The joys of Siberia come to Swindon
10 January 2020 by David Bott
I made it to the “start the week” meeting despite the very strong urge not to get up. First priority after that was to update the Risk Register – it had been on my to-do list for about a month but I needed to sit down connected to the wonderful SharePoint system and that required more patience than I can generally muster. After that, we had a meeting to discuss how best to leverage the publicity implicit in the Clean and Cool Mission. Lady Claire pumped Richard, Guy and I about what our goals were, what the main message ought to be, who the audience were supposed to be and how we were going to take it to them. This resulted in us upgrading our expectations about what we could achieve and adds a sizable communications packet to the Mission. Taken together with our desire to increase our sustainability credentials (see earlier report of Sustainable Innovation Advisory Group) I suspect we will look back on 2010 as the year we did sustainability better – but still not fully!
The afternoon was consumed with a review of the Board papers for next week. The KTN piece has come together nicely, but I am still worried that we aren’t coherent and thorough enough on the metrics piece. It sounds like the Metrics Working Group have softened, but past experience suggest that the actual meeting could go in many directions and we need to ensure we anticipate and can answer the holes in our logic and analysis. We followed this with a discussion on how we should deal with the involvement of the Levy Boards with the Sustainable Agriculture Innovation Platform. The situation (as I understand it) is that the Levy Boards are voted what is basically a hypothecated tax by the companies in their area on a 5 year cycle. As far as state aids rules should be applied, the fact that it comes through a Quango makes it public money and therefore it gets put on our side of the funding equation. However, the companies pay it to enable shared research and development therefore see it as their contribution to the private money side of the funding equation. The young padawan had sought legal advice and been told it was public money (twice). To complicate matters DEFRA had previously counted it as private money – but for the support of what is really academic research which is openly communicated. We decided not to escalate our legal advice (with an almost exponential increase in costs) but to look to construct an Integrated Delivery Plan approach whereby the Levy Board money is used to support the front end of any programmes in a pseudo-academic manner and we support the implementation end of the projects through funding the companies. Now the challenge is to explain this to the many and varied stakeholders who all seem to have their own limited view of the bigger picture.
Cyrus and I then spent some time with the latest version of his miraculous spreadsheet seeing how we could mitigate the enormous overspends inherent in our current plans!! After that, and evening in the Marriott was a blessed relief!!
Tuesday dawned clear and cold and I made it into the office nice and early. More e-mails perished before my first meeting. This was to prepare for the next Assisted Living Steering Group meeting. The last one had showed that we had not communicated the role of the Group (or its Chair) clearly enough and our plans got derailed. Heidi sensibly decided that they needed to prepare better this time and so called this meeting. The draft presentation looked to be a last minute cut and paste of written documents and failed to capture the main points that the team well knew and could easily communicate when asked. We need to get better at anticipating how any audience will hear what we are saying – they don't have our familiarity with the data or our longitudinal experience of the thinking and so are liable to go off at tangents while probing their understanding. I played the role of “awkward bastard” for an hour or so and hopefully contributed to the thinking. We now need to ensure that it gets into the presentation.
Next up was an interview for the lead role in Emerging Technologies. We have seen lots of people with limited experience and views, so it was a pleasure to find someone broad and open. We have now offered and he has accepted – Yeh!!!
Some nice (and courageous) networking with Ian Miekle (I will get my revenge on Miller for the question he told Ian to ask me) was followed by an internal meeting to discuss and action the output of the SAIG. Guy had neatly stiffed Allyson and I with some of the actions from the meeting but we then got lots of volunteers from the body of the church to take forward the detailed programmes necessary to successfully implement what we took as their advice!! By now, the rumours of snow were increasing and the phone call from home saying my wife had had to abandon her car in the snow suggested an early departure might be sensible, so I headed off by the longer, but more predictable, motorway route home. On the way (and hands-free) I did and interview with Tom Simonite from New Scientist. He is now following me on twitter so I might not have screwed it up! The evening was spent investigating friction and adhesion under different temperature regimes – it pays to be a materials scientist with a passing knowledge of engineering under these conditions! :-) Late on I had a bizarre telephone call from the office of the Senator from North Dakota, who is leading on the implementation of electric vehicles in the US. They had stalked us through the reports of our activity in the press, so well done us for a successful comms package in the area!! One of the more amusing ideas that came out was that we could host a visit to the UK for them to meet leaders in the electric vehicle field like Ford because their US operations “don't get it”.
Wednesday started watching the snow come down and brewing coffee. I had a telephone call with Aisling Burnand (now of Cancer Research UK). There had been a frantic exchange just before Christmas because CRUK had somehow understood that we were about to launch a competition in stratified medicine and they thought they had to spend Christmas preparing a proposal. We agreed a more planned and co-ordinated programme with both high level and working level meeting in the next month or so.
I then killed more e-mails whilst waiting to take part in the RCUK meeting, which rapidly evolved into a teleconference. I duly logged in, discussed snow with Vince Osgood until the local O2 tower stopped sending me radio waves – apparently a common problem this week!! The day ended with another telephone meeting – this time with a guy from SQW who are analysing the quality and effectiveness of interactions between us and the research councils. I was told that I was providing the high level overview comments!! I seem to have reflected and reinforced many of the messages he had already got from detailed discussions, so maybe I do know what it going on after all!
A hasty restructuring of the week meant that I needed to go down to London on Thursday. I waited until the trucks had cleared the main road and slithered out of the side roads to join them. The first 5 miles were a bit intense, but once I got to roads with an A and less than 3 numbers, it seemed better. The car park at the railway station, on the other hand, was a rink!! The trains were running slow and late but they were running. I made it down to London for the first meeting, at the Treasury, but hosted by OSCHR. This was about the Capability Cluster work they are leading. It was interesting to note that they are running a competition for academics to align their work along industrial lines and build knowledge supply chains that include clinical groups and patient cohorts. MRC and DoH seemed to assume they knew what they wanted to do, but Johns Stageman and Saville and Richard Barker seemed more aligned with our point of view and experience. It struck me afterwards that OSCHR does not have experience or resource to run a competition like this, and so I offered our support if necessary. I made it back to Tracy island to be able to slip into the “Launch of the EPSRC Centres for Innovative Manufacturing” which had been hijacked by the Dark Lord and Emperor to make the case that they really care about business. The Dark Lord name-checked us and then went off-script to extol the virtues of our arms-length status. The Emperor made a joke (sort of) and also mentioned us in glowing terms. Actually, on reflection I think we got better publicity that the EPSRC!! I managed to squeeze through the ranks of those wanting Fearless Leaders autograph to exchange a few words about our upcoming dual-front exchange with the Design Council (but failed to connect on the farce that the Low Carbon Innovation Group has evolved into since DECC wrested control from the Carbon Trust). The last official task of the day was to talk to Jackie Hunter about the Stevenage Biopark and, cutting out the duplicity of the BIS Bioscience Unit and the self-interest of the consultants, discuss what our support might actually comprise. We did this in 30 minutes – confirming what Fearless Leader and I had said on July 1st when we first got involved!! Doh. The evening was spent with David Godber catching up on the DC view of BIS, the potential regime change and how we are working together. I got a bit of an earful about lack of response on DOTT but headed it off.
Friday started with the trek down to Swindon on the trains that were running. First up was the continuing development of the narrative, implementation plan and resulting communication of our Energy programme. We are still basically doing everything we were doing as the DTI, with no real change of emphasis or funding, so we had a robust discussion. It would be nice to take the metrics work and extend it into this next level down so that we can make informed decisions about swapping resource from unproductive areas into more focused areas before I leave. This led seamlessly into a discussion about how we can link to the EPSRC programmes in energy space. The problem is the overlap with ETI and Carbon Trust and the apparent inability of DECC to make decisions. A good catch-up with Will was followed by a discussion of the next moves we make in plastic electronics – engaging the design community, don’t cha know?
The final task of the day was another interview – this time for biosciences. Will had managed my expectations well and I was pleasantly surprised by a SWERDA person who we ought to have in the organisation. Leaving a deserted office before 5 o'clock I spent 20 minutes on Swindon station with Jan and Dave (Carragher and Coates, not the 60’s surfing dudes), then 30 minutes on a train with them and David Delpy (who was mildly bemused by the Thursday afternoon events), then 30 minutes alone on a freezing Reading station (although I did think the last minute change of platform was a good way to warm up), then 60 minutes (again alone) on a warm and almost empty train, then another 20 minutes on Leamington station before eventually getting back to my frozen and snow-covered car – yes, it was snowing again. It was nice to get home!!
Wasn't that fun?