Memorandum submitted by Mr Brian Arthur,
Director, Public Affairs, The Institution of Electrical Engineers
The Institution of Electrical Engineers has
a membership of almost 140,000 professional engineers representing
a wide range of engineering disciplines including power engineering,
electronics, communications, computing, software engineering and
manufacturing. The Institution has responsibility for the accreditation
of first degree engineering courses and for ensuring that membership
of the profession is only granted to those with the appropriate
qualifications and experience. The IEE considers that engineering
is an essential element of our society, necessary for national
wealth and well being. It also believes it is well placed through
its membership, which includes academics and engineers working
in industry, and companies (through the IEE Industrial Affiliates
Scheme) to comment on the outcomes from "Are We Realising
The IEE makes the following comments in answer
to the questions that you raised in your letter.
1. Many of the objectives of the 1993 White
Paper have been met. The annual "Forward Look", for
example, is an improvement on the previous annual review of the
Government's strategy for science, engineering and technology.
2. The creation of Foresight is a major
achievement but the IEE has concerns that the excellent work carried
out by industrial representatives, with only very limited Departmental
support services, has not yet fully satisfied its main objectives
in fostering improved understanding between academe, industry
and Government Departments. This is particularly the case for
Foresight needs to be more proactive in disseminating
its results and actively seek a broader range of inputs to its
panels. It needs to be seen as more inclusive in its process.
Furthermore there is some evidence that all companies are finding
it difficult to maintain their level of involvement in the current
round of Foresight activities.
3. The Council for Science and Technology
has improved the range of expert advice available for determining
research-spending priorities. Given the long lead times involved
in funded research programmes it is too early to judge the full
impact of these changes.
4. The changes to technology transfer programmes
to place more emphasis on the exchange of ideas, skills and knowledge,
do not appear to have succeeded, particularly again for SMEs.
It is suggested that policy should identify and focus on the smaller
number of SMEs involved in technology products and markets. Current
policy spreads scarce resources too thinly. Small companies face
increasingly difficult trading conditions with a high bank rate
(compared with other European countries), the strength of the
pound affecting raw material costs and the competitiveness of
UK manufacturing sector exports, the continued burden of bureaucracy
and Government regulation. In such circumstances looking to the
longer term becomes a second order priority for companies when
their very being is threatened.
5. The reorganisation of the Research Councils
has focused more attention on wealth creation and quality of the
life issues. There are some encouraging signs but, as with all
long-lead-time research, it is difficult at this early stage to
find quantifiable evidence of improvement, for example, in wealth
creation opportunities for UK industry.
6. A properly constructed and funded evaluation
programme is required to compare the situation before and after
the 1993 White Paper. Given the continuous nature of change in
science, engineering and technology, without such a programme
it is not possible to quantify any changes attributed to the 1993
White Paper. In assessing the impact of the White Paper it is
not wise to rely on anecdotal evidence or assertions, which are
notoriously unreliable in these policy and strategy areas.
7. The proposals contained in the recent
consultation on Science and Innovation Strategy are appropriate
as a statement of top-level objectives. The problem comes in the
interpretation and delivery of these objectives in government
programmes and actions. Current government departmental programmes
contain a myriad of sub-critical programmes which are under-resourced
and sometimes overlapping. The lack of focus creates confusion,
unnecessary bureaucracy and wasted effort for companies.
8. The one key area missing from current
strategy is focus at the implementation level. As stated above,
current programmes do not concentrate on a few major issues, tackle
them quickly and effectivelyand then move on to tackle
other priorities. The majority of government programmes in Engineering
and Technology are under-funded and under-resourced. Many do not
recognise the real life business issues and problems of SME's,
which employ the majority of people in the UK. In particular,
funding of the large gap to translate university research to the
point at which banks or venture capital will support business
plans for a new product. Perversely, the same programmes offer
no help at all to middle-sized and larger organisations to encourage
them to grow to become global players that will make a major contribution
to UK GDP. The Government is seen as not appearing to value the
UK manufacturing industry sector as a contributor to wealth creation
or to seem truly concerned about its future.
9. The key features of a modern strategy
should be relevance and wealth creation underpinned by excellence
in education and training, an appropriate scale of assistance
from government (when needed)and a light regulatory touch.
The IEE will be pleased to provide further information
13 June 2000