It all seems like I was never away!!!

After 12 days of waking up when I felt like it, the 6 o’clock alarm on Monday morning was a nasty shock, but I SO wanted to take part in the first “start the week” meeting of the year I was determined to do it.  Stupid really!!  The meeting was followed by the first meeting to try to answer the Boards question (from last year) as to whether we should do anything different in the current economic climate. The answer seems to be that our strategy is still sound, but we need to check our priorities and probably focus a bit more on large wins that are easy and implement some of the process improvements we had in train!!  This was followed by a meeting to check progress on the SBRI front and integrate our activities in the area as much as possible in to other things – like Innovation Platforms. The final meeting of the day was with David Coates to discuss how the KTNs integrate with the Innovation Programmes. We both soon realised that we hadn’t allowed enough time and agreed to meet again, and again, and probably again. 

Tuesday started with the nice man from Aston-Martin cancelling again. This allowed me the indulgence of a more normal wake-up and time to deal with the 70 or so e-mails that had come in on Monday but I hadn’t dealt with!! In the afternoon, I drove up to Birmingham Airport, sat in the terminal for an hour, then on the plane for 90 minutes before a 45 minute flight to Glasgow. Apparently, we were suffering from the wrong sort of de-icing agent – the sort that doesn’t turn up!!  

On Wednesday, I was up at Scottish Enterprise - to follow up visits by Iain Gray and Brian McCarthy. I had volunteered to talk about the rationale and practice of our programmes and it was all arranged before Christmas. As it turned out, I had to give the same talk twice to a combined audience of over 100 – they didn’t have a room available that was big enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to know what we do and why we do it. With the added question time I was “on show” for 3 hours. There is enormous similarity in the goals of the 2 organisations and we need to make sure we understand and align our activities. They obviously have similar problems to ours with specific communities and I learned a lot about our shared history. The worst-case scenario would be if we set about doing the same things at roughly the same times and confused the target audience so that they either wasted time doing both or didn’t bother because they couldn’t work out what the best option was!! The one thing that came through really clearly to me was that the SAG and OAG are only a start and we need a lot of time and meetings to really understand one another. The flight home was much quicker and then I drove down for another meeting on our response to the economic climate. I don't think we added much to the thinking but practiced how to tell the Board. 

Thursday saw a couple of meetings with Foresight, one on implementing Mental Capital and Well-Being and the other to plan their upcoming visit to Swindon and then it was on to the meeting that Lord Drayson had requested we set up about Low Carbon Vehicles. This was with the main automotive manufacturers who operate in the UK. They are all involved in both the New Automotive Innovation and Growth Team and in our Low Carbon Vehicle Innovation Platform and are a little confused by the surfeit of initiatives in their area. The meeting was going quite well, with Fearless Leader laying out the goals when they blindsided us by asking about a recent ETI note on their latest activity which apparently contradicts what we had said.  Rats!!  We kept asking for the agreed roadmap and they keep promising more details “next time”.  They had previously told us that we weren’t moving fast enough but are now asking for more time on the Demonstrator programme because they can’t meet our timetable.  They also lapse into confusing our support for innovative development programmes and the general availability of Government money to bail them out.  After the meeting proper, Tim and I answered some of the problems the Ford guy wanted help through and then discussed how to avoid a mass withdrawal from the project we set up in the first competition in the area.  There is no doubt that the players in this sector are hurting very badly, and it does make some of the rules we operate under seem a bit simplistic and irrelevant – when set against 30% work-force reductions!!!  Maybe we should cheat more?? 

The meeting went on a bit, so I was late to my next meeting with wrongly spelt Ian, Mike Biddle and the guy who facilitates the sandpits. We are trying to put together a 2 day workshop in response to the feedback/output of the Creative Problem Solving Skills Workshop we ran late last year. We want to use the sandpit process at a coarser level (hence this is a gravel pit) and get the Technologists and their equivalents to identify and start to solve the “problems” we share. Lots of good ideas were had, although we had most of them later on in the evening when we were eating so I am not sure who took notes!!  Fearless Leader turned up later on, escaping from a meeting with His Spittleness, and caused some confusion to the nice wait-people by having a starter whilst the rest of us were on dessert!! 

Friday saw me make the trek down to the Laboratory of the Government Chemist - in Teddington. LGC operate across a number of markets, mostly based in analytical science. They are the UK second largest forensic provider, they provide “standards” for a variety of chemical and biological markets, deliver the food and life science industries the specific diagnostic and quality services they require and support to everyone from the NHS to SMEs with analytical and project management services. They said nice things about Paul Mason’s contribution to their various panels, were politely critical of our progress in Emerging Technologies and slagged off NPL a lot. By the time I had finished answering questions on my short presentation we had used up most of the allotted time and I missed the opportunity to see what they actually do – so will be going back. 

I got back to Fortress Kingsgate in time to join the meeting to brief Rockpools on the selection of the new Governing Board members. We were also joined by the observer from OCPA, who will also be a member of the final interview panel – who started off a little straight but warmed up towards the end. We keep coming back to the fact that we want people who see their association with us as being their most important activity and not just a selection of the great and the good. 

I then remembered that I had left my car in Swindon, so took the train back to slip in 45 minutes of “stuff” before driving home through the variety of micro-climates that seem to exist between Swindon and my house.



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