Confusion is a word we have invented for an order that is not understood
12 November 2021 by David Bott
It was a Monday, and I couldn’t think of a good enough excuse, so I made it to the “start the week” meeting. It was followed by a TIC Update meeting which was graced by the presence of Cyrus who asked a couple of questions and got some surprisingly different answers from different people.
After a quick wander around the office to get coffee, it was time for the first of a brace of Funders Panels. The first – for ICT for Manufacturing and Construction – was the cause of a larger than usual gathering of Technologists at such event because it spanned 3 areas.
Then it was on to the Materials for Energy one – another competition that used an underpinning Technology to join several application areas.
Then we had a curious hybrid meeting that started with a discussion about a Building Performance Evaluation proposal that got lost in the system and we had to make a decision about whether to add it to the competition it should have been in. Then we got on to discuss IDP7. This is a complex one because – at one level – it is a normal Low Carbon Vehicles competition, the 5th in a series (there have been 2 EPSRC ones in there) but it is also the first we would run as the agreed delivery agency for OLEV. They want to use us to deliver up to £65m of investment in low carbon transport over the next 3 years, but they only just got around to telling us and they want us to spend about £19m in the first year (2012/13). Put simply – we can’t, so we have to examine all the ways we can make it look about right. This meeting was the first time we had been able to collect all the players in the same place to have the discussion and we found that most ideas wouldn’t fly, so have to think harder. The front-runners are adding a capital element to the competition that they have to spend in the first year and swapping out money between transport related projects. In industry, this would be easy, but the rules around public sector accounting seem to be designed to stop us exercising our passion for innovation by being creative. We will prevail!
I had a quick catch-up with Em about the inaccurate list of research council aligned projects – she seems to be on the case! Then it was a meeting with the RCIAS to discuss the statement of internal control. It is always fascinating to me to see how earnest auditors are as they discuss what they do. I think I gave the right answers because Cyrus is still here. Then it was a discussion with Healthcare Man and Biology Girl about the future.
I left the office a few minutes later that planned to catch the train to London. I was going to join the pre-strategy meeting dinner of the Low Carbon Innovation Group at the La Porte des Indes (courtesy of ETI investing their taxpayers money wisely!). It achieved its goal of exposing all the seething resentment and frustration that DECC had tried a reverse takeover of a perfectly functional co-ordination group in an attempt to cover its drubbing by the Public Accounts Committee over food and alcohol so that we could have a perfectly delightful meeting the following day to sort it all out. And the food was good.
And lo, the next day, we all assembled at the Ministry of Magic and made it right. Because we had been tipped off that Greg Barker might arrive at any minute, the DECC dudes were clock watching as Andy Haslett piloted us through the development of a “vision” (he has been to the same strategy workshops and Strategy Man and I!) – but he managed it in time for the “entrance”. As he led Greg through the carefully crafted vision that first name-checked the goal of “affordable, secure and sustainable energy” (DECCs driver), then “economic growth” (ours) and “knowledge generation” (EPSRCs) I felt the DECC dudes were discomfited by Greg’s robust response that anything that didn’t start with economic growth was not acceptable. The DECC guys explained afterwards that Greg was “an outlier on policy issues”, but it did make for an interesting morning.
I left to rendezvous with Sustainability Man and Cities Boy at Paddington before going on to Heathrow to meet Finger Man (who had eschewed low carbon travel in favour of time and convenience!). As it was, SM was coming in from Swindon on the train and was late and Cities Boy and I missed one another at the end of the platform, so he went off to the airport while I waited for SM! The visit was to the Heathrow Consolidation Centre run by DHL. We got a potted history of how there was a low power drive to better organise how the retail and food outlets inside the Heathrow Ring Road were supplied because the charming but overloaded access tunnel was no longer up to the job (about 20 years ago) but that it was the additional security required after the 2007 liquid bomb plot that tipped the system over into 100% mandatory use. Cyrus (who used to work for Fedex) had warned us that it would be lots of pallets and rollers, but he didn’t know about the cage sized X-ray machines that the security required, the special trucks needed to easily access the minimal loading bays in the centre or the sophisticated (but inadequate) IT systems that powers it all. We asked lots of questions and explored how the basic idea could be used in town and cities. Finger Man went off to find his car while SM, Cities Boy and I took the express back to Paddington discussing what we had learned and thinking of all the questions we should have asked!
At Paddington I met up with El Presidente to discuss DALLAS. It turns out that the Scots are making some of their frustrations known – particularly the one about having put all that money in why they have to go through our competition process! We discussed how we might be nice but firm with them without derailing the whole programme!
I had an invitation to the Evening Standard Top 1000 – London’s Most Influential People 2011 party at the Transport Museum at Covent Garden but blew it off in favour of a mixed heritage Chinese-Korean meal with SM on Praed Street before working in my hotel room on my presentation for the International Telecare and Telehealth Conference next week. It appears that may have been the wrong decision! (see – http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard-home/article-24007191-londons-1000-most-influential-people-2011-digital.do)
Wednesday started with a telephone call from a man at the Railways Safety and Standards Board – ostensibly about their involvement in the current Accelerating Innovation in Rail competition (see – http://www.innovateuk.org/content/competition/accelerating-innovation-in-rail.ashx) but really a thinly disguised lobbying for the “transport” TIC! Wednesday was already a basket case when FL added a meeting into the middle of it. I first went to the second meeting of the Forum for Innovation in Crime Prevention at the Home Office. After a surprisingly insightful discussion of how criminals were inherently innovative and we needed to beat them at it, we went through the projects. First up was Nigel Shadbolt (in full “data is king” mode) who was proposing that shops used data analysis to prove how theft-free there were (or weren’t). A nice policeperson pointed out that people reported theft when they discovered it, not when it happened so the data was meaningless. Nigel invoked his friendship with TBL and people at Number 10 but comprehensively lost the argument without trying! We were next. Through the late summer, Security Boy has been talking to various parts of business about the potential lack of security around m-commerce. The banks deny that there is a problem, the credit card guys are investing heavily in new technologies like near-field, contactless payments systems and the mobile operators are rubbing their hands with glee as they contemplate how much money they will make! Interestingly, the security guy from O2 told the assembled throng how safe mobile phones were – the same policeperson made a few comments that suggested he didn’t believe this statement! We are proposing a ministerial-business summit dinner and a Feasibility Studies completion (possibly run using SBRI) to flush out some new ideas (possibly as design studies!). It was approved – it’s not their money after all, but they do need to provide Minister for the dinner.
I made my excuses and left after 45 minutes (along with Nigel) and met up with FL waiting outside. We asked Nigel to walk in front because we hadn’t had a chance to prepare for the meeting and were both expecting an ambush. We all arrived at Number 10, were met by Rohan and Tim Kelsey (see – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Kelsey) and ushered into a nice room. Rohan talked about the need to announce something on the anniversary of the Tech City launch and asked why we weren’t funding the proposed “Institute of Web Stuff (add appropriate word for successive but different attempts). We explained that, as we saw the proposal, it was more in Research Council space, but Rohan basically said that he couldn’t persuade them (well done EPSRC!). We then explained the whole openness and transparency thing and that we couldn’t just fund an idea because Number 10 liked it but would have to run a competition in the area. FL also pointed out (5 times that I counted) that we had taken a 20% cut in core funding and had no discretionary money. Kelsey chimed in that this was an important area but then went on to politely diss the current proposal. We “umm”ed and “ahhh”ed about what we might fund, the links to other activities and went around the block several times – with Nigel getting increasingly frustrated. After he and Tim left, FL pointed out to Rohan that if Nigel has applied through the usual channels instead of trying to lobby his way into funding, he might have got the money years ago. He then asked Rohan for his help with getting extra money. (that’s 6 times!)
I walked back to Tracy Island and made my way to join the Automotive Council meeting. I could just about see Michael Hurwitz across the room, there are so many people on it! The supply chain work was just finishing as I came in, but the next session was on finance with everyone sucking up to the RBS guy who at least showed interest in supporting the automotive sector. Then Jerry Hardcastle gave a report on the technology activities – which featured us front and centre and reinforced in my mind the importance of IDP7, which supports 3 of the5 key areas identified by the Council.
As luck would have it, my next meeting was a PDR with Transport Man, so we used the first half to sort out the Automotive Council output and IDP7 (over a late lunch of candy bars!) I squeezed in a quick Cell Therapy TIC call before catching the Circle Line to Moorgate. I explored the construction related chaos that surrounds the tube station to find the Salters Hall, where I was joining the first anniversary dinner for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Ellen has become a zealot for the cradle-to-cradle approach to sustainability (although she has called it the “circular economy”). I met several interesting people over canapés (including our new chairman) but had the great luck to sit next to Rupert Howell (see – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HHCL and http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard-business/article-23838932-advertising-guru-rupert-howell-quits-itv.do - for indications!) at dinner. The after dinner “bit” was 2 students doing a peta kucha (20 slides, no more that 20 seconds on each slide) on what they had learned as interns with Cisco and Renault. The scene was set by Ellen and Jamie Butterworth (the Foundation CEO) having a go at the approach. The young guy from Northern Ireland was the best!
Thursday’s dawn saw the drag to Swindon for an Operational EMT in the morning, a visit by HRH the Duke of Kent and then a Strategy EMT in the afternoon. For me the best bit was seeing most of the office clustering around the exhibits we had brought in to show the Duke, with the Technologist explain what we did in the outside world to many who never get a chance to see it. We should do this more often!!
On the train back to London, I first sat with Transport Man as he explained yet another opportunity to spend other people’s money as he detailed the Green Truck request from DfT/OLEV. We need to think through how we deliver it (either directly or by subcontracting elements) but to turn them down might not be politically sensible, and it does align with our strategic goals. Once TM got off, FL joined me and we discussed both the DfT idea and other stuff. In London we caught the tube down to Piccadilly and wandered down to the Royal Society for the “Labs to Riches” dinner and exhibits. It is interesting to note how many of the RS supported companies have benefited from our support as well. FL and I had a good chat with the PVC of UCL and then schmoozed separately until dinner. I think he got a better table than me, but I did get a lecture on the Cambridge ecosystem!
Friday started with a breakfast (that went on a bit) with Chris Mason about the Cell Therapy TIC selection process and outcome. There are still personal and competitive elements in the (academic) community that we need to address over the next few months. Once again, poor planning wasted time as I caught the train back to Swindon before driving back to the Midlands for a dentists appointment. I love the new technology dentists use, so had my teeth ultrasonically descaled before they resorted to good, old-fashioned scraping and gouging. I left with clean teeth and a sore mouth, got home and started reading all the e-mails about the announcement of the Institute for Future Cities that His Daveness had announced on Thursday – so he got his announcable! It appears to be heavily backed by Cisco, so our new chairman might be cited for double-dealing. The language is vague but the potential confusion with a Future Cities TIC if we have one will need to be managed in the outside world. We can’t have the government looking uncoordinated, can we?