In case I am run over by a truck
08 February 2018 by David Bott
The last week or so have been moderately intense and I thought I ought to dump what I have learned before my ageing brain dumps it to a place with limited access!! It is slightly raw, but lots of it is good.
Last Wednesday, Brain and I met with Dominic Flitcroft of the Education Futures Unit of the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Before reading on, you need to know that BECTA (the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency - http://www.becta.org.uk/ - exists and has both policy and delivery responsibility in the area that might use an Innovation Platform. The majority of the meeting was taken up with describing and answering questions about Innovation Platforms. We need more meetings – and fast – with both DCSF and BECTA but it does look like they have set themselves the policy challenge of using the latest in educational technology to address the needs of both “normal” education (primary, secondary and tertiary) but also the challenge exposed in the Leitch Report ( http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/independent_reviews/leitch_review/review_leitch_index.cfm) that well over half the workforce we need to address the opportunities of the knowledge economy are already in jobs and will need retraining!
That afternoon, we had the first meeting of the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform Steering Group. The important thing here was the first discussion of the “managed fund” idea for the next intervention. We have £10m from the DfT, £10m from EPSRC and £10m from us (at this point). The proposal is for a fund that supports ideas through development and up to the demonstrator phase. Julia King is very interested in this idea and may make it a recommendation of her second report – with the potential of extra money!! Worthy of note is that AWM were represented at the meeting.
That evening I attended the launch of the EEF launch of their paper on “delivering the low carbon economy – business opportunities for UK manufacturers”. I haven’t yet read the paper (attached)) but the highlights were disappointingly high level and unimaginative - and then got criticised by many present for not addressing their specific areas of activity.
The next day, I took part of the Board Meeting for the DfT Demonstrator Programme – how they describe the Road User Pricing evaluation programme. It seems that they are having difficulty covering off the complexity of their plans and Steve Gooding has asked Brian Collins and I to critically read their current proposal with a view to “improving” it.
That afternoon I got to go out and meet some real people – in the shape of Kizoom ( http://www.kizoom.com/). There Stephen Hart and I learned that every bus stop in the UK has a unique identifier and that text that identifier to a certain phone number will return either the timetable or a live feed of where the buses actually are. They also showed us a prototype of an integrated travel angel that helped you get around Blackfriars station – with links to trains, tube, buses and boats. Kizoom have been funded by us in the past and are involved in a couple of the ITSS projects. They are definitely one of our more adventurous investments and newsworthy.
On Friday I went up to see David Clarke at the Energy Technology Institute in Loughborough. Their building is nicer, but the carpet is dirty and there aren’t many people around!! I took David through the history and principles of Innovation Platforms and then explained some of the detailed activities. He expressed a strong interest in adding £10m to the Low Carbon Vehicles Managed Fund. I did not dissuade him. There are problems in that the ETI partners expect an exclusive licence to exploit any technology they support. The most likely way of managing this is for the partners to “join” consortia in their final stages. Still, it does sound awfully complicated.
This Tuesday I was invited for a coffee with Peter Hedges. He explained to me the new structure of the EPSRC but said that most will not know which role they are in until the beginning of March. The bottom line for me is that Catherine Coates will probably be responsible for everything concerned with Innovation Platforms.
That afternoon, Heidi and I visited Unilever at Colworth. We went to try to understand the Unilever perspective on the complexities of the nanotechnology support landscape constructed by the DTI over the last decade. They started by pointing out – using DTI R&D Scoreboard data – that they were the 6th largest investor in R&D in the UK but that we hardly interacted with them. They saw our visit as the start of a more constructive relationship and have invited Iain up to learn more about the advanced science behind ice cream, home and personal care products.
Wednesday was back in Swindon and entertaining a small mob from the Environment Agency. We had visited them at the end of September and had been trying to arrange a meeting to discuss the potential for an Innovation Platform in the area of “water” since then. It appears that the policy environment in the area is complex and we need to engage with Ofwat and UKWIR and find bits of DEFRA that have been hidden from us so far to work out what Government is doing to address a problem it knows it has.
On Wednesday evening, I impersonated Iain at a Foundation for Science and Technology meeting on DNA databases. It turned out to have interesting overlaps with the Network Security Innovation Platform, so we got a few points for making the same connections some of our partners have!! The event itself was a normal FST one – a great way of viewing the principles and prejudices of those involved in an area with a smattering of science thrown in. The 2 senior policemen whose idea of heaven was to take DNA samples at every opportunity and keep them forever contrasted sharply with the stance of the Assistant Information Commissioner who obviously went to the same liberal university I did. The police used emotive examples and didn’t produce any hard data that I saw, and didn’t like the result of their straw poll about who in the audience would mind giving their DNA to the database. Also present was the guy who developed the Low Copy Number process who passed up an opportunity to educate the audience in favour of defending his process and criticising the judge from a recent trial!!
On Thursday, I was invited to speak to a meeting of the Foresight Detecting and Identifying Infectious Diseases programme. They have failed to get real traction with this, and also to get an Innovation Platform in phase II – although that may have been the fault of the DTI champion. They had a series of companies describing combinations of lock and key biomarkers, micro-fluidic devices, polymer electronics and other cutting edge stuff to detect and identify pathogens for humans, animals and plants. They then had DoH, DEFRA and us talking about how it might be taken forward. This led to a lot of criticism of Government “support” and a spirited debate on what should be done. Luckily, we had said most of it and Richard Barker (the DG of the ABPI) was very supportive and reinforced my challenge to produce a simple justification for an Innovation platform in this area. From what I saw and heard, this could be a strong contender and nicely complements our other ”health” Innovation Platform.
I now have intellectual indigestion.