Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 44)



  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, obviously?
  (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 people.

Dr Kumar

  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.

Dr Turner

  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.

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