11 April 2019 by David Bott
The week started weirdly, with some sadistic person bringing forward the timing of the “start the week” by half an hour. As a loyal and true worker, I got up early to ensure that I was there on time, and – since I didn't realise it was half-term – I got there about a hour early. Doh!!
The bulk of Monday was taken up with the cascade of deliverables process, which went well. I got some push back on why we had chosen the focus we had, but eventually people accepted the logic of the process and outcome. There is still some finessing of our main interventions post this year, with some wanting to “catch up on their area” strategies, and some inevitable word-smithing of the high-level deliverables, but it mostly went very well. By contrast, the end of the day was a fairly exasperating discussion on the impact of the BSSP programme on our branding. Why anyone in Government thinks that an image of red tape will entice those suspicious or ignorant of Government to engage is way beyond me, and the need to vigorously oppose the blanket application of the Solutions for Business logo and branding guidelines on our activities was universally accepted.
The next day was the first of a pair of London ones. After short time in Fortress Kingsgate catching up with people, it was off to Michelin House to meet with the chair and interim Manager of GMEC – a UK based Global Medical Excellence Cluster (http://www.gmecuk.com/index.html). The new chair is Sir Keith Peters – a member of the newly restyled Prime Ministers Council for Science and Technology and a habitué of Dougal’s Wednesday evening parties. This appears to be a Blair inspired initiative to build a globally competitive cluster in medical science based in the golden triangle. It has taken some time to build up but does actually include all the sensible members and is, truly, globally credible. The catch – they have no money and want to “partner” with us for the benefit of the UK. I was reminded of Shakeel Mozaffar’s (ICI’s once great procurement guru) aphorism that “partner is the polite term for someone you are currently screwing”. My fears may be misplaced as they moved quickly onto stratified medicine and how they might work with us to develop an Innovation Platform in the area. Since we are also talking to OSCHR (nicely), ABPI (intermittently) and MRC (well listening actually) about the same thing, they may get diluted in a good way.
A quick trip back to Fortress Kingsgate to just miss Mike Kenward and then on to the first meeting of NESTA’s Innovation Vouchers Steering Group. This is the outcome of a paper they approached us with some months ago that I initially saw real value in, but they were so focused on “doing an experiment” that we chose to stand aside and let them mess it up on their own. They have now moved on and they are launching the scheme in Manchester (don’t worry that there is already a voucher system in operation, they don’t!) and are working with GMC, ESRC and AHRC. The idea is to hold a random competition to give “non creative industry” companies (I did object to this term) to enable them to work with companies from the “creative industries” to prove that it will be more productive. As I said, they are running it as an experiment, so that there is no control of the process and therefore some of the money will be wasted proving a theory that most agree with, without working out what the variables might be. Also in the group was David Godber, who kept offering Design 101 tips to the NESTA team. A quick chat with David discovered that they are also objecting to BSSP and that he was meeting Martin Temple that afternoon. I asked him to include our fears in his discussion and let us know what we could do to put forward a combined front. The meeting overran a bit, so only just got to the BERR meeting on “waste procurement”. This was a Chris Stark production and consisted of him getting all the BERR and DEFRA people thinking about waste in a room and asking what they had done to give me the evidence to act in this area. I wish he had warned me!! Anyway, they might all be speaking to me soon since Chris had added a line to the last PBR saying they had to work with us! The next meeting, I ought to take along reinforcements – probably citing Development and SBRI as viable routes to deliver the eventual programme.
The final meeting of the day was with Brian Collins. He is still doing the CSA role at DfT, BERR and some of DECC. On the DECC front, they are not actually advertising until November and he isn’t sure of Beddington has a shoo-in or they just don't know what sort of person they want. We also talked about potential DfT interactions – he buys into the “aviation systems” approach for a possible IP in that area and would love to see an integrated transport/information/living pilot at some point where the technologists design the systems rather than the accountants (sorry, Cyrus!)
The next morning I met with Fiona Strens from Secure Futures (http://secure-futures.com/home.php) I think it was a link made through SBRI but I was intrigued by the generic “security” approach – it has been on our discussion list for some time, but it wasn’t clear how best to tackle it. Fiona confirmed that the stochastic ownership of the security issues around Government make definition of the core challenge difficult but believes that the need for a coordinated approach is increasing. They are basically a small SME trying to drum up ideas in the space, using consultancy to raise money and ploughing it back into competitions and trying to build a business.
Then it was onto to our RDA-LCV meeting. I think we called this to see if we could involve more RDAs in the Innovation Platform, but it was a good opportunity to see how committed AWM and ONE really are. Tim and I presented how we see things and AWM gave a presentation pointing out that they were exclusively focused on regional economic benefit. I am not sure that we’ll get any more real money from the RDAs at this point, but we did get some discussion on how things go across regions – EEDA were a little miffed that Lotus (as a partner not a leader) didn’t show up on any of Tim’s maps of where the projects were. We had to sneak away from the inevitable networking lunch to discuss how AWM really want to spend their £30m commitment to the IDP/IP – essentially on support for JLR and Tata although a few others might benefit. We emphasised that we were comfortable with them supporting projects that built on our earlier support but funding the projects that hadn’t passed our quality criteria wasn’t a workable definition of “additionality”. We all agreed that their first tranche of £7m fitted that case but suggested that the next £12m, since it needed about £6m from us, should possibly go through the “large projects” route were we can help them address the issue we think are nationally important whilst they fund regional activity. Another hasty departure got me out to the Design Museum to rendezvous with Huw to make new friends....
This had been set up by Sebastian Conran and involved a variety of senior Design Museum types involved in selling the space and various engagement programmes. After a bit of sharing backgrounds and goals, we split up. Huw went off to look at the facilities with the possibility of us having an early summer reception there (as a move on from the House of Lords last year). I went off with Sebastian and Alice to “be influenced”. We started in the Brit Insurance Designs of the Year 2009 exhibition - http://www.designmuseum.org/exhibitions/2009/brit-insurance-designs-of-the-year. The first thing I saw was Tony Ryan’s soft porn video - http://www.showstudio.com/projects/wonderland/movie/- this shows how far
an innocent young polymer scientist can have his head turned by these arty types, although the narration by Helen Storey is actually good thermodynamics. Next up was the Think electric car and the Flyok kayak – with hydrofoils – and a whole bunch of amazing things – culminating in the Shepard Fairey picture of Barack Obama. Downstairs was the show by Hussein Chalayan – a bit further from my comfort zone, but Sebastian talked me through the underlying motifs and (for once) it made sense – although the wooden table that doubled as a skirt seemed a bit contrived!! There was a nice electroluminescent dress – why aren’t Nick and Mike doing this? - and another dress with crystals imbedded in the fabric and rotated in front of a few lasers. I got the impression that Sebastian (who is a trustee of the Design Museum) is driving a more engaged form of working together and they seemed a lot more practical than the Design Council.
Thursday saw the start of the great e-mail drought so we had a rather quiet Executive Meeting and then swapped files using a (secure, honest) memory stick.