Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
MONDAY 13 NOVEMBER 2000
40. The Committee's concern is that there might
be factors that are discouraging your R&D activities here
in the UK, and if there are, we would like to know about them,
(Dr Edington) I think, if you want, on the table there
are no issues now, but there is a looming issue coming, which
John Bryant has referred to, about physics teaching; physics teaching
is the core of physical sciences, and you know what the figures
are, a thousand teachers leaving, a year, 150 replacing them.
Physics is the core of engineering, materials science, any physical
science, that is at the basis of the digital revolution that this
country is looking to for the future; it is extremely serious
for a company like ours to be faced with that. I think the world
of the future, if I can harp on a little bit, is about the digital
revolution and the biological revolution; the biological revolution
is quite well dealt with in the educational system, the physics-based
revolution, or the digital revolution, is not. We participate
in the digital revolution, and, personally, having lived in America,
lived in Canada, educated my children on both sides of the Atlantic,
I am extremely concerned about this situation. We are going to
move, as an economy, into a world where we cannot service it with
41. I must press you, Mr Bryant; you have not
answered my question. I have asked you what is the cost of the
three labs merging together? Are you telling us that you are not
prepared to tell us or you do not know what the figures are?
(Mr Bryant) I can tell you that the cost of the creation
of the new centre is £17 million.
42. It is going to cost £17 million, itself?
(Mr Bryant) Yes; about that. If you need an accurate
number, I can give you one.
(Dr Edington) Yes; about that.
Chairman: We do respect that; if there are commercial
figures you do not want to give us, on savings, we will not press
you on that.
43. How do you think you could encourage industrial
development in R&D, either in the metals industries, or in
the UK more generally?
(Dr Edington) The fast answer to that is the obvious
answers that I gave in Canada and the United States; tax credits
are a great way to do that, and that is the most obvious thing
that can be done. In the long term, having an educational system
that supports it long term is also a key issue.
44. And are there any factors specific to metals
industries that affect industrial investment in R&D in the
UK, leaving aside the ones we have discussed, the physics education
problem and the currency problem?
(Dr Edington) No.
(Mr Bryant) No. I think they are the biggest factors.
I would just add that, as British Steel, now as Corus, in the
UK, in the metals industry, in the areas where we possibly can
have done, we have done, I think, a hugely successful job in promoting
links locally with schools and with local universities, because
we have had to adopt an approach of self-sufficiency.
Chairman: We will stop at that, because the
bell will go any minute now. We have done extremely well to get
through so many questions, of such complexity, in one hour. That
is credit to you and your colleagues for the succinct answers
you have given us, that is mainly the credit; a small amount of
credit to the Committee also for being brisk in their questions.
May I thank you, on behalf of the Committee, very much indeed
for coming along today, giving up your afternoon and your evening,
to help us with this inquiry. The questions might have been a
bit barbed and pointed at times, but our heart is in R&D and
we want to do all we can to make sure that R&D in this country,
and I suppose in the European Community, is the best it can be.
And when we have inquiries of this type, if we are looking as
though we are a bit sharp, it is only because we are all scientists
and engineers round this table; we understand fully the comments
made about science and engineering, in particular physics, and
we wish to try to help in that regard, and we think this inquiry
will do that. So, once again, may I thank you very much indeed
for coming this afternoon and helping us with our inquiry.