Another week, another slug of extra money. Who says there are cuts?
31 July 2020 by David Bott
Another Monday, another “start the week” meeting!! This was followed by a catch-up with Jools before my first meeting – which was a teleconference with Mari-Anne McKenzie of BIS. Ever since we ran the Composites Grand Challenge I seem to have become Marie-Anne’s new best friend, and she is keen to keep us in the loop on how the materials and manufacturing strategies are progressing within BIS. Mostly the conversation went well, until she started talking about their analysis of the sectors and what the best mechanism to support each one is. Apparently, the joint Treasury-BIS team are coming up against a survey that we are doing, and she was keen to understand what we are doing and why we seem to be doing BIS’s job. So am I – because I don’t recognise what she is talking about!
Next up came the “learn without lunch” meeting. The “open innovation” person from Orange gave a distinctly underwhelming talk about how Orange “do” open innovation – which seems to involve them deciding that they want to dominate certain markets and would like other people to have ideas for them. I then had a discussion with Karen about the new Annual Review website. It looked okay, but the functionality was non-intuitive and didn’t even seem to work the way she was expecting it to. I assume I am part of an early test group and there is more development work planned because otherwise it will join our main website as an embarrassment to our reputation!
The final official task of the day was to take part in an interview Edelman had set up to support a BBC piece on Diverse Energy. It turns out the BBC guy had no real interest in what we do or how we do it, but since Diverse had taken our money and gone on “Clean and Cool” I knew enough to support their reputation in a positive way.
The next day was a London one and the main event was the first Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform Steering Group meeting. Given that 2 of the last 3 such meetings had not gone well, I think the whole home team were nervous, but the farm-boys had been around to see every one of the external members, made sure they understand what their role was, that they knew roughly what to expect at this first meeting and got the “basics” of how we did things, so the meeting went smoothly. The Chair even raised the adverse publicity from the provisional Horticultural Liberation Army (see http://www.hortweek.com/news/bulletin/dailybulletin/article/1016120/Critics-slam-Technology-Strategy-Board-funding-crop-protection-research-wont-shared-industry/) (By the way, the quote from Calum is actually from the Media Dominatrix!) and we got everyone to understand that we had nothing to do with the old DEFRA Link programme other than DEFRA made the (internal) decision to shut that down and put the money through our (different) programme!!! The quality of debate was very high and (of course) having 2 experienced people from the farming community on the team made our whole pitch seem rather convincing. I had a chance in the afternoon to catch up with our Creative Industries lead and find out more about what he has gone part time to build his own business in – and quite an interesting one too!
Wednesday was working from home but I had an interesting (continuing) discussion with Strategy Man in the morning about how we develop the case and in the afternoon with a man from an American Consultancy firm who was acting on behalf of a “major multinational coatings company” who were trying to understand how to get their hands on our money (my words). I explained what we did and why we did it and at every new idea he remarked “that sounds sensible”. Whoever he had been talking to before has a very twisted picture of what we do, and it was nice to set someone straight – only 5,999,999,999 to go!
Late on I got a call from Transport Man, who had been talking to our friend and co-funder in the OLEV. Apparently, the SoS was still not signing off on the money the DfT had committed to our Integrated Delivery Programme competition and we were getting embarrassed about sending out “maybe next week” e-mails so we were looking for closure. Deep Throat wasn’t sure he could pull it off without help, so was asking for it!!
Thursday morning should have been my other job, but first I had to talk to Fearless Leader and Fergus about how BIS could apply subtle and effective pressure on the other Hammond. I picked up the chase after lunch and discovered that if you ask for help only rarely and make sure people know why you asking and what the prize is, they rally round!! I engaged with the meeting organised by Terry Young with a clear conscience!
So, what was this reason to be surrounded by a handful of senior academics spread across many disciplines but all with an interest in the health service? It all starts with an EPSRC funded initiative called MATCH - http://www.match.ac.uk/. This has caused Terry to start asking questions about how the provision of health services are organised – and whether they would benefit from the application of commercial or military style organisation principles. This meeting – the first 24 hours devoted to assembling the right academic team and the last 3 hours to engaging industry (I am not sure I agree with Terry’s allocation of time, but it was his meeting!) He had invited David Delpy (who didn’t come) and I to dinner, but I got there a couple of hours early, so was able to engage in and observe the academic part of the process. I think it is honest to say that I wasn’t sure the others had Terry’s vision or commitment! The sub-group I was ordered to take part in (how would we build a business with a £1bn turnover in 7 years) was a pretty depressing affair at first. They weren’t even sure how a business was built, couldn’t see beyond the provision of software or training and had no idea what the market size might be! This led to a lively debate. Talking to Terry and others over dinner, I got the impression the lights were beginning to go on, but it was still pretty dark. Instead I had a fascinating discussion with a guy who was investigating alternative medicines!! About this time I got a call from Transport Man, who had had a call from Deep Throat to say we had the OLEV £9m, but we couldn’t tell people until it was official! I went to sleep happier!
Friday morning I got up a bit later than usual but discovered that, even then, the Royal Conference Centre didn’t start breakfast for another 45 minutes, so decided to hit the road. As it was, I discovered that breakfast at a motorway service station was not as bad an experience as I feared it might be and I made it to Swindon alive. Friday in a depleted Swindon turned out to be a productive day. I had a chance to brief Mrs Webster and Maurizio on the resurrected Institute for Web Sciences and what our BIS friends had told me about making it work, I made a small part of my contribution to Julie Soutters’ Courageous Networking (and I will be back for more), tried to “help” by getting involved in the communications of the now confirmed IDP4 funding (the £9m from OLEV unlocked another £5m for the BIS part of SIF), talked to Debbie about what KTP wasn’t but could be and then had a long delayed catch-up with Will about Technology, Strategy and HR issues. By now I had managed to thoroughly confuse the IDP4 communications situation, so sat with Cyrus and Julie and checked the 11 e-mails we had to send out to fulfil our promise to tell them all roughly what was going on. I am sure Cyrus (who sent the missives) will have got replies over the weekend, but that goes with the territory and we can sort it out next week when John Laughlin returns from his holiday!!