.32 am

UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation

Government witnesses

Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)

Earl Howe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (DoH)

Replay the evidence at

The general conduct of the evidence

Willetts was palpably unprepared for his appearance and kept nervously flicking through his civil service briefing papers. This lack of control of his subject  frequently resulted in either an inability to give a meaningful answer or insubstantial rhetoric.

Howe dealt even more in generalities, but in his case it did not matter much from the point of view of those who oppose the laboratory because Howe’s prime interest was not in the site, cost or security issues but in how the DoH would get value out of the project for the money they are putting in.

The questioning was miserably weak, with committee members time and again failing to ask obvious questions or build a line of questioning rather than simply asking unconnected questions one after another.

Government involvement

At the very beginning of the session Miller asked why the Government “has been so visible in support “ of the project. Willetts said It was because “It is perhaps the most significant development in the biomedical science for a generation”. He also described the proposed laboratory as “a fantastic facility” and the partnership between the four partners as “an exciting model for the future”. This uncritical enthusiasm adds weight to the idea that the bidding process was a sham.

The casual nature of the political consideration given to this project was seen in two other aspects of the evidence. Neither Willetts nor Howe has taken the trouble to visit the Mill Hill site. (Unfortunately, no committee member asked if they had visited the proposed Bill Place site). Willetts also had the embarrassment of saying he did not know for certain what was going to happen to the MILL Hill site, but that it was his “understanding” that it would be closed and sold.

Howe got in on the I-do-not-know act later on when he admitted that there was no plan as how the general benefit from the laboratory would be measured – he put this down to the operational laboratory being too far ahead to make plans now. It is fair enough to change plans as things develop, but you should at least have a plan to start with on a project of this magnitude Such omissions paint a picture of politicians determined to drive this project through regardless of any difficulties or dangers involved.

Medical Research Council (MRC) Business Plan

Despite requesting the documents at the two previous hearings, the committee has not received either the business plan or the letter from BIS giving permission with conditions attached. Willetts promised to supply the plan and letter, but with the proviso that anything commercially confidential was treated as confidential. This allows a great deal of scope for mischief, including censoring any documents relating to on-going negotiations with contractors. I would not be surprised if the committee finds itself waiting for the documents until the lead contractor is signed up or even until the work begins, by which time it would be the devil’s own job to stop the project.

With regard to conditions imposed by BIS, Willetts said that the only major condition was that the agreement was subject to all planning matters being resolved. Frustratingly, the committee did not press him on the other conditions.

Cost overruns in the building of the laboratory

Willetts was asked about the likelihood of cost overruns. He cited the Government’s  Office of Commerce reviews in 209/10/11, the last of which had given a “delivery confidence level of amber/green” . Willetts claimed that was a good ranking four years out from completion. ” Amber/green suggests to me that there is significant doubt.

Graham Stringer asked Willetts whether any additional public money would be used to pay for cost overruns. Willetts gave a reply which contained such gems of jargon as “very clear financial envelope” . This did not answer Stringers’ question. Stringer tried again. This time, replete with more monstrous jargon, Willetts gave the assurance that there be no more funding from the taxpayer, although it is worth noting he did not say where any additional money would be coming from if not from the taxpayer. This raises a difficulty because if the money is to come from the consortium, one of the four UKCRMI partners (MRC) is taxpayer funded. It is difficult to see how the MRC could avoid paying its share. It is also true that the other three partners to varying degrees receive taxpayers money from research grants, student fees and suchlike. It is easy to envisage a situation where money from the taxpayer given to the three non-state partners for other purposes was transferred to the UKCRMI budget to cover a cost overrun That would reduce the amount available for overall medical research.

Frank Dobson and the Temperance Hospital Site

Miller raised the question of assurances given to the local MP Frank Dobson by the MRC that the granting of the Brill Place site to UKCRMI would result in Temperance site being given to Camden for social housing. Willetts said that he knew of no such agreement and that the sale of the site was purely a matter for the MRC.

BIS Observer on the Construction Project Board (CPB)

The CPB will oversee the building of the laboratory. Apart from representatives from the four partners, there will be an observer from BIS. The observer will not have any voting rights, his role being to keep information flowing between BIS and UKCRMI .

 The Government is represented on the main UKCRMI board by the MRC.

The size of the site

When the restricted size of the proposed site came up, Willetts said that he had been assured by the experts that it was large enough for its intended purposes. This is very interesting because one of the points made by Paul Nurse in his evidence to the committee on 16th February was that it was impossible to foresee what research would be like in ten years. If that is the case, then clearly it is impossible to say that the Brill Place laboratory will be suitable for research in the not too far distant future let alone the estimates of up to an 80 years life span given in the evidence of 16 February.

The committee also made  the point that the Cerne site in Switzerland was very large yet  the scientists there had no trouble communicating. This was met by waffle from Willetts along the lines that he had been assured by the experts that the proposed site was the only one that would work. Sadly, again the point was not pursued.

Renaming UKCRMI

Willetts said that a new name had been suggested for UKCRMI and he thought the name would be a great improvement. He thinks the new name will be announced in the next few weeks.


Although nothing of interest was said about security in the oral evidence, the written evidence provided by BIS after emphasising the need for tight security, stated “UKCRMI will provide details on these security measures to the select committee”. Para 4.2

Robert Henderson 3 March 2011


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