In which our hero discovers that stereotypes sometime work and sometimes don’t work
24 October 2019 by David Bott
Yet another missed “start the week”, but this was unplanned. Somewhere in the past, Swindon had woken up to the fact that it wasn’t involved in any of the low carbon transport programmes, so Michael Wills had called a meeting at the House of Commons and invited a lot of Swindon based companies and us to meet Lord Drayson. It was originally scheduled for 2 o’clock on the Monday, then it moved to 4 o’clock and then it moved to 12 o'clock. Although I was invited and had (apparently) accepted, they decided only to copy Tim (who was also going) and Alison. The final time change happened at about 3 o'clock on the Friday, and Tim didn't see the e-mail and forward it to me until after close of play on the Friday. Doh!! Anyway, luckily, most of the people I had to re-arrange are also sad and answer e-mails on the weekend, so we changed everything. Tim couldn't make the third timeslot because he was in a DfT meeting, so I flew solo. The “proposal” they sent out was nothing of the sort, just a high level scene setting document, and Wills waffled a bit of an introduction before Paul took charge. He laid out the roadmap we are all working to and pointed out that hydrogen wasn’t a “now” focus and that there were significant materials and provenance questions to be answered. Jack Frost disagreed with him, but BMW-man and I backed him up (it was actually pretty spot on as a statement of where we are coming from). 45 minutes of discussion, with Paul handing off most of the detail stuff to me, worked to set the scene, then Paul left. Wills tried to gauge the level of interest for further work, but I sensed most of the companies thought they had been brought to the meeting under false pretences and would require a lot of work to get them back in a room with SWRDA. What a waste!!
I got back to Tracy Island for an interview with a possible stratified medicine secondee. It was to be held in one of the new fish-bowl meeting rooms on the second floor, so the confidential nature of the presentation she gave was available to for all, employees and visitors, to see. There was also a wonderful moment, when we discovered the projector wasn't compatible with the young padawan’s Dell. Calling the help desk as instructed by the papers on the wall, resulted in a discussion about how the help desk didn’t help visitors and wasn't going to do anything for us. Don’t ya just love outsourcing? I then had a chat with Lady Claire and Andrew Everett about an interview for the Times Energy series before making my way up to the Design Council for my monthly meeting with David Godber. This one had been messed about a bit in dates, and since it was 7 o’clock we met over dinner. They had been visited by Simon Edmonds that morning and David was very up on the fact that Simon had been there when the Danish Embassy guys had bought into Jackie’s Assisted Living proposal and offered to match our funding. (Simon subsequently denied all knowledge of this exchange!) We also discussed the dynamics of the Design and Technology Alliance, which we are about to be invited to join.
Tuesday started with a trip to see OSCHR at the Treasury. There still seems to be a lot of competition between DoH and MRC over who “runs” things and they are apparently sending private notes to John Bell about the “super clusters” project that OSCHR are trying to construct. As we build the stratified medicine proposal to form an Innovation Platform, we are liable to need access to the same communities that the super clusters work will be building, so I have pledged our support, and some resource, towards the project. Liam is leaving and going to be CEO of the arthritis charity, but promised to keep in touch.
The rest of the day was spent at Tracy Island, mostly catching up with e-mails but also giving 2 interviews – the first to a freelancer working for the Times on their energy supplement – he had interviewed Andrew Everett first about the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform and Demonstrator programme and then I did the high level “you don't have to know what you are talking about” bits to set the real work in context – and the second was from Business Excell and he wanted to talk about what we did for SMEs. Both were interesting discussions with people who had obviously a lot of contextual knowledge and I learned stuff too. The day ended with a trip to the Gherkin for the launch of the Financial Services KTN. Fearless Leader won the bet by using the word “bonus” in his speech a couple of times, but Cyrus and I met the most boring man ever, who trapped us in a corner of the circular room and told us about insurance. Other than that...
Wednesday saw a train ride down to Swindon, firstly for a briefing from Zahid about the state of play of the regenerative medicine competitions, then the funders panel for the feasibility studies bit of the programme. It is mostly going to plan, with some interesting companies flushed out of the overall field. Next up, Marie-Anne MacKenzie and a colleague came down to progress the specification of the “composites challenge” we are running for them. This came out of an idea, some time ago, to spark the composites manufacturing community into looking for a way to turn what is essentially a craft into a proper process. BIS went away and committed £6m to the idea, then came back and told us it had worked. The problem is that they need to spend the money by March 2011 (a common cry around BIS and DECC at the moment) but don't want to announce it until November, so we have to design a process that gets the composites community thinking fast and then delivering faster. Our current proposal is to run a short “business plan writing” feasibility studies competition that takes us to early February, then give them a month to re-arrange into the best combinations and compete for only one prize of £5m to start work in April for 1 year. We sent Mari-Anne back to BIS to ask what the spend profile might be if we just called it a prize and gave them all the money in one go (that’s how prizes usually work, but not in the Treasury’s world). Other than that, Alan Hooper was on fire with ideas that made Robin and Will’s job easier!
I then got to see the start of the RCUK-TSB SPG meeting but had to quickly duck out to make it to London to rendezvous with Fearless Leader and Le Golding to see Pat MacFadden. We also took Mani and Simon Edmonds in (or did they take us in?) and Pat apologised in advance as he checked the CWU process conference for good news. He seemed genuinely ignorant of, and interested in, what we did and gave us a couple of jobs to do to win our spurs. I then set off to visit Sebastian Conran in his new studio. Sebastian, who is behind our increased involvement with the Design and Technology Alliance, has recently left Studio Conran to set up on his own and wanted to show off his new premises, based just near Olympia. Afterward he offered me a ride on his scooter back to Kensington for dinner. (Note to self – when riding on the back of a scooter in areas with sleeping policemen, watch the road ahead and brace yourself to avoid pain and bruises in places where no-one wants to see) We talked about the integration of the design process into product and process development and the need to build sustainable thinking into the design process – sourcing materials, measuring imbedded carbon and considering recycle or re-use options.
Thursday was another London day and after a quiet start it got rapidly busier. First up was a deputation from BAE Systems about the(ir) Systems Engineering Innovation Centre at Loughborough. The first presentation was very good because it majored on what they did internally. The second was less credible as they attempted to stretch their own activities into our world and the third, which was a shameless “ask” for support, didn't convince me for one. That said, the ideas of the first presentation are well worth unpacking and translating into our world, although perhaps not with the limiting nomenclature they use.
After that, I got a quick briefing on the progress of the Assisted Living Innovation Platform from Heidi. Last week’s Steering Group had apparently reversed some decisions on the implementation plan and we tried to autopsy the meeting to see what had happened. Considering the potential this Platform has, I am becoming increasingly frustrated by its lack of real progress, despite some impressive individual activities.
Then it was back into another telephone interview with a freelance journalist working for the Times on its energy supplement. Déjà vu all over again. This time Lady Claire and Will joined the discussion, although we were beset by communications problems, with everyone losing the connection at some point in the hour!! As it finished I was packing up and leaving the building to make the short transit to Central Hall for Regulatory Reform 09 ( http://www.regulatoryreformconference.co.uk/ ), where I was part of a panel. I was not looking forward to this and privately blaming Le Golding for what I saw as another waste of time talking to the uninterested. Actually, I am not sure it was him and anyway, I had a really good time. I started by asking who had heard of us – 3 hands were raised out of 50 or so. I put up our basic premise that regulation was an important part of the arsenal in changing markets to implement policy but that regulation that focused on the outcome rather than the process were always more successful – in business terms. Steve Unger of Ofcom followed me and then we answered questions for about 45 minutes. We got a lot of support for what we are trying to do, and some offers of help from several regulators.
Friday was a Swindon day, but not in the office. The morning meeting with Edelmann and an idiosyncratic selection of our management was fun and hopefully useful for them. I was struck by how un-joined up we sounded, with several factions about strategic goals emerging from our otherwise informed babble. The afternoon suffered from the absence of Fearless Leader as we discussed the content of the next Board Meeting and the progress, or otherwise, of the metrics project.