Walking with dinosaurs?
01 August 2019 by David Bott
With the (alleged) onset of the summer interregnum, the “start the week” meeting was strangely empty, so we finished pretty quickly and got back to work. It was followed by an Innovate Steering Group, where Huw whipped us into decisions, while feeding the inner person with doughnuts. Progress is being made and we are getting down to precise actions. A quick introduction to a an architect currently working for OGC but who might be a useful addition if we can get the Government Departments to seriously think about doing their own building up, and then a man from HP labs who really wanted to see how he could get money for his spin-out, but who prattled on for about 30 minutes about strategic alignment first. If my training as a junior venture capitalist is any guide, they will die because he didn't impress at all. The final official meeting of the day was to apportion the actions from the Sustainability Advisory Group, which Guy did with style and elegance. The rest of the day was given over to reading the various Government pronouncements about the following day, where I would be impersonating Fearless Leader.
Down to London for the various Advanced Manufacturing events. The morning was spent doing more reading and practicing Q&A’s with Claire and Ray. The first part of the event was really useful. The Dark Lord would be announcing SAMULET, SILOET, the additions to the HVM call and some direct investment in RR to people who were mostly inside the tent already. I got in useful discussions with Nigel Perry, Eric Mayes, Tim Ryan, Mike Gregory and several others, although I suspect Ian Shott got me to agree to something I had doubts over in that “charming” way of his. Then it was off to a media briefing. We had a quick pre-meeting with Knuckles Rose and his entourage, before I joined him and the Dark Lord on the stage in the bowels of the BIS Conference Centre. The Dark Lord said a few words, Knuckles said a few more and then we settled down to questions. At this point, the media dude from BIS slipped the Dark Lord a piece of paper, and before he had the sensitivity to put his glasses case over it, I noted that it was my name and title. He leaned backwards and asked me if I had any words I wanted to say to which I told him that I thought I was there to answer questions. As it turned out, very few of the journalists were interested in the 160 or more companies who would benefit from our competition, or the potential impact of SAMULET beyond the RR supply chain, they were there to see which of the titans was on top that day. After a few questions, I realised I was going to be the gooseberry on the stage and settled back into a mode where I smiled knowingly and nodded once in a while, and looked (probably in vain) for a reason to join the conversation. Alas, it was not to be. Instead I had a few words with one of two of the journalists afterwards. We were the side-show at the event. I had been sitting there thinking that Media Woman would kill me for not being more assertive, it turned out she had been sitting there thinking that I would kill her for being placed in the situation, but Ray was sitting there thinking that this was very good because we got to be involved without having to answer any embarrassing questions. It’s all a matter of viewpoint!! The subsequent derailment of a train on my way home and the resultant 5 hour trip was much more vexing.
The next day, it was down to London again – you have no idea how little I was looking forward to catching a train!! First up was the Manufuture Steering Group. Peter Flinn had chaired this and I thought that having a go might teach me more about another potential European adventure. It was the usual mixture of real fanatics from industry and consultants who could benefit – including our old friends TUVNEL – but I was mildly impressed with what could be achieved with not much effort, so will pursue a little further. I then moseyed down to the SBAC to talk to Ruth Mallors about the potential Innovation Platform in Sustainable Aviation. The other David had worried that she might be driving this faster than we were considering and deliver another rift with the aerospace community, so I took her through the likely timescales and process and was pleasantly surprised by what she was already doing and how she did take direction. Given the experience of the previous evening, I was glad to be staying in London that night!!
The next morning started with a meeting with some of Paul and Allyson’s media chums. There was an element of sameness about the paper they had shared beforehand, and the personnel were a mixed bag, but the guy from The Rocket Science Group had something about him that suggested this might be worth our input. After an hour, the build-up of dropped clichés meant it was difficult getting out of the room, but since I had a call booked with the MRC, I manfully made my escape. The call was basically Declan and I making sure that I had all the actions before he went off on holiday, and that went well!! I then met with David Pearson – at his request – about the Transport KTN. I rate David very highly and he has done really nice work corralling InnovITS and the ITSS Steering Group , so I was worried to hear his perspective on the process and will pass on his thoughts to the other David. I did make the point several times that the basic direction was not open to negotiation, and he seemed to understand that. Was I being tested? :-)
The rest of the day was given over to impersonating Fearless Leader again – this time in the alternative reality that is the Energy Technologies Institute. It started with the public sector people making sure they were up to speed with one another. It doesn't appear to materially affect what happens in the meeting, but it does give them a comfort blanket. The meeting itself was a bit like the last one I took part in – even the issues appear to be the same. There are now 5 or so projects started but spend is well down on initial plans and ETI announced they weren't planning on asking for much money for the rest of the year. This caused the business guys a bit of concern and they asked that ETI pull forward claims from next (calendar) year for them and then sought public money in the first calendar quarter of next year. John Beddington agreed to this – causing David Delpy to swallow hard as I observed, and then point out that his end of year flexibility was also limited and that if money wasn’t spent then is might be presumed to have been lost. It sounds like the plan doesn't take account of different financial timetables and/or inability to spend money!! Health and Safety also got a good going over – with the companies mainly worried about liabilities in projects. I am sure they did that one 6 months ago. The new member recruitment discussion was also a rerun, with a few certain “no”s and IBM still about t say “yes”. Then we got onto their latest activity in transport and their frustration at how government won't let them be responsible for the whole Test Bed UK programme in exchange for their £3m investment in a more analysis. David Clarke got quite hot under the collar about the time it took to clear their press release, and threatened to pull the programme. The Board (well, actually Rob Margetts) expressed surprise that the new Office of Low Emission Vehicles would be given that responsibility because it needed strong project management – this from the organisation that can’t spend it’s money when all around are crying out from support. Since I believe FL told them this might happen at the last meeting and they seemingly chose to ignore him, I did have a quiet and friendly “told you so” discussion with David afterwards. They really don't understand how Government works and how much they have alienated the DfT. We might end up being responsible for picking up the pieces at some point, so we need to monitor carefully.
As I was discovering that the invitation to dinner afterwards was a mirage, Drayson’s PS called to ask for a briefing on Gordon Murray, so I wandered back to Fortress Kingsgate and entered the deserted 5th floor. I explained the situation, the problem that neophytes didn’t understand the arcane requirements of our application process and that I had to protect Fearless Leader from jail but that everyone involved saw real potential and she told me that Peter Hain and Pat McFadden were asking questions – luckily into BIS – and we agreed that we would keep one another informed. We then went through the various life science initiatives we were engaged in, the broad sweep of Digital Britain and she told me that he was “interested” in semantic web technology and how he should back it. Deep joy. I also learned that he was invited to lead OLEV and is seeking to be sure that DfT understand “his way” of doing things.
Friday was my “treat” day. If I do enough shitty things, am allowed to go out a visit a company. Today was Ford’s Dunton Technical Centre and we were going mob handed. Heidi, Andrew, John and Tony all made their way to southern Essex, three of us by train, one by a sensible car (whose lack of roof doesn't detract from its environmentally friendly engine) and the guy responsible for our green car demonstrator came in his Ferrari!! Ford also turned out in force and we had a good (but too brief) discussion on what they do, what we do and what we might do together. There was also a quick trailer for a project proposal they are going to submit to the current competition which sounds very interesting. Afterwards I noted that this is Fearless Leaders responsibility under the Business Engagement programme so I need a “swap” mechanism to be implement (Lisa, please note). We looked at their dynamometer suite, their environmental chambers (-29oC is very cold) and played on the test track with their flywheel assisted Transit pickup. Much to our surprise, they also had a new Focus RS at the track and Andrew, John and I played “boys” seeing how fast we could take it. I think 120 mph at the end of the straight was the record. They took pictures to blackmail us with later!! The wrap up meeting was also useful as we talked about the transfer of technologies between application areas and their leader seemed to welcome the opportunity to be involved with us beyond the usual areas.