Celebrities, royalty, being a stand-in, and riots – who says life is dull?
13 November 2020 by David Bott
It was Monday and therefore it was a “start the week” meeting, but since FL wasn’t there, Cyrus tried to break his own record for speed but ran into the rest of us getting in the way!
Next up was the delayed visit by Quentin Wilson (see - http://www.quentinwillson.co.uk/?gclid=COnNmeqCoKUCFUEf4QodjSI1jg ). We had been running into Quentin at most low carbon vehicle launch events and, over time, had established that he had clocked what we were doing and had wider low carbon interests, so the Media Dominatrix had invited him down to meet a few more of us in low carbon land. Over the course of 3 hours, we downloaded what we were doing and what we thought the impact was in the areas of low carbon vehicles (where it showed he didn’t know all that we were doing behind the scenes), energy generation and supply (where he showed real interest) and low impact buildings (where he was blown away by what we had achieved, leading to an interesting discussion about whether it was more impressive than our low carbon vehicles work – a suggestion denied by Tim O’Brien!). MD and Sustainability Man joined for a wider discussion on why the media seems to be anti low carbon vehicles (his observation), the importance of getting the consumers that actually comprise the market to understand what their options are (shared aspiration) and the suggestion that we need a “green” communications route to supplement the normal broadcast and internet media routes (his suggestion but enthusiastically supported by MD). He left as our new best friend, so let’s see what he does as a result.
A short break was followed by a meeting with FL and Tristan Wilkinson from Intel. Although we have had intermittent and uncorrelated interactions with the inside people, this “corporate” meeting was prompted by our UKTI friends – the ones we made through our Mission activities. We talked about what we do – and listened to how Intel were bounced into their engagement with Number 10 over the Shoreditch TIC (only joking David!) and how they want to engage with us on several fronts. I think FL agreed that I would talk to their next technical committee (and therefore miss some Christmas festivities) and set up to “do a Cisco” on them as a result. One of the more interesting bits of the meeting was to hear their side of the Connecting for Health “bug safe tablet computer” – where both sides told the same story!
That led into a catch-up meeting with FL. There is so much going on at the moment, that staying in sync is vital and too often we forget to let one another know what is going on – and cause more work as a result. We are all culpable on this, but the boss (or at least his agent on earth) is trying to address the problem.
The final meeting of the day was to have a notional PRP with Digital Man on his re-entry from recent fatherhood. I though his observation that there is/are lots of poo and tantrums everywhere was probably true!
Tuesday was a London day and started with the wife of Socrates wanting to have a coffee with me. Her train was late, so we had only a few minutes but, as always, she made some interesting observations. I am not sure who takes responsibility for interacting with her and making sure those observations are considered by the rest of us. I had to rush off to be Joe Feczko as the chair of the Assisted Living Innovation Platform Steering Group. We are entering interesting times for this area of our work as the original plan reaches the bit where we have to test out how the overall system would work. Mike is trying to herd a group of cats, but his first action was to add to the number of business people on the Steering Group and try to outflank the massed academics and government officials, most of who see us as a pot of money. We had a facilitated section around lunchtime, but I am not sure if it achieved closure.
I had to leave promptly because FL and I had a meeting with Brain Collins, the double CSA. He has been cited by many as the source of lots of “the TSB will select this as a TIC, just talk to them” quotes and we wanted to check that he understands where we are coming from. The first 45 minutes was reduced to a debate about whether GaN was a priority for the UK business community, or just for the UK GaN community and how, if it is strategically vital for the UK’s defence establishment, they had reduced funding for it and precipitated the current closure at Malvern. FL played the “good cop” and allowed me to try to knock down every argument Brain could muster, but we both knew that we have to control the flood of “suggestions” for TICs and that we needed Brain to be more on our side.
Once more a sharp exit, and a wet walk down Victoria Street, because I had to make it to Kingsgate House for the judging of the Business Innovation Awards. Sections on nanotechnology (remember that Technology World is fused to NanoForum), energy and sustainability, combined with a low level of entries, made judging quite easy – and quick – so I was able to get back to the hotel to dump all my bags and walk to my next meeting (saving valuable taxi money). I even had time to pop into the Apple Store and gaze in rapture at the 11” MacBook Air.
The event was the Prince Philip Design Awards (see - http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/our-work/investment/Prince-Philip-Designers-Prize/2010-contenders/ ). Last year, the event had been held at Buckingham Palace, but this year it was more “discrete” and held at the Design Council offices on Bow Street). The location had allowed the Jester to segregate the real people from the hoi polloi, and I found David Godber mixing it with the less important people, and met lots of fascinating people as a result. The short list was astounding, with Vivienne Westwood competing with Adrian Newey and the young flash git from Burberrys (to name just a few). After lots of cheap and tasteless wine (austerity hits everywhere these days, even with the Royal family present) and we got to sit down on uncomfortable chairs to listen to the off-colour HRH joke of the evening and see who got the top slot. Although everyone had their favourite, I think Bill Moggridge was everyone’s second choice – his impact has been so profound but unheralded, it is nice that he got recognised – even if he wasn’t there! I also caught up with the irrepressible Eddie Obeng, who asked the usual embarrassing questions about how much the Gravelpit ideas have been implemented. The only sour point of the evening was late on when I was introduced to the ex-Rector of Falmouth University (I was introduced because my youngest son is there). After a long talk about how we rate what has been done the in the last 10 years (his term I later found out) he asked who I worked for. When I told him I got a polite rant about how we sit in meetings and talk a lot but never follow through on any actions. I gave him my card and offered to talk to him just before Christmas when I am picking up Tim, but it does feel like we have somehow dropped the ball here.
I had a commitment to squeeze in a one-to-one with Sustainability Man, but managed to drag Sophie Thomas (see - http://www.thomasmatthews.com/ , http://www.greengaged.com/ and http://www.culturalleadership.org.uk/women-to-watch/w2w/sophie-thomas/ ) along, so we ended up discussing sustainable design and how Sophie represents 3 endangered species on the Design Council Council (she’s one of 2 women, one of 2 actual designers and one of 2 under 40!)) over bizarre pizzas.
The next morning I had a quick telephone call with a fellow panellist at Eco 2 Transport (see - http://www.eco2transport.co.uk/timetable.asp ). We have been assembled as a sort of “greatest hits” event to recreate the Cheltenham Science Festival panel and are struggling with the difficult second album problem. Then it was on to the (what will become of the) Strategic Advisory Group meeting (no, that’s what it stands for, the acronym is not a description of energy levels). Just as we were getting going, the BIS evacuation system kicked in and we got 14 repetitions of the need to stay where we were before finally, and somewhat confusingly, we were told to leave. Ignoring the fire marshals attempts to get us into Sanctuary Yard, the SAG team eloped to the Institution of Civil Engineers, re-arranged the tables in the Costa and started to discuss confidential government policy there. We were saved from ourselves by Peter Bonfield, who razzed the CEO of ICE and persuaded him to offer us the use of the Presidents Dining Room. We were up against the time but managed to agree that the SICs were a useful (to us) interaction and having a national level meeting to discuss what they thought was also useful. The problem (for me) comes with the variable quality of the representatives.
Back to Tracy Island, dodging nice, friendly students and policemen with harried and unfriendly faces, to join with the civil servants watching the riots only a few blocks away. Quite took me back…
FL and I then discussed the ETI Board Meeting next week, where I will be him. There are a number of “interesting” issues that are beginning to surface about how HMG interacts with the rest of the Board and whether we have a strategy to inform our part of the decisions making process.
Then it was up to the Royal Society for a Foundation for Science and Technology meeting on “Science advice and risk management in Government and Business”. As always, it was fascinating and I wished that more people weren’t put off by the apparently geriatric audience and could engage. The Lords and senior civil servants who mostly comprise the audience are the ones who have kept their marbles and can tell tales of political derring-do that make your toes curl! The discussion was kicked off by John Beddington, but he was slightly outclassed by Sir David Omand, who aside from plugging his book (see - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Securing-State-David-Omand/dp/1849040788 ) managed to compare “intelligence” in security to science in most other forms of policy. Dougal tried to inject a business element to justify the title, but David Spiegelhalter dragged us back into the argument that Government doesn’t invest enough in science or listen to scientific advice. As is usual, the alcohol fuelled second discussion session sparked a debate between the politicians and scientists about whether the will of the people (as articulated by the politicians, it must be admitted) trumped scientific facts (neatly forgetting that the facts so often paraded are actually hypotheses based on measurements designed to test them!)
Thursday was a Swindon day, so I caught the train from London to be there in time for the planned 11 hour Executioners Meeting. Starting with the easy stuff (risk), we moved through strategy and finances before finishing off on scorecards. Towards the end, it was noticeable that both intellectual attention and emotional stability were beginning to fray but I am looking forward to the action minutes to see what we thought we decided.
At lunchtime, I was given a pass out to take part in the HMG pre-brief on the ETI Board Meeting. It is obvious (to me at least) that DECC and BIS are not on the same page and using the ETI to score points. Given that a key element of the uncertainly is about whether there will, or will not, be a TIC in renewable energy and when the money would be available, I am not looking forward to next week!
The quiet beer with Cyrus at the end of the hotel was never so welcome, but the promised pizzas were not enough for a growing boy like me!
Friday was another Swindon day, and started with a truly excellent meeting with Forum for the Future. Sustainability Man and all out closet tree-huggers have been working with FoF to define a framework to answer the question “what does a sustainable economy look like?” Why the meeting was so good was because the work done by the FoF was thorough and kept to the spirit of our early discussions (i.e. they hadn’t just foisted us with earlier work), the engagement and contribution of the home team was outstanding and, at the end, I felt that we had made real progress in an area that has been frustrating us (or do I mean me) for some time.
Leaving promptly (a theme of this week) I joined David Way in hosting Ricardo to hear a presentation on some of their European funded work about how nations support their automotive industry. I wasn’t expecting it, but it was nice to hear that we have become the poster boys of this area, with most of what we do or are doing rated as “just what is needed”.
Once again, I left promptly, to walk with FL, Technology Man, University Girl and ex-Alex across for our 6 monthly high-level meeting with BBSRC. Austerity hadn’t hit the sandwiches and it was a mostly good-natured meeting. We started with the likely impact of the CSR and how what is said at the high level doesn’t always get translated into £s into programmes. Cast once again as bad cop, I had to make noises about how they came back a couple of times on the idea that we should put our money into their schemes “for greater effectiveness”? Considering that they have a flat cash settlement and we are taking a 20% cut in our core programmes, I find this “interesting” logic. What we have agreed is to have a shared strategy in industrial biotechnology and that we will continue to run regenerative medicine the way we think is right for UK business.
I then had another phone call from Bob Driver (even my wife is beginning to suspect!) about shared programmes, a thank you for the award judging and a discussion about whether we could share list of companies. This was precipitated by the question of how big our “market” is. Some years ago, Pat MacDonald used to quote about 120,000 companies in scope and I always thought he used the R&D Tax Credits as his source, but now Bob had pointed out that, although HMRC won’t share information with other Government departments, you can now find out from the web that 8350 companies claimed them in 2008-9 (see - http://www.ip-tax.com/2010/11/04/uk-rd-tax-relief-claims-creep-up/ ). Since the DTI used to have almost 7,000 companies on its database, the high figure always made us think that we weren’t good at finding companies. The lower figure suggests that many companies don’t understand or use R&D Tax Credits to help support their investment in R&D. Joining the UKTI and our company databases, possibly joining with the CBI and other trade bodies, might give us an idea of the scale of the “market” we are addressing and set some goals for us to include in our strategy.
Given that I had carelessly left my car in Warwick Parkway railway station on Tuesday morning, the trip home was long and tedious and having to stand for 2 legs made for a lack of productivity.