The blues are easy to feel but hard to play!
24 March 2022 by David Bott
Same old Monday morning. I tried sitting somewhere different, but the “start the week” meeting still felt the same. Then the Catapult meeting was chaired by Obi Wan because David Way was in London getting ready for the OGC review of the Catapult process.
I then spent a little time with Transport Man and Tim to get the final input into the presentation to the Governing Board to recommend an extension to the lifetime of the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform. We all forget that the original approval was for 5 years for the first three Innovation Platforms and that time is fast approaching. It is good to take stock and realise quite how much we have achieved in the first 4 years.
After a bit more smooching around the office, it was time for an internal ODI working group meeting. At the time, we were still worried that the business case would not be strong enough – or even available – in time to pass a formal assessment, but went through the process side of the activity in preparation anyway.
Then it was time for one of the “post InterimGate” discussions with our interims to lay out their options. Having gone through the pseudo-grieving process (Shock and Denial – Pain and Guilt – Anger and Bargaining – Reflection – Adjustment – Reconstruction – Acceptance) myself, I have come to realise that logic isn’t involved and that we need to get onto the next stage, but everyone has to go through the cycle!
To make things better, the next meeting was a preparation meeting for next weeks Governing Board. Because Tim and the team had done their work, I was well prepared for the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform renewal slot, Strategy Man had repeated the annual “where does the money actually go” process but done a nice job, but our approach to the interaction with the Research Base still felt under-prepared and liable to induce the wrong reaction.
That last intuition was amplified as I took a call from Celia at the BBSRC whilst driving home (I still think that the Bluetooth connection system is neat, sad old geek that I am) and got a haranguing about a document that had gone to the Research Council CEOs a week before, hooked a nasty response and then been withdrawn as a “think piece”! Since the paper (which she then sent me) had many of the things we had expressed uneasiness with in our meeting, I am not surprised.
The final call of the day was from Declan, and was about the Biomedical Catalyst, but he did manage to comment on the same paper in a disparaging manner. Ho hum!
Tuesday was a London day, so I caught to the early train down and managed a long chat with Paul Crawford (the new Mani) about the Biomedical Catalyst, the meeting with Willetts we were due to have at lunchtime and the Cabinet Orifice land-grab for the Future Cities Demonstrator money! Whilst we are talking, we learn that the meeting with Willetts has been put back from 12.30 to 3.30!
Then I joined a select band to discuss the upcoming ETI Board meeting – which bizarrely FL is going to but couldn’t make the prep meeting! There was nothing much to discuss except ETI’s continuing campaign to slag off NaREC at every opportunity, which considering they got them involved in the project in the first place is a bit rich. They are also trying to get the government to agree to fund beyond 2017 – which shows they don’t understand government processes let alone their aversion to making promises that people might remember!
Then it was down to the Treasury for an ODI meeting. We were a little shocked that Nigel managed to send in a business plan with 4 minutes to spare and that it was quite good – until we met Tim Organ (see – http://www.seme4.com/who-we-are/profile/tim-organ/) who seems to be helping Nigel these days as well as his imaginary friend Tim Berners-Lee.
Back to Tracy Island to discover that the meeting with David Willetts has been put back (again) to 6.30, so decide to truck on up to the Tech City LaunchPad mentoring session at the Innovation Warehouse in Smithfield. Got a chance to listen into the progress of some of the projects and take part in a high-energy pitch practice session run by a woman called Annette – and realise that not everyone wants to grow their company into a globally dominant behemoth!
Back to Tracy Island (again) to learn that the meeting with Willetts has been put back again by a division. Eventually, Paul and I entered his office at 7.15 and get asked what we want! It turns out that the aggrieved Smart applicant was sent home when the 12.30 meeting was cancelled (and is therefore probably even more angry with the UK government than before) but that the office didn’t catch up with itself. So, while David supped on a can of lager (there was a half-hearted offer that never got followed-through), we talk about the Budget, the next 2 Catapults, the effect of regulation on markets, what an Innovation Platform is, the progress on the Open Data Institute, the new areas of Cyber Security and Robotics (he’s been talking to people again!) and a whole slew of issues before David get another call to vote and went off just after 8! Weird isn’t really in it! Paul, Oliver and I stood around for another 15 minutes discussing how upset the original cause of the meeting was and about how you can establish a quality standard in cyber security. By now it was too late to get to the Google Campus Launch Party, so I went back t the hotel and crashed out.
Wednesday saw another early morning in Tracy Island, when Paul and I tried to work out what had been agreed the evening before. I also got a chance to make our continued and unaddressed frustration at the progress of the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative known to Chris Thompson of BIS. I then went off to Number 10 to meet up with Nurse Jackie and talk to David Halpern of the Behavioural Insight Team. As we waited we met with Laura Haynes, who seemed more interested in energy related behaviours and claimed she had met with someone from the Technology Strategy Board but it had come to nothing. Eventually we got to describe the aims and progress of the Assisted Living Innovation Platform, the engagement of the social and design aspects of the problem and how Dallas and Tomorrow Together fitted together to open up the debate about what we wanted as a nation in this area. They seemed very interested but David is a bit of a poker face, so it’s difficult to really tell. Since we can leverage their ideas, I am going with an optimistic outlook. As we left, we realised that the phalanx of photographers weren’t there for Jackie but for the imminent departure of that nice boy next door.
Back at Tracy Island, it was time for the last Project Board meeting of the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative before responsibility is handed over to Birmingham City Council. As is usual, the Project Board avoided all the contentious issues in favour of blandness and Operations Girl was left to engage in a following meeting where BIS once again showed they don’t understand business of what we do. Having been asked to run the competition because of our experience, they have systematically changed things so that they what is happening bears no resemblance to what we suggested and – if it fails – they will blame us.
By way of light relief, I had lunch with Mat Hunter of the Design Council and learned that they are soon moving to the Angel, they are letting some staff go and that Mat is still worried that they are not delivering what is needed to the design community. My next meeting was an hour off and out by London Bridge, so I elected to save money (and keep fit) by walking there by the side of the Thames. And lovely it was too!
The meeting was a hush-hush look at one of the possible sites for the Cell Therapy Catapult. Healthcare Man was otherwise engaged, but FL came, the CTC Enforcer, his mild-mannered assistant and the property guy we have engaged to help us. On their side there was the Campus Dean and the Director of the NIHR Comprehensive Medical Research Centre. We looked over what a floor could look like, who the neighbours were and where we might actually be, before being marched into a room with the President of the University and the Chief Executive of the NHS Trust who owns the site as well as two other worthies, to be told how much they would value our presence (we get a lot of that these days, but it hasn’t gone to our heads!). The enforcer and I then went off to have a discussion about his situation post InterimGate over a cup of coffee! I missed the Gordon Murray film I was intending to see, but understand it’s on Channel 4 anyway!
Thursday was a Swindon day, and started with Funders Panel for the Smart Power Distribution and Demand Side competition. Then it was a chance to sit down with Rachel and look at the totality of the programme for next year. We were joined by Technology Woman to clean up her part of the programme (now she’s back) since everyone else had input the programmes we agreed at the last Heads of meeting. The problem seems to be that because we throttled back this year (wrongly thinking we were overspending) we now have an oscillation to damp down to achieve stability. Once we get proper management accounts, that should be easy! After a lunchtime attempt to pay for a small project with Chris Crockford, I realised again how clunky our processes are. It turns out I cannot actually spend money myself, but have to do it through FL. That, in turn, means that every message has to go through several people and the “demand” from Finance for a “business case” got lost in the system – for 3 weeks!! Then it was the first 121 with Zoe to catch up on her thoughts about the forward programme and build more shared programmes between Technology and the rest of the Innovation Programmes.
Then I had 2 interesting meetings. The first was a telephone call with a guy from Deloitte who was examining whether we had sufficient financial control – apparently, its’ part of a BIS Family wide evaluation. He seemed to realise that we weren’t perfect and understood that we were getting better, but his point that 4.5 years in and still not being able to predict or monitor spend didn’t feel right was well made. After that I met Strategy Man’s new “process” guy. The main thing I took from the meeting was that, although he had been around the public/private sector interface for many years and operating in areas close to us – he had never heard of us. Another piece of evidence that whatever we think we are doing in communications, it’s not having the desired effect. The last task of the day was to tease Richard Barker of CAMI (see earlier weeks) that we cannot pay him to do a project unless he has a bank account to pay him through!! Apparently, Oxford University is very, very slow at such things! I also talked to Declan about the Biomedical Catalyst again. We are getting close to agreeing things, but the ghost academic in the machine keeps popping up and worrying that not enough of their friends will get roles on the oversight committee. Luckily, Healthcare Man and Healthcare Girl had briefed me well!
As I arrived at Swindon on Friday, I was told that our very own “whistle-blower” had sent a note exposing all our wrong doings to Eric Pickles. The note looks like a development of the Private Eye revelations, so I do wonder….
Formally, Friday started with a telephone conference to sort out the methodology and protocols for the building of Catapults. This was the result of the feedback from the latest batch that the advice on process seemed to vary in both time and personality. David Way explained what he thought and will write it all up – but it sounded right to me. Maybe we just need to be more precise when transmitting and more understanding when receiving? I had to leave to do an interview with Lizzie Gibney of Research Fortnight. She was, as always on the “and how will universities be involved” line, but did seem to accept that this is more about turning ideas into money than money into ideas. I wonder what she will actually write? Then it was back into the Governing Board preparation meeting – this time on the presentations. Again, the LCV Team had done me proud and it was about making sure we made all the right points and avoided the alleged “hot buttons”. Strategy Man had gone digging into the bowels of our accounts and even learned to build flash PowerPoint presentations on the way, but once again, I worry that the, very long, section on interaction with the Research Base lacks any coherent goals – and then doesn’t explain itself well.
After the meeting, which happily included lunch, I met with Cyrus and Strategy man to unpick the riddle of ICtomorrow. As the project has developed, we have realised that the original goals of the project weren’t quite right and so we have focused on engaging the developer community more than we thought we needed to. This has resulted in us running small competitions, which we call contests, and we are now building capability that is extremely relevant to the SME community. We agreed that we should look at aligning that part of the capability more closely with the Competitions Team. The other “challenge” is that we set the team up as a time limited project team and employed, yes, you guessed it, contractors. We now have to regularise all our employment processes, so need to look at how we staff the project to its end without FL being paraded in front of the PAC!
A quick catch up with Healthcare Man and another “InterimGate” discussion with a valuable member of the team as the cold I had been fighting all day started to win! I think I missed a Web Forum meeting but since they never seem to listen to me, I wasn’t too fussed.