Supplementary memorandum submitted by
Mr Colin S J McCarthy
First may I congratulate all those involved
in the preparation of the White Paper. This is a well thought
out and wide ranging review based on sound scientific and democratic
processes. The comments I have made are intended to improve what
is already a significant document!
The willingness of the Minister for Science
to appear before the Science and Technology Committee and to attempt
to address some of the concerns raised is welcome! The UK Government
is now in the enviable position of having Foresight that has enabled
the UK Government to be as well prepared as possible to exploit
new technology and innovation. However, as "Stepping Stones
to Sustainability by the Energy and Natural Environment Panel"
(DTI December 2000) concurs, the biggest barrier to innovation
appears to be vested interests and the perceived dominance of
the private sector! With the world market for environmental goods
and services expected to be £1,000 billion in 2014 radical
action must be taken to stop global companies holding back the
UK which at present is a leader in a lot of the new technologies.
By its very nature the White Paper covers parts
of the economy that are performing well, eg ITEC, but others in
traditional manufacturing sectors are failing and although less
glamorous they also need attention and help to change where necessary.
It is important that science and technology policy takes into
account cross departmental issues; the availability of affordable
housing, an efficient transport system and a social and commercial
infrastructure that can cope with further expansion are often
barriers to further development in the South East. It would be
desirable to have the regional clusters and innovation section
of the White Paper tackled as a priority. It is important companies
accept the need to move to other areas of the country as physical
location is often irrelevant in a global economy.
I think it is daft to believe that by creating
an oversupply in the numbers of graduates throughout the country
can solve temporary skill shortages in certain areas of the South
1. It is essential that the primacy of Westminster
and Whitehall is preserved. MPs are democratically elected to
represent the interests of their constituents NOT undemocratic
global companies. It is essential that there is more democracy
and transparency in large companies, especially as they often
dictate conditions for SMEs.
2. Science Engineering and Technology are
falling in popularity for students partly because they are difficult
but also, because paper qualifications have been devalued, it
is more important to have any pass at GCSE, A Level or Degree
than it is a specific qualification. Students are also aware of
parents, friends and relatives made redundant from science and
technology based industries or who have insecure short-term contracts
or have had to take early retirement. They therefore opt for having
a good time now rather than investing in a quality science qualification.
It is also perceived that government and business
only value business and management qualifications.
Apprenticeships and graduate apprenticeships
may prove more popular. Long-term job security may still be possible
if business management can be improved! However, there is oversupply
of graduates at the moment and job satisfaction surveys reveal
the most dissatisfaction for people who are overqualified for
the job they are doing (if they can get one) and are unable to
gain employment doing what they trained for!
3. Defence sector companies producing arms
for sale to undemocratic countries with dubious human rights policies
are not supported by the general population. The Ministry of Defence's
recent decision not to reopen the inquiry into the Chinook Helicopter
crash goes against scientific and democratic principles, which
is especially disconcerting given the Public Accounts Committee
findings. This highlights the need to modernise the MOD and military
research to match a changed world political climate in which international
organised crime is probably the greatest threat to democracy!
As a part of the British economy the defence
sector does not perform well. A lot of projects attract large
amounts of government funding for research, development and pre-production
prototypes. Any foreign sales are usually supported by UK government
export credit guarantees and when, as is often the case with arms
sales, the customer does not pay it is the UK Government that
foots the bill. This is of even more concern when the latest technology
is finding its way to countries that the UK and its allies are
in conflict with, or to international organised criminals.
The Government must understand that with an
increasingly aware electorate it is politically unacceptable to
have British weapons used on defenceless civilians or against
British troops or their allies. The MOD should have as its priority
defence of this country and its citizens!
4. Even if an offset deal is made for the
payment of arms or defence technologies it has often led to unacceptable
deals where British construction companies build dams in unsuitable
areas and the consequent flooding of forests etc, cause very large
releases of greenhouse gases from the decaying vegetation. The
defence research carried out should be more targeted with prototype
funding for products required for the UK or European and NATO
allies. The overseas manufacture of products developed in this
country should be discouraged. In a global market it is the skills
of manufacture and development that are as important as knowledge.
Information is more easily transferable across national boundaries.
5. When financial assistance in the form
of grants, loans etc, is given to private sector companies more
effort should be made to ensure the funds are used for the purpose
for which they were intended. Any financial assistance should
also take into account other government departments' legislation.
The accountancy profession in general and especially
accountants working on behalf of the Government should be required
to report any major inappropriate use of funds that are not clearly
identified in a companies published accounts.
6. Investment in buildings, facilities and
equipment at universities and schools is welcome but long overdue.
However, universities should concentrate on speculative research
and leave companies to do product development. Faraday Partnerships
7. Climate change is now regarded as a major
area for investigation and more funds need to be invested into
solving climate change problems and to tackle urban regeneration
and environmental problems.
Areas such as fuel cells and alternative green
fuels are areas ripe for expansion. The Foresight process is a
very good way of considering the details (if you can get the best
people involved in it!) and the consultation document "Fuelling
the Future by the Energy Futures Task Force" sets out a useful
analysis of various R&D scenarios.
8. One of the biggest problems in the world
economy is poor management. Most large companies have suffered
from the external management consultant who has little knowledge
of a company or its products, who comes in for a short period
at a ridiculous pay rate, pronounces the need for drastic changes
and then disappears leaving others to try to sort out the mess.
It is also all too common for people with MBAs, and no science,
engineering or technology background to use fairly powerful manipulative
techniques to achieve a position of power and influence in a
company but they do not have the technical ability to keep the
company trading successfully. Managers often end up just following
the latest management fashion for fear of losing their job if
they question anything. The rapid turnover of staff also means
research and development work is often repeated and more experienced
older workers are the first to lose their jobs in any down sizing.
Smaller companies are often dominated by large companies and can
not act as freely or as independently as market analysts suggest.
School students are often aware of this and do not choose to study
a technical subject.
In order for bad managers to keep control they
often prefer to employ less well skilled, but more compliant,
foreign workers; either that or subcontract work abroad. If the
Government stopped the excess numbers of foreign students and
workers entering the country it would help remove bad management
and also increase the amount of long-term sustainable employment!
Business must be compelled to plan for the long-term and not to
continually concentrate on short-term share price driven panic!
9. The DTI must be more active in its efforts
to identify companies acting illegally; this may mean co-operation
with other governments to deal with errant global companies. However,
it may be more effective to ensure the public are kept well informed
of bad companies as increasingly the consumer has the power to
force big business to behave in a more responsible manner.
10. More effort needs to be made to ensure
money allocated in the Science Budget produces long-term sustainable
jobs for the UK electorate. Although we have to pay due regard
to the global economy its existence should not be used to subvert
parliamentary democracy we need to "Think Globally But Act
18 December 2000