The power of Jerry Garcia ties!
05 July 2018 by David Bott
At last, I have broken the tyranny of Monday mornings – I missed the “start the week” meeting. Instead I drove down to visit my old university at the invite of the alumnus vampires. It was an interesting and somewhat dispiriting day. A year or so back the Vice-Chancellor of Sussex University decided to close the Chemistry Department. There were sound reasons for this. A couple of decades of minimal investment had left them with poor facilities and that had made their better academics prone to poaching. This had put them into the danger zone for university departments when the number of staff drop below about 20. This makes it difficult to provide a full range of teaching, and so the downward spiral begins. Actually, Sussex came up with a wizard wheeze. They combined their biochemistry department – about 18 or so souls who had been part of the biology department – with the remaining chemists to form a department of chemistry and biochemistry. Since this is a particularly fruitful area of research, I was looking forward to learning lots of new, multidisciplinary things. This is why I was disappointed. It turns out that the combination is an administrative one and there is very little interaction between the two groups. I met a couple of really interesting academics with much to contribute to the space between the two areas, but saw little of real interaction. I guess the famous phrase about organising academics being like herding cats might have something to do with it, but I sensed a lack of will above all else. What a waste!!
Tuesday was much more uplifting. We had our 3rd Steering Group Meeting for the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform. Tim had written Julia a brief and talked it through with her the day before, so it went (mostly) swimmingly. The members from industry have stopped repeating their positional mantra’s and are getting comfortable with one another. For example, we now know that Bill Gibson, CEO of Zytek and arch proponent of an all-electric solution, has a 1963 fixed head E-type. Last time I looked, a straight six wasn’t in any way electric!! Anyway, the meeting was all about designing the Integrated Development Programme, and real progress was made, assigning membership of the 3 advisory groups and giving Tim and the team a real fillip.
The evening was spent (for the second time in a week) at the Royal College of Art. This time, it was their Innovation Night. Having sat down just behind Lord Snowdon, and realised I was surrounded by luvvies, I was starting to panic about having to pretend I knew anything about art when Paul Mason turned up, but then I ran into Jeremy Watson, Ellie Runcie and Graham Hitchen and we met David Godber, the new Deputy Chief Executive of the Design Council. Paul and I also had a quick conversation with Jeremy Myerson, who heads up the Helen Hamlyn Centre about the possibility of us sponsoring a prize in next years event – they are focused on design to help the aged and disabled, so an Assisted Living Prize might be a good idea – if only to watch Graham Worsley be part of the assessment panel!!
Wednesday saw a dash down to Swindon for a string of meetings. Starting with the Business Support Simplification Programme and its threat to our livelihood. I have difficulty believing that anyone is looking to constrain our activities, so I would have thought we just need to state our (non-negotiable) position again and again until we are heard. (Interestingly, I saw David Evans the next morning and mentioned our worries. He thinks we have a very strong position to tell people what we want to be able to use and no-one would gainsay us). This was followed by a briefing meeting with Meredith Bradbury, our new interim on the Detection and Identification of Infectious Agents. As it happens, this was interrupted by the need to prepare Fearless Leader for an ERP Meeting on Friday. He had just received the proposed presentation from Tom Delay and wanted to check it through with Fil and I.
We then had the restructuring briefings and the necessary one-to-one discussions which took the rest of the day.
Thursday started with having to be smuggled into the DfT for a meeting with Phil Carey, who heads up the Time Distance Place Programme (otherwise known as Road User Charging!). I had missed the last Board meeting – although my excuse that they hadn’t actually invited me was quite strong – and the programme is drifting on their side, so he wanted a “chat”. Ministers are definitely losing their commitment to this programme – despite the fact that the OJEU is out and everyone knows about it – and its formal launch has been delayed and delayed. There is a Green Paper on Transport due this coming week and it will probably be announced at the same time. The need to be smuggled in was because a demonstration about Heathrows’ possible 3rd runway, but I never saw anything. Middle class people are so civilised with their demonstrations.
That was followed by a meeting in DEFRA about last Fridays’ DIIA workshop. We seemed to have turned on the senior guy from DEFRA but otherwise we just need to keep plugging on.
The last meeting of the day was with FL and Zahid and was with Sally Davies and her NIHR Posse. Apparently, this was occasioned by us talking to OSCHR – the NIHR line is that they and MRC have all the money and we ought to talk to them first. We had a mild rapping of the knuckles but recent progress on bilateral cooperation made them realise we were only being action oriented. The meeting was good natured, with Sally complimenting me on my tie and lots of jokes, so I guess we have the beginnings of a good working relationship. We told them about the new ideas for Innovation Platforms and they (sort of) said that obesity would come above stratified medicine in their priority list. Did I mention my tie? :-)