21 May 2021 by David Bott
The weekend was largely consumed, both for me and Energy Man, with restating the case for the Offshore Renewable Energy TIC to address the concerns on market we had collected from Anne Glover on the Thursday. What I discovered in the process was that Google never sleeps, Andrew Haslett and David Godber both answer e-mails on a weekend and that we couldn’t have asked for a better analysis that that provided by the Committee for Climate Change the previous week!
I had started to pine for the “start the week” meetings and so made my way to Swindon on a Monday morning for a change. Since FL was away, it was chaired by the ever efficient Cyrus and finished in record time – enough time that we had 10 minutes to go back to our desks and look at e-mails before the regular TIC Update meeting that has started to become as unmissable as the “start the week” meeting. Too soon that was over too, and I had to return to the real world – which started with Jools telling me where to go. Then it was a Funders Panel for the Feasibility Studies part of IDP6. About half-way through, I started to worry that we were talking more about process than content, but we did squeeze in a few words about why we were investing in these projects as well as the minutiae of our own processes. Then it was over to Polaris House to meet with the NERC people about the upcoming LWEC Partners Board. It is relevant to note the change in tone and behaviour when Mary chairs the meeting from those when Andrew presides – they become focused and more rigorous and less like an extended exercise in self-justification. We discussed the growing unrest in the BAB, the sprawling nature of the Partners Board itself and how we might move to a more output focused sets of activities in both. Then it was back to a surprisingly interesting Innovate 2011 meeting where we discussed the content – the acid test is how much actually gets done between now and the next meeting. Obi-Wan hijacked the final section to go over the TIC agenda once again, as though having more meetings will fix the position we have ended up in. Then an interview with a person who we ended up being unsure why we had interviewed them – truly and monumentally disappointing! I got home in time to throw together some slides (that made sense to me) to justify the approval of Offshore Renewable Energy as the third TIC. Sadly, too much time on generic TIC meetings had made me forget all the learnings of the weekend!
Tuesday saw me join the happy throng on Warwick Parkway station to catch an early train down. I was going to have caught a later train, but Obi-Wan had decreed that we should meet again before the Governing Board meeting. We duly assembled in the room and talked about stuff.
Then the (depleted) Board arrived and we got down to business. FL’s report went down without fuss, as it usually does. The Delivery Plan came next and Cyrus showed them roughly what it would look like, with David Way and I providing commentary on the specific programmes. When our resident entrepreneur asked how we had decided what we were doing, FL replied that we had gone deeper into the subject areas agreed at the January Board meeting and applied the metrics process we had described to the Board last October to prioritise and thought he answered the question. Not a bit of it. The response was that she hadn’t been part of either decision – indeed that the Board hadn’t actually agreed anything. David Grant – who was chairing in His Spittleness’s temporary absence and FL managed to calm her down, but Cyrus did actually look a little confused for a moment! At Lunch HS rematerialized and Process Man led a discussion about how we were coping with the changes in the innovation structure below the national level. The paper had described roughly what was going on and we sought advice on three issues – how to engage with the Regional Growth Fund, how we should engage with the other various structures being put in place and whether we should accept the gift of the land on which some of the TICs (and potential TICs) were based. I think their response on the first was “do what you are already doing”, to the second it was “what a mess, don’t you have any more information” and the third it was “you really don’t what to do this unless it really, really is unavoidable”. FL had used the “we don’t have many options if we want to remain politically in favour” defence a couple of times and the RE countered that we ought to have our own opinions and stick to them rather than bending to political pressure.
Then it was on to the Technology Innovation Centres. FL opened up with a statement of view of the landscape, and then David Way described the process we had used to get to the short long list. The RE asked what the process we had used to get to this list and seemed to find the answer – that we had collected and analysed information, deputed the lead person in each area to assimilate and regurgitate that information and then debated internally until we got to a list that everyone believed in – unacceptable. Obviously, we missed some kind on McKinsey, spreadsheet-based process that would have made the answer rigorous and unarguable. It was now time to propose that we proceeded with the Offshore Renewable Energy TIC. As I stood up to make the case (remember that FL had “suggested” that I should propose), Anne Glover – who had been involved in an cycling accident over the weekend and was reputed to be concussed somewhere and not working – walked in. Luckily, I was wearing my “Joe 90” (see - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_90 ) spectacles and was able to channel the work of Energy Man and his team, Andrew Haslett and the ETI team, David Godber and his Vestas team, and the whole of the Googlesphere and conjure a half-way decent case from the chaos in my head. David Grant waded in on our side and Anne graciously accepted that we had answered her reservations and the Board agreed to ORE being the third TIC. There was some after-play about name and scope, but we had a result. In the post match euphoria, I think the Board also nodded through the short long list and – after HS paying tribute to the contribution of His Bucklandness – we escaped into the outside world.
My next meeting was with an old ICI colleague who now works for FERA – see http://www.fera.defra.gov.uk/. They are very supportive – and involved in – our move into food and environmental areas, but the most interesting factoid I learned is that FERA has 20 people with “licence to kill” (only animals I grant you, but spooky nonetheless) and it was they that are involved in “culling” (possibly badgers but definitely budgerigars!)
My final appointment of the day was with Hazel Moore of FirstCapital. I have known Hazel for years and she has always been a touchstone for the UK venture capital world. We discussed the problems of follow-on funding, the lowering technological and business experience of those making decisions and she mused (I think) that the Angels were effectively “taking over”.
Wednesday morning – and instead of joining FL and Healthcare Man for a comfortable meeting with MRC, I was sent to Number 10 to describe the TechCity LaunchPad to the TechCity Breakfast Club. I duly entered the hallowed front door, and was led through some remarkably seedy corridors up to the dining room. There were about 40-50 people elbowing their way to the coffee and croissants and (there’s no nice way to say it) posing! After an introduction by Number 41, the first piece was about the Hargreaves Review – see http://www.ipo.gov.uk/ipreview-finalreport.pdf but it was a bit unstructured and meandering, so it was difficult to pull out the important points. Next came an excellent description of how transport had changed in the East End of London and what would happen next. There were some parochial questions about bicycle lanes on the Bethnal Green Road but otherwise people seemed satisfied. Next came 2 contrasting reports on broadband in the East End – the guy from Virgin was all excitement and promise and the 2 guys from BT all excuses and foot-shuffling. Then it was the Imperial-UCL double act on “smart cities”. I have seen this several times now and it never fails to disappoint. It shows the problem of having what are effectively middle managers intent on gaining funding describe the potential social impact of technology without an understanding of what they are talking about. I was on next. I started with a short introduction to the Technology Strategy Board, about how we had started to understand the continuum of centres, clusters and distributed programmes, then described the TechCity LaunchPad, its goals, process and progress, talked about the Cell Therapies Technology Innovation Centre (David Williams from Loughborough had deliberately sat next to me) and talked about “Future Cities” and how narrow we thought the Imperial-UCL proposal was. I was followed by Baron Eric talking about the new website – see http://www.eastlondontechcity.com/ and proof that Governments and their agencies just don’t understand web presence! Finally, his holiness Glenn Shoosmith introduced the subject of the proposed new European law on cookies – see http://eu.techcrunch.com/2011/03/09/stupid-eu-cookie-law-will-hand-the-advantage-to-the-us-kill-our-startups-stone-dead/.
After the meeting, Aleks Krotosky wanted to be my friend over Future Cities, some funder who didn’t have a card wanted to know more about the Technology Strategy Board and (subsequently) the Cisco TechCity team want to hold my hand. But the croissants at Number 10 are crap!
I walked out of Number 10 and Downing Street through a barrage of flashbulbs – no, seriously, lots of people took my picture!! The fact that they were tourists in no way undermines the oddness of the feeling! I made my way up to the Design Council for my monthly catch-up with Mat Hunter. We talked about Independence Matters, Design Not-Vouchers and I told him about Retrofit for the Future and Building Performance Evaluation but only enough to whet his appetite and then gave him Sustainability Man and Buildings Boy’s contact details. With them cosyign up to CABE, they are looking for architectural relevance!
Next it was a lunch appointment with Graham Brown-Martin from Learning Without Frontiers. I made a transport miscalculation and went to Bethnal Green Underground station and had to walk the mile to Shoreditch House. In the process, I understood the question about bicycles lanes and retract my earlier slur on the character of the person who asked that question! I also made the mental note not to walk down the Bethnal Green Road again wearing a suit! Shoreditch House is, of course, terminally trendy – a sort of East End version of the Hospital Club. Graham is now planning next January’s event and was basically on the look-out for themes and sponsorship. I declined the second opportunity but we did have an interesting chat about resource productivity and I promised to help him if he went in that direction. The journey back West was delayed by Jubilee problems but I rendezvoused with Kwesi Eylson only a few minutes late. He had contacted me after the Guy Kawasaki evening and wanted to talk about how we operated and whether we would support a UK based company developing Apps to help the Afro-Caribbean community with indigenous diseases like sickle cell anaemia. I described what we could do and suggested he entered the TechCity LaunchPad. We might therefore need a medical assessor – how cool is that?
Next it was the DALLAS “bonnet up” meeting. The origin of the title is now lost in the mists of time, but I think we were intending to go through the plans and look for things that could go wrong – or be improved. I think the overall assessment is that the basic plan is good, but we really need to find another gear (or two) on communications. What we need is to combine what we are doing with DALLAS with the basics of Jackie’s “Parole” idea – we need to paint pictures of what the world will be like for older people if we do nothing and what it could be like if we make the right choices now. I for one am convinced that without a properly integrated communications plan – we might just be wasting a large percentage of the technology investment we are making!
By now I was beginning to worry about how the interview the Media Dominatrix had coaxed me into last Friday with Research Fortnight on their interest in where we had spent our money. I flicked onto the RF website and found a slightly worrying title and first few lines, but required a subscription to see what they had said. Contacting DM I discovered (actually she discovered and I am just relaying it) that we haven’t spend the extra £400 to be able to see what they are saying about us, but would get the paper copy soon. That’s taking cost saving too far!
The final appointment of the day was with Alex Stanhope. We talked not just about his work for us in the Creative Industries area but also what he does outside work with Lightenna – see http://www.lightenna.com/and Free Range Feedback – see http://www.freerangefeedback.com/ . Always interesting to see the world we try to support from the other side.
The next morning I awoke to find an e-mail saying that although I had been actioned to talk to David Grant about the name and scope of the third TIC and Jools had gouged a hole in my diary on Friday afternoon to do so, they needed words by the end of Thursday. I sent off a quick note to David with my thoughts and was pleasantly surprised that 32 minutes later I got an affirmative response. Job done. And all before breakfast opened!
Thursday morning started with 2 breakfast meetings – one planned and one adventitious! The first one was with Chris Mason and was solely concerned with the Cell Therapies TIC. Chris has obviously been networking like crazy and came with a truckload of really dumb questions. It appears that academics and university bureaucrats have been poring over the various documents we have issued and have come to the conclusion that our real intent is to give large sums of money to universities and have them support basic research programmes. This is (apparently) obvious from our use of the word “hubs” and inclusion of the idea of “partners”. Chris has spent too much time with these people recently and I had to reset his normally sensible approach by pointing out that no amount of wordsmithing can confuse basic research with our stated intent to move cell therapies closer to commercialisation. I think he left dazed and confused. As I was leaving, I was called over by FL who was meeting some serious looking people at the other end of the Hilton restaurant. It turns out that they are from NaREC Capital and are seriously worried about the management capability of NaREC. We should have a Facebook page together!
My first normal meeting was of the Engineering and Interdependency Expert Group of Infrastructure UK. It started poorly, but this meeting went further than the last one to convince me that assembling both data and case studies could shine a light on a highly complex and confusing area. However, having worked hard to assemble the narrative and supporting evidence, the Treasury have decided to delay the publication of the report until the Autumn. You could sense the mood of a bunch of people who had worked hard to deliver on time and in full and been told the deadline wasn’t real. Priceless!
I got to BIS with enough time for lunch before a joint meeting with FL, but got drawn into a debate on why the development of the strategy document seems to be about a series of unclear and unimplemented decisions. I think FL got quite worried about the status of Process Man and I and took us into a quiet room to make decisions that I hope will be implemented, but am still from Missouri on!
As a result of this FL decided that we would offer our next guests lunch in a nearby wine bar. Kay and Richard of Belle Media duly turned up and we walked them to lunch. I met them a few months ago when they punted the idea of turning the Olympic Broadcast Centre into a media incubator post the Games. I thought this was a good idea, but they have moved on. Kay gave her pre-prepared speech about a network of media centres requiring a London “first among equals” addition, which again has merits as an idea. It is less fully formed than their previous idea and seems to ignore the other people out there pushing a remarkably similar idea. Nevertheless, the idea of a “keystone” addition to an existing network could offer a low cost way of reinforcing the Creative Industries KTNs activities.
Sadly, I had to leave FL to Kay’s tender mercies and hurry off to a meeting with what I thought was an Australian entrepreneur. What I got was an Australian entrepreneur, a young boy working on his idea at Bristol University and someone from the Australian Government who wanted to see what was going on. The basic idea is a thermo-mechanical process to degrade waste sources of cellulose into basic chemical building blocks – see http://levoglucosenone.com/ . This is not new. What was nice was the idea of containing the plant in 2 skids which could be put on the backs of lorries (although the Australians probably call them trucks) and driving them around to prebuilt mounds of waste – thus obviating the usual “logistics” argument against the use of low grade waste products to generate anything!
My final meeting was with another old friend who had picked up my recent entry into the world of LinkedIn and interpreted it as my looking for another job – apparently that’s what activity in LinkedIn means!! He is an executive search consultant after all, so is paid to think that way! J
Friday dawned clear and bright and I set off on the great trek east! I was rendezvousing with FL for our tour of the Olympic Park. So many people talk about putting TICs there, we thought we ought to check it out. I arrived early, having ignored the wildly optimistic predictions of the TfL Travel Planner (see - http://journeyplanner.tfl.gov.uk/user/XSLT_TRIP_REQUEST2?language=en) but FL had unwisely used the Hammersmith and City Line, which has the problem that if anything goes wrong, you have no alternatives. Also, their idea of a “connection” is also somewhat anachronistic, so he hadn’t planned on the extra walking he had to do and ended up being late – but still ahead of the CEO of the Olympic Legacy operation who really ought to have the travel between Westminster and the Olympic Park nailed by now – but obviously doesn’t. It is relevant to note the chain of ownership for the site. It is being built by the Olympic Delivery Authority, who will had it over the to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, who will hand it over to the Olympic Park Legacy Company when they have finished with it! It is these last guys we were talking to!! We went through a security system from the land that time forgot, with technology that failed in the sunlight and people who obviously didn’t give a toss – which wasted another 20 minutes – before we got onto the site in our “tour bus”. The site itself in mind bogglingly impressive. The scale of the buildings, the integration of the facilities (sports grounds, housing, parks, shopping, etc.) all defies belief. We eventually ended up at the Broadcast and Press Centres that everyone cites as potential TIC sites! The International Broadcast Centre is basically 12 large boxes that will be used by the international TV fraternity to house their temporary facilities during the Games. The air handling kit is engineered for the high heat loads the studios will generate (a side issue about the use of more efficient lighting will be bypassed for now) but will be removed before the building is handed back to the OPLC. The question of what would be available post the Games came up several times. Any extra facilities would add to the cost – bet you can see where this is going! It is still monstrously impressive and could well swallow several types of modern manufacturing plant. The Press Centre, which is immediately adjacent, is a 4-storey office block. The juxtaposition of these two large buildings is obviously opening up lots of possibilities and the OPLC people are keen to get “anchor tenants”. It is in this light that they have seen the various TIC ideas that have been proposed to them. In truth, they were totally ignorant of the TIC process and assumed Number 10 decided and we just handed out the money. FL did a polite version of his “if you want money go to Lloyds, if you want to innovate talk to us” speech, we made nice noises about the potential and left.
As seems to be my lot when travelling with FL these days, I noticed after I got on the train that I was hungry and thirsty, but the Jubilee line doesn’t have inflight catering, so we barnstormed out of the Westminster and hit the Tesco Express for our Executive lunch!
We got back to Tracy Island in time for a 2-centre discussion of the Governing Board and amended the Minutes to reflect what the consensus was. I then left and joined another meeting with a guy from Unilever, Gus Desbarats and the young padawan. I had met the Unilever guy a month or so ago, but he seems to have been talking to at least one of the Technologists and got some very odd ideas about how we operate, so I agreed to meet him again. Gus did some nice interpretation, but I was watching the young padawan to see if he came to the same conclusion as I did last time – that the Unilever guy was out of his tree!! YP seemed to be getting more and more agitated that he couldn’t get his point across and we ended the 90 minute meeting with him looking visibly frustrated. I love introducing our talented team to the world of stupidity I seem to spend an increasing amount of my time in!! On the other hand, Gus increasingly impresses very time, so the meeting wasn’t a wash out.
I then had the (now largely redundant) conversation with David Grant about the name and scope of the ORE TIC. He is a very nice man.
Although I had by now learned my final work related meeting was cancelled, I had made personal arrangement that meant I didn’t leave London until a bit later and had to fight to stay awake on the train and not miss my station. A long week!