25 July 2019 by David Bott
Yet another “start the week” meeting. It must be habit-forming. A bit more time to catch up on e-mails before the review meeting for Gordon Murray Design. We had met them some time into the Low Carbon Vehicles activity – they are typical of the sort of people who don’t think to talk to us – and their work to development a new manufacturing process to lower the cost of making low carbon town cars was past where we would usually support a project. They have now teamed up with Zytek to produce a proposal to design from scratch a small car specifically suited to the requirements of an electric drive train. This is out of sequence with our plans, but we thought it a strong enough idea that we are using a variant of the “large projects process” to explore how we might support them. Heidi and Jim have been working hard to get them to understand our system, but what I saw at this meeting has caused me some worry – on a number of accounts. The 5 assessors all thought that this was a promising idea, but that the form had not been used to convey the full potential impact of the idea. They thought that both companies were strong and that this was, essentially, the “dream team”. However, our process requires that we answer the questions in a particular way and, since they were new to our system, they hadn’t. There is no other way to say it. There is a conflict between what they wrote (which is presumably close to what got them £8m of Venture Capital money the other year) and what the assessors discussed. The assessors also moved a long way from assessing the technology and business potential. They were concerned that Gordon Murray had a high salary, that we shouldn't be taking on so much commercial risk and were making a number of “decisions” that I think we should be making not them. Heidi did try to point this out to them, but they “know our system” and are part of perpetuating the old DTI approach. I suspect both sides need to learn from this encounter.
After that, the young padawan had arranged a meeting to discuss best practice in Implementation Plans. A subset of the Technologists discussed that various plans that are thought to have been persuasive and then successful. Nice piece of bar-raising. Then a nice young person from Dow Jones called me – to sell me information services. She told me that she had talked to David Way – although it turned out that she was talking to him on Tuesday. I think we have both passed her off to Steph. Finally, Fearless Leader, Cyrus and I went through the Innovation Programmes part of the budget forecasts. We are still suffering from the overhang of the £200m we competed in 2007 and this years’ big competitions produce a similar effect in a couple of years. We need to be smoother.
Tuesday was a London day, starting with a Bio-Lateral (sorry!) between ourselves (Zahid, Merlin and I) and the BIS Biosciences Group. They are re-arranging themselves again and will be alongside the OLS working for Rob Sullivan. Then Maurizio, Le Golding and I went to the Cabinet Office to meet Head digi-dude, Andrew Stott. Maurizio had picked him up on Twitter but it turns out that Peter Perfect had suggested he talked to us anyway. It was the usual first date, with both sides explaining what they did (and what their favourite records were!). The next meeting is set for a couple of weeks’ time. Then it was out to Terminal 5 to catch a flight to Switzerland – after the Frankfurt experience, I never again want to fly out on the day for a 10 o’clock meeting in Europe!!
The next day was a “marketing” event for Nissan about their imminent moves in ultra low carbon vehicles. Most of the day was a rehearsal of the various arguments around all the factors affecting uptake – done very, very well – but then the highpoint was a drive in a Cube kitted out with the drive train of the new vehicle which will be announced in Yokohama on August 2nd. Although I knew I was being “mediaed”, I came away with the feeling that they had done their homework well and that, providing they give the new car an interesting set of clothes (the Cube is terminally ugly) they might actually have a success. The trip home was slightly ruined by having to spend 3 hours with someone who likes telling people how important he is!
Thursday was back to Swindon and first up was a Funders Panel. For a variety of reasons, both Cyrus and I missed the last one and several irritating and avoidable mistakes got made, so we sat at the front and paid attention. Some undershoot on Oil and Gas but both Creative Industries and Network Security invoked the funding cut-off before the quality cut-off. That was followed by a brain dump on the history of Innovation Platforms in general and Low Carbon Vehicles in particular as part of the “how should we measure success” effort, and then the young padawan and I locked ourselves in a room to finish off the design of the Emerging Technologies/Industries Strategy. Finally, Fearless Leader, Cyrus and I met to agree how to handle the extra funding into the High Value Manufacturing competition.
Friday was another Swindon day, discussing the Board Meeting I hadn't been to, having my quarterly beating from Fearless Leader, and then taking part in the team briefing. Last thing YP and I did was to meet a couple of guys from WRC (the Water Research Company) who basically want to be involved in the Water Innovation Platform. They are essentially an RTO in the space but do seem to know their stuff.