From saving the planet to saving my sanity

I had a “get out of the start the week meeting” card, as I was going down to London for an LWEC meeting, but a last minute phone call on Friday evening meant that I went down early and to the MRC. We are getting close to agreeing what we are doing in the regenerative medicine area and Declan had offered to set up a multi-research council meeting to make sure everyone was in line. I explained again our plan and think we have MRC, BBSRC and EPSRC all aligned, and maybe even putting real money into the “challenge” part of the plan. 

I then went along to the British Library for the Partners Board meeting of Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) - see This is a cross research council programme that has got out of hand. It has sucked in everyone – who can refuse to be associated with such a noble cause. It is chaired with style, grace and elegance by Lord Selborne, but most of the talking is done by Andrew Watkinson, the Director. The 5 hours were taken up with procedural matters and set piece discussions that seemed to have been staged managed. It is a real shame that, having assembled such a range of organisational talent, we still are having debates about whether we are assembling scientific evidence to “influence policy” or trying to tackle the actual issues. 

It was then down to the Institute of Physics to talk at one of their Key Insight Business Briefings. I suspect I was stitched by Le Golding and I am a vengeful man. I was expecting a few physicists who had nothing better to do in London on a Monday evening (so, most of them, then?), so was a little bemused to find David Delpy, Phil Extance and Lesley Thompson sitting in reception when I arrived. It turns out that this is quite a neat communications route to some seriously interesting people, so I put a bit of extra effort in!! I was on after Chuck Parker of the Continua Alliance (interesting side bar about Jerry Garcia ties and Sally Davies for another time), who we know quite well through our Assisted Living Innovation Platform, and had similar issues to discuss. Both our talks at here - I ended up having a good discussion with Trudy Norris-Grey but managed to pawn off the insistent Qinetiq guy on Heidi!! :-) 

The next day was at Fortress Kingsgate and started with a meeting called by the young padawan to discuss the Emerging Technologies Steering Group – and specifically its chairman. After that it was the Executioners Meeting and Fearless Leader has discovered a new ploy to torture us with – he invited Ernst & Young into to describe how much they understand about innovation. I am sure I saw his eyelids drooping occasionally, Cyrus was definitely tearing the wings off any small insects he could find and I am sure I saw David Way doing his e-mail on his Treo (which shows how desperate he had become) but Allyson decided she would engage them – and ended up extending the pain. He also brought in our new lawyer on a leash – who is excellent – but it was good to get out at 5!! My evening task was to charm Aisling Burnand into supporting our regenerative medicine plans, so I met her and Richard Archer and duly did so, simultaneously checking out the food at the restaurant intended for the Board Meeting!! 

Wednesday saw me getting up early and catching the train (almost) home. I watched the chaos outside Marylebone with dismay, knowing I would be going the wrong way (i.e. Into London) the next day at this time. Having got to my car I turned a different way out of the railway station and made my way to the Hilton hotel at the Birmingham NEC. This was the location of the Chemistry Innovation KTN Annual Stakeholder Meeting. It is particularly soulless hotel, reminiscent of many I stayed at in the US. The meeting coffee break was bizarrely next to the pool, so we watched several aquarobics classes during the breaks. It must be the association with similar meetings in similar hotels, but I found the remorseless “have fun” approach a bit wearing – as obviously did Colin Harrison who is sounding more like Clement Freud with every passing year. The Royal Society of Chemistry managed to prove that it couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery in their session, and PA Technology have managed to rip off the manufacturing excellence programmes of 15 years ago to come up with a derivative innovation support tool that didn’t seem to impress anyone in the room. I gave a talk about the Technology Strategy Board, encouraging the chemistry community to look a bit further down the supply chains they generally underpin than they usually do and start using KTPs. I then got to chair the judges for the dinner entertainment – portraying the recovery from the recession as a game of snakes and ladders. The prize for the best snake “Gordon Brown supports Industrial Biotechnology” and the best ladder “Genetic Modification wins Britain's Got Talent” were easier to award than the overall winner. 

Thursday’s main event, the Manufacture Board Meeting, had been cancelled but the earlier meeting with Hugh Tollyfield seemed immovable, so I duly got up and caught the early train to London. As it was, he was late – an important reorganisation meeting – but we had a nice chat about how yet another part of government wants to “help” us. In the afternoon, I impersonated FL at a seminar with Hilary Benn. Along with a select group of the environmental great and good, we listened at an SDC man describe how a good idea (the Forestry Stewardship Council) had proliferated until having a stewardship council was a turning into a job creation scheme. The debate was brief but informative. Stewart Davies was there representing the SDC and was very, very good. Peter Jones must have name-checked us and the KTN about 10 times. Crispin Burridge of M&S was also very good and I will sell his business card to FL as part of our multi-coloured Business 150 swap shop efforts. The prize for “effortlessly impressive” went to Ian Cheshire, the CEO of Kingfisher – I would work for him in a heartbeat. Others included CEO of Energy Savings Trust, some functionary from the Carbon Trust and a guy called Chris Rea from AES Engineering Ltd - who was pretty good but had a large chip on his shoulder about corporations and how they had screwed his business. Oh, and the government weren't very good to SMEs either!! Benn was surrounded by a coterie of senior officials, who were there to ensure he didn't learn or promise anything, but Neil Thornton and Jill Rutter kept engaging and ruined the effect. 

The evening was taken up with the Materials KTN/Materials UK reception at the House of Lords. This was the event we hijacked last year for our summer event and there was a nice cross section of people – but a lot less than we had achieved last year and they got the year before. It was nice to see Geoff Allen, 80 and going strong, still slagging off the philistines, and I got a thank you into Simon Haskell about his recent Lords performance. He is interested in coming down again and learning more to feed into Hansard!! 

Friday was a Swindon day, starting with the pre-meeting for the sustainability advisory group. Guy is doing a nice job organising a wider team and the story is gelling. This was followed by the first really visible output of a GP1 team, with Team 2 explaining what they are doing and then showcasing with an example of an overview of the Technology teams work. 

Heidi and I then settled in for a telecon with a nice person from BERR/DBIS who is organising the Ageing Population IGT. The young padawan was calling in from a railway station somewhere and Hugh and Marie from DIUS/DBIS had also joined in. The remit they sent us covered all aspects of old age and is, in my opinion, stupidly unachievable. The person seemed to be largely ignorant of anything that had gone before and was obviously out of their depth. We tried a number of ways to demonstrate that they needed to do some thinking before they launched a laughing stock but were told that it had been approved by the BERR/DBIS IGT approvals board (or similar) on which David Evans sat, so it must be okay. After 40 minutes we were running out of patience and becoming inured to the stonewalling, but were saved by the young padawan, who without thinking of his reputation, managed to explain the detail of all of our work until we ran out of time. I am worried that they are completely missing the point about this “challenge” and have decided to do something at all cost without considering what they would actually achieve. 

By way of contrast, the next meeting was to review Alex Chaix’s role at the interface between ourselves and BBSRC. Although I persist in thinking we set it up messily, I think that now, in the context of a better strategic alignment, it is rather successful, so have agreed to let it continue. 

The final task of the day was to get our orders from our media dominatrix, Lady Claire, for the LCV Demonstrator launch on 23rd June. She and Paul (W) quizzed Heidi, Andrew and I for about an hour until they got the right words to encapsulate our message. By then end of it water-boarding might have been a relief!! If I’d have known this media stuff was so hard, I might not have agreed to take part. I thought it was all long, pinot grigio filled lunches and didn't involve hard work.


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