Not sure what useful I achieved but I did get an iPhone!!!

Yet another week with a cast iron reason not to “start the week”.  :-)

Instead I went down to London to rendezvous with Fearless Leader and meet with the Bob Watson, the Chief Scientist at DEFRA.  The meeting also consisted of Sue Popple and David Cooper (from “farming”), Ken O’Callaghan (originally from DIIA territory but now associated with LWEC) and Stuart Wainwright (from Policy).  The meeting had been a result of some complaints from DEFRA officials that we hadn’t taken funding responsibility for their LINK programmes and didn’t immediately start an Agri-Food Innovation Platform on the grounds that they didn’t know what success would look like and weren’t doing anything to enact their lack of policy.  FL did point this out to them – but politely!!  He then went on to explain what we are (and aren’t) before turning over to me to fill in more detail on Innovation Platforms.  As I went through the “what does success look like?” and “how would you get there?” bits of the explanation, Bob had a damascene moment and got very excited with the thought process, trying out various possible end-points and how they would need to play out.  At this point the “farming” group started to look a bit uncomfortable as they couldn’t follow the logic and realised that Bob was more aligned with us than them, but Ken had played the game before (on DIIA) so we ended up as new best friends with them taking responsibility for answering the Innovation Platform exam questions and us in the guise of “thought leaders”.  Cool, eh? 

The next day was another London day, and started with meet up with FL again to meet Delyth Morgan.  FL was off to an Electronics Leadership Council meeting (I knew this because Nick Appleyard and Fergus were his supporting act) and timing was a bit off, so he left them in full flow to get to Kingsgate House.  We were chaperoned by Mani and got in about 5 minutes late but managed to extend our 30 minutes to almost an hour with lots of good interest and interaction.  She really seemed to be interested in how what we did impacted on her areas of responsibility, and FL has invited her down to Swindon to meet more of the troops.

I then ran off to a Network Security Steering Group meeting.  We have been adding more business members to dilute the “geek” coefficient and it is beginning to pay off.  The debate on quantum computing, an area hotly supported by all sorts of Government types, was roundly trashed by the BT and APACS guys, who thought that what was really needed was a predictive tool to know when it was likely to happen – with a subtext that the longer it took to arrive, then better for everyone. We need to get to the bottom of the philosophical difference between Government and business on this one, because it is currently an imminent part of the implementation plan.  Other than that, there was a lot of support – but drive for greater clarity of intent – for the soon to be published implementation plan.

The final part of the day was the Royal Society of Chemistry Summer Party.  Held in the Royal Academy of Arts next door under the new art of the Summer Show, it is one of the more enjoyable and well implemented networking events of the year.  I saw Fearless Leader himself, Pat MacDonald, Peter Saraga, the omnipresent Dougal Goodman, David Brown, Colin Harrison and Carol Boyer-Spooner, as well as a lot of proper chemists!!  An academic I used to like decided to give me a hard time because we require audited accounts from academics but don’t allow the cost as an expense.  I hadn’t drunk enough to tell him to get a life, but certainly thought it.  The man from Reckitt Benckiser was very nice about our pre-Innovate dinner and looked to by angling for another invite.  :-)

The following day was the launch of the Department of Health’s Invention for Innovation (i4i) held at the QEII Centre.  What was surprising, for me, was how similar in goal and process the Health Technology Devices (HTD) programme was to the Technology Programme – down to some of the problems they encountered!  The NIHR is bringing together this programme and the New and Emerging Applications of Technologies (NEAT) under the i4i banner.  It is all still a bit low key, at £3m a year, but it was nicely placed in “partnership” with MRC and ourselves.  There were some great presentations, on Bayesian analysis of health economics, the front end that is Andy Goldberg from Medical Futures, and people from both HTCs – the design for dignity that ought to fit right into Assisted Living and the bowel one that caused us all to look up “stoma” after lunch.  Darzi was almost as good as FL!!!

The meeting finished at just before 5 and since the Aerospace industry seemed to have (allegedly) taken all the good hotel rooms in central London and I was therefore up at the top of the Edgware Road, it didn’t make sense to go back to the hotel before the next meeting and so I walked up to the Apple Store for some free Wi-Fi.  Imagine my surprise to discover that there was no queue to buy a new iPhone, so I did!! I am now fully connected to the Exchange server and getting my e-mails in a modern way.  All I have to do now is convince Cyrus that I can hand in my Vodafone SIM card, charge back the £35 a month my new contract costs me, and go on to enjoy a less interrupted telephone network service – including answering Iain’s calls when on trains!!

This brief interlude put me in a good mood for the Water UK dinner at Queen Anne's Gate. My early impressions of the water industry last week was causing me to doubt the sanity of spending a evening eating with them, but Alex Skinner of the Cave Review team was also there, so I knew he would be the centre of attention.  As it turned out, someone had been listening to what I said in Warwick because I ended up sitting next to the CEO of Water UK and on the same table as the OFWAT guy.  It was a working dinner, with questions such as “what does innovation mean to you?” for every course.  The impression that many in control of the industry would rather die slowly than change (the frog in hot water analogy is apposite) did not go away, but there are a few who know they have to change.  It appears that the effluent end of the pipe is more interested in this change than the abstraction end.  The analogies with the energy industry are endlessly debated.  The CFO of Thames is ex Electricity industry and “knows” that the costs of the ability to change is about £50 per head and therefore asserted (several times) that competition has done nothing for the energy industry. The “effluent” guy on our table had worked in retail at some point and asked if anyone else had changed, not because of price but because of poor service, and suggested that the ability to change was more about giving the customer the power of choice than of lowering prices. Market forces red in tooth and claw!! I tried not to talk too much but they really hadn’t thought much outside their box and ended up supporting the ex-retail guy on several occasions.  I now have the OFWAT guy asking David Rawlins for my contact details, and the CEO of Water UK wanting to get me to talk to their leadership council or something!!!

I had intended to nip down to Swindon on Thursday morning but instead went into Kingsgate House.  Bad move. Having waited in reception for about 10 minutes, I then found that the Wi-Fi was down.  I did the basic diagnostics, asked Colin Swan for telephone numbers, chased them down, then their recommendations and eventually got an engineer from UNITE, who confirmed my analysis that the router was working, the broadband line was connected but that BT hadn’t linked it to the Internet. A bit more thinking and calls to Cyrus suggested that we hadn’t paid the bills.  I then got messages that we had and hadn’t at about the same time.  We should have external connectivity again soon, but it wasted 3 hours and, along with the pass fiasco, suggest a tactical deal with Starbucks might be a better option for London working. I did manage to squeeze in a quick chat with David Evans.  He was trying to think up ways of capitalising on the Number 10 meeting about energy the week before (as reported by FL) which had resulted in a new enthusiasm for “electric vehicles” - I do wonder if they have learned from rushed policies after the biofuels volte face.  David was after getting a combination of national and regional/local money to pay for demonstrators of electric vehicles that the PM could announce at the Motor Show.  He seems to have momentarily forgotten that the LCV IP is half way through planning such a deal.  There is the distinct possibility that the political expediency may trump common sense and that we will end up adding another initiative to the area – but I hope not. Having worked hard to convince the automotive industry that we are more co-ordinated than we used to be and talking (that includes listening) to them, this sort of knee-jerk response would do real damage to our (all of us) reputation.

Lunchtime saw a meeting with E4Tech who have been employed by the Carbon Trust to analyse the current theories of innovation to confirm that CT are still doing the right things.  It seems that CT have been spooked by NESTAs effortless dominance of theoretical innovation and want a piece of the action.  E4Tech are a fairly well-known company, but unless I missed something, there brief is a bit woolly and I am not sure what the will achieve – aside for the fee for their contract.

I then raced up to the Carbon Trust to meet with Mark Williamson and Andrew Haslett. There is (apparently) a lot of interest in how the Carbon Trust, ETI and we will work together in the energy space and a lot of opportunity to thoroughly confuse the punters.  Tom, David and Iain have started the process of engagement, but (as we found out) even the moves to date have left more questions than they have answered.  We started by explaining to one another what we were doing – that took just over 2 hours with all the questions of clarification!!  We then went through the presentation Tom gave (on behalf of David and Iain) at the recent ERC meeting.  The one slide that attempts to differentiate us was rejected by Andrew – quote of the afternoon “the things it says about CT are either defensive or aggressive but tell the punters that they’ve been around longer, not what they do!”  We worked on that for another hour or so before I had to leave to catch a late train home.  The good news is that Andrew and I know how to work together from the olden days and Mark seems up for a honest and open relationship.  ETI obviously see the whole “working together thing” as a distraction from discharging their remit and think that anyone who doesn’t like their IP model is wrong, so this will be rocky!!

Friday I worked at home to catch up on e-mails – and caught more of the backwash from Number 10’s enthusiasm for electric vehicles.  Iain is in again on Monday, so I hope the force is with him before we end up being stuffed with more uncorrelated Government promises.  To make my day, the “we should work with India” imperative from Julia’s report has also caused UKTI to set about organising a workshop in early 2009 to agree joint programmes.  There is no extra money or spare resource, but everyone is assuming it’s our funding that will make it work!! 

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