A funny way to test for influenza!!

Although I remember going to the “start the week” meeting, the various Outlook gremlins we seem to be suffering from have retrospectively removed from my diary.  They also duplicated everything in my calendar, and Jools and I removed different versions, so at one point I had no commitments in my calendar.  Bliss.  I wonder whether the problems are caused by ITC, Microsoft or the Cyberdyne Corporation?

After a quick check to make sure I did know where I was supposed to be, I was courageously networked by David Alvis and John Collins.  It looks like networkers now hunt in packs.  It never fails to amaze me how new people add value to our gene pool when they make the effort to learn what we do and why we do it.  As I wandered out, I noted that the whole digidude community was cloistered in Room 3 making the “who builds the TeStBed” decision, so poked my head in to be annoying.  They were being thorough and managing to see the bright side of the 2 remaining options.  I went to the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning presentation which went well until they got to advertising.  Shai obviously knows his stuff and could be a useful ally in the Innovation Climate activities.  I checked back with the digidudes, but they still hadn’t made a decision!! Meanwhile, the communications junior had fixed me an interview with a journalist from Energy Engineering, so I passed the time doing that before heading back into digiland.  They had carried out the pluses and minuses analysis of the 2 options and then voted with their feet, only to have a tie!!  After a bit of questioning and some clarification of the requirements we eventually decided on the ex-spook company.

Then came a Funders Panel for our Composites Grand Challenge.  John Morlidge and the Competitions Team had done a great job fitting the necessary steps into a tight timelines (imposed because this is SIF money and needs to be all spent by March 2011).  John claims (although it sounds too good to be true) that one of the attendees at the previous weeks consortium building workshop had said “we came as competitors and left as collaborators!”  There is still some remnant suspicion of the aerospace lobby, but the whole thing seems to be moving towards a credible multi-company consortium that can deliver real progress in the next year.  Given that they are addressing a challenge that has bedevilled composites for 30 years we might end up being a bit proud of this activity.

Tuesday started with a planning meeting with Merlin and Zahid about our upcoming “summit” with the BIS Biosciences Unit.  Aside from the SNAFU over the Stevenage funding, they have every reason to be grateful to us.  We came up with a way to buttress their industrial bioscience activity and the regenerative medicine plan is getting everyone credit.  Next came a demonstration of the Enigma Diagnostics machine, which our PRADA project had a big hand in supporting the development of.  They talked us through the underlying technology and then demonstrated it diagnosing influenza (although the slide set was about STIs).  It was good to see Nick and Merlin (designers of the competition that supported PRADA), Christian (the reduction of scale enable PCR to be carried out much quicker and therefore demonstrates the oft repeated scaling advantage of nanotechnology) and Neil (who can’t stop himself on the manufacturing angle) as well as the obvious suspects in the room.  We also dragged in the communications junior when we realised this was a gift success story!!  After that came a “Heads of” meeting to nail next year’s basic competitions programme – and a short prayer meeting to ask for the financial uncertainty to resolve and give us more money to commit during 2010/11!!

Then came an odd meeting.  Maurizio had invited in the guys from Aston Science Park (now rebranded as “Birmingham Science Park – Aston”.  It was interesting to see what they are wanting to do, but I am not sure it warranted 6 people to hear the presentation.

Wednesday started with an interview set up by Nick with a Sunday Times journalist who was confused by the hydrogen highway announcement.  He was very familiar with what we have been doing and surprised that we were not noticeably involved in the Hydrogen Road to Wales.  We discussed (off the record) how hydrogen was an important part of the future landscape but had challenges in the short term (transport, storage and provenance being 3 rather big ones) and then (on the record) how important it was that the Government was defining areas of expertise to avoid pointless and wasteful duplication of effort.  It will appear in the Sunday Times apparently.  This was followed by a meeting to discuss and agree the content and format of the next Governing Board meeting – to be held in Scotland.  Fearless Leader and I then had a meeting about the ETI Board meeting that was going to be held next week but will now be held “virtually”.  This led to a useful conversation about our whole energy portfolio and our place in the energy landscape after the NAO report mildly criticised everyone (but only talked about the past, not the present) - we ought to have technology themed conversation more often, it’s what we’re about and we have now accumulated a significant reach and insight!!  This was followed by another step in the development of the Assisted Living strategy, although we still have a long way to go.  Finally in Swindon, we had a meeting of the wider digidude community to make sure everyone knew about the selection of the TeStBed provider and was on board to the next steps.  Then it was down to London...

The reason was the dinner of the DEFRA Science Advisory Council.  I was standing in for FL and just before I left we noticed that he had been invited to “lead the discussion” after dinner.  Since the discussion was based on the “Reaping the Benefits” report and that was widely presumed to be the first step in rehabilitating genomically modified food crops, I suggested we ought to sit the discussion out and just eat the food.  As it was, Chris Gaskell (the Chair) gave me a fulsome introduction on the back of the Sustainable AgriFood Innovation Platform and our first competition under it (Thanks, young padawan) and I had a nice conversations with Chris Lea (of Wales who the Agridudes were going to see on Friday), Maggie Gill (Scotland’s main person on things agricultural) and Suzy Walton (once of the Cabinet Office and the source of many good Government stories) as well as with Chris and Dan Osborne, who is still planning to have a Second Life island that shows the effects of climate change!!

Since I had stayed in London overnight, I had to catch an early train back to Swindon for meetings.  First up was a discussion of the Low Impact Buildings Innovation Platform Implementation Plan and its upcoming programmes, although Richard and I managed to have a side order of Clean and Cool Mission as well.

Then I had an interesting phone conversation with a guy who is working on a project to build an extension to the V&A in Dundee (sort of like the Wroughton site is to the Science Museum, only farther away).  He seems to be talking to the same sorts of people in Scotland as we are, so I agreed that we would express spiritual support but not provide money, because it wasn't our area.  He seemed happy!!  Next week, I will be impersonating Julia King (in her role as Chair of the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform Steering Group) so Tim, John and I sat down to map out what we want to achieve at the meeting and how best to achieve it!!  Finally for Swindon (again) we had a last minute check that the media plan for the Clean and Cool Mission was in place.  Lady Claire drove us all (the ones that are brave enough to come to these meetings now) to agreement about a full and exciting plan.  Afterwards we discovered that a Sunday Times journalist had been asking “is this a good use of taxpayers’ money?” questions so, after an initial frenzy, we cooked a plan for that too.  The rest of the day was spent seeing old friends in Oxford who run a series of interconnected SMEs.  It was weird to hear the other side of our world and reinforced my resolve to continue to try to see the world through their eyes and support them in the best possible ways.

Friday started with a trip down to London for the first official meeting of the newly expanded Low Carbon innovation Group.  For new readers, the CEOs of the Carbon Trust, Energy Technologies Institute and Technology Strategy Board started having “summits” early on, so Mark Williamson, Andy Haslett and I started meeting beforehand to make sure they had something to agree.  It worked so well that others wanted to join in.  DECC agreed to organise – so there was a 7 month hiatus where they proved they couldn’t.  For this meeting, DECC produced a paper which recommended 3 interconnected levels of interaction, a permanent secretariat and other such gold-plating, so the mouseketeers got together and decided what they wanted (I have learned all this committee nobbling from John Bell of OSCHR, you decide what you want to happen and then make it happen.  It’s easy, really!).  As a result, we had a very productive 2 hour meeting and probably managed to scare Jeannie!  A quick sprint down to Tracy Island for a digidude meeting – this time with Sam Sharps who seems to lead for BIS on Digital Britain.  He seemed less aware of what we are doing than I was comfortable with, but our team excelled at putting our case and I think the meeting went well in terms of alignment.  I then met up with an economic advisor to the Committee for Climate Change, who have been commissioned by John Beddington to do yet another review of the support mechanisms in energy space.  If there is criticism of the confusion in the delivery of energy support, there ought to be absolute mayhem about the policy advice!!  She had met Heidi and the LCV team before Christmas and thought the “Ricardo” review was a good example of thought analysis as a precursor to action.  Although she and the CCC CEO had met with FL earlier in the week and this was the second time (at least) being told what we did and why we did it, she seemed to be unaware of our role and activities.

The final task of the day was to be interviewed by the Sunday Times journalist that had caused such heartbreak the day before.  The Edelman fixer made it happen and I answered a series of questions like “why are they going?”, “what do you expect to get from it?” and “is this a good use of taxpayers money”.  The Edelman dude apparently liked my answer to that last one – which was “every other country does it, our companies have to compete in global markets so unless we support them, we will probably spiral down into being a third world economy”

The journey home was tortuous because I had left my car in Oxford and the upper end of the A34 was mostly stationary – and then I discovered my home was covered in snow!!  I then spent a little time trying to understand why some of our new systems are being applied overzealously and run the risk of undoing much of our good work with SMEs.

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