Investment returns drive £2bn growth in Wellcome Trust's funds

16 Dec 2020 News

The headquarters of the Wellcome Trust

Wellcome Trust’s total funds rose by over £2bn last year thanks to strong growth in the value of its investment portfolio, according to the charity’s annual accounts.

The accounts, which cover the year up to September 2020, show that Wellcome now holds total funds of £27.8bn, up from £25.2bn in 2018-19.

The charity’s return on its investments was 12.3% before inflation, achieved despite the volatility in financial markets caused by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Investment advisors were paid more than £9m for their role helping the charity secure such returns, the report reveals.

Wellcome’s spending in 2019-20 was broadly unchanged at £1.1bn, including funding to support the global response to Covid-19.

Director pay 

The accounts, published yesterday, also show that total remuneration for the director of Wellcome, Jeremy Farrar, fell this year from £524,500 to £483,800.

A spokesperson told Civil Society News that last year’s higher figure included a bonus related to a previous financial year. They said that Farrar donated the bonus to another charity.

NHS respite help

The charity made its central London offices available to nearby NHS workers when they were closed to Wellcome staff during the first national lockdown.

It says: “After a rapid planned transition to home working, Wellcome’s office buildings closed in March 2020, and began a phased reopening in September.

“For 10 weeks during this closure, our main office building was used as a respite centre for NHS staff, mostly those working at the neighbouring University College Hospital.”

Expansion plans

The accounts also show that the charity hopes to move ahead next year with plans for expanding its biology research institute.

The report says: “South Cambridgeshire District Council has resolved to grant outline planning permission for a significant expansion of the Wellcome Genome Campus at Hinxton, Cambridgeshire on agricultural land in our portfolio.

“This will include 150,000 sqm of additional research and translation floorspace, up to 1,500 homes for campus workers and supporting community facilities and infrastructure.

“The current crisis has only served to underscore the importance of this world class facility.”

Covid impact 'remains to be seen and fully understood'

The report cautions that news of a coronavirus vaccine may not mean the end of the crisis caused by the pandemic.

The accounts say: “Even though it looks likely that scientific solutions such as vaccines will become available for widespread use in 2021, the world is still a long way from ending the Covid-19 crisis, and the impacts on individuals’ health, health service capacity, social and economic recovery, and international relations remain to be seen and fully understood.”

Last week Karl Wilding, the chief executive of charity umbrella body NCVO, warned that the impact of Covid-19 on the charity sector was “here to stay”.

Science, Europe and Brexit

In her introduction to the report, Eliza Manningham-Buller, the chair of Wellcome Trust, stresses that the charity is “not just a funder, as our work on Covid-19, for example, shows, where we have convened partners across the world, helped raise billions of pounds from public, private and philanthropic sectors to fund research, and argued for what we judge is important.

“I hope we will always continue to make our voice heard, including on the value of strong links between British science and Europe after Brexit.”

Manningham-Buller, previously the director general of MI5, is being replaced as chair of the trustee board next year by Julia Gillard, a former prime minister of Australia.

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