Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
INDUSTRY & SCIENCE
WEDNESDAY 9 MAY
Q40 Chairman: Did you say we are
second only to the US in science?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: Yes,
in science overall.
Q41 Chairman: What about Germany?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: We
are second only to the US. In terms of any measure of productivity,
that is bang for the buck, we are by far ahead of the other G7/G8
nations in productivity. In some areas of science, particularly
in the biomedical area of science, in the real cream, the most
highly cited part of that science, we actually lead the United
States in absolute terms. It is a huge success story which sometimes
goes a little unnoticed.
Q42 Dr Pugh: May I take you back
to Mr Touhig's question about the Diamond Synchrotron? I have
not had the advantage of a tour around it, but I have a suspicion
that it would work just as well in Cheshire as it would in Oxfordshire.
Am I correct in that supposition? It is now doing splendid stuff
at Harwell science and innovation campus but there is no reason
why it should not work in Cheshire. There are no fears about the
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: As
a piece of physics it could.
Q43 Dr Pugh: You said there was a
Sir Brian Bender: May I just perhaps
explain the rationale for the decision to locate it in the one
rather than the other? Lord Sainsbury was the minister at the
time. He received a number of bits of advice from various sources
and he did in fact write to the then Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in 2000 and identified that there was little
to choose between the two sites but there were five particular
reasons which pointed to Harwell rather than Daresbury: there
was potential for synergy with other facilities at the site; there
was potential to make a world-class international research centre;
there was sharing of support and technical functions; there was
the proximity to the biosciences expertise at Oxford; and, importantly,
there were also the views of the partner because there was a private
sector partner, Wellcome, on this. On balance those were the five
reasons that Lord Sainsbury gave at the time.
Q44 Dr Pugh: The interest of the
private sector in this has obviously got to be weighed, if they
are involved in a co-funding relationship, but I understood from
Sir John Bourn and the way he put it that the research community
basically did not want to vacate attractive Oxfordshire and move
to a really rough area like Cheshire.
Sir Brian Bender: There was a
synchrotron already in Cheshire.
Q45 Dr Pugh: Yes, but it would be
fair to say that the balance of scientific activity at the moment
is going on in the Oxford/Cambridge area.
Sir Brian Bender: The other thing
that the Government announced in the 2006 Budget was that Daresbury
would be an important part of national science and innovation
campus policy. It would certainly be wrong if I were to leave
the Committee with the impression the Government had vacated the
North West for science and moved down to Oxford. Daresbury is
an important science and innovation campus with a lot of good
activity going on there.
Q46 Dr Pugh: In terms of your decision-making
process, do you take into account the differential effect on the
economies of those areas? Obviously you are spending an awful
lot of public money and there is an impact which can be to a greater
or lesser extent for the public benefit. As part of the equation
did they look at the impact of building up the hi-tech base at
Daresbury as opposed to adding to the already substantial hi-tech
base in the Oxfordshire/Cambridgeshire area?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: Going
back over the decision-making process which was crystallised in
Lord Sainsbury's letter to the Public Accounts Committee,
the regional economic impact of developing that facility was not
a significant part.
Q47 Dr Pugh: Why not, seeing that
it was using a substantial amount of public money?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: That
is a question to be addressed to Lord Sainsbury.
Q48 Dr Pugh: He is not here and you
Sir Brian Bender: The best way
I can answer is to come back to the earlier answers I gave that
the primary rationale for these decisions is science. The economic
benefits do need to be taken into account. The other point I would
repeat is that Daresbury
Q49 Dr Pugh: The reasons are as much
social; they are to do with the community, they are to do with
who is already there, what firms. They are not actually scientific
reasons. They are good sociological reasons possibly.
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: Just
to move the point on. There are two areas in the UK that are designated
as science innovation campuses which have been designated for
the natural benefits of those regions: one is Harwell and the
other is Daresbury and Daresbury has all sorts of benefits in
terms of high quality, lots of universitiesManchester,
Liverpool, Lancastergood access to airports and so on.
The Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus is actually developing
at a pace and one has to say the North West RDA has added a great
deal. It is current government policy that if we built a fourth
generation light source, that is something which follows and complements
Diamond, it is quite likely to be either at Daresbury or Harwell.
Q50 Dr Pugh: You will be aware we
are trying to decentralise.
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: The
key thing is that it has not got conflated with regional policy.
Q51 Dr Pugh: I agree. However, the
key thing, what I am trying to tease out here, is that in terms
of decentralising government functions in this country, a huge
deadweight we have to counteract is the fact that civil servants
in large numbers already live in London and the South East and
wish to stay there and a similar thing could happen with the research
community. Even though it is an international enterprise, they
might simply have a preference for that. May I change the focus
of the question? Accepting that science is an international enterprise,
when you commission these activities, say for example a muon scattering
facility, you must ask yourself the question, I guess, as to whether
or not you actually need this. It is not self-evident that every
country needs a muon scattering facility and other possibilities
are to do as astronomers do, rent capacity in other areas of the
world and so on. As part of your evaluation of the exercise, of
whether it is worth doing, whether it is worth spending public
money, can you discount absolutely the sheer prestige element,
the element that the research community says, whether or not we
need to have one, we want to have one because that affects our
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: I
was formerly a practicing scientist, it would be incorrect to
say that scientists are disinterested in prestige and scientific
facilities. I believe the way things have operated, and are operating,
pure chest-beating prestige is not a factor. But it may well be
a factor to be the first into a particular area which has great
scientific merit and where we have a natural advantage. Coming
to the muon ionisation device, that is an area working with neutrons
where we have really had a world lead for a long time; there is
a very big area of physics there in neutrinos. There are very
few places in the world where you could do this. This has built
on a natural advantage that is there, but, properly so, it has
investment from other countries, from international sources in
there too. I am trying to be reassuring by going into those details.
Q52 Dr Pugh: As long as the questions
Sir Brian Bender: They are.
Q53 Dr Pugh: Can we lease it elsewhere?
Can we share it with somebody else? If we cannot, then we must
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: It
is a fair question.
Q54 Dr Pugh: One thing that surprised
me in the Report is the fact that the NAO say you have objectives
and measures of success, but they say the value of some of these
factors was reduced because they were not specified in a way which
would readily facilitate measurement. Here we have institutions
which make the finest, most refined, most exacting measures of
very, very small particles and the like, but the whole project
cannot be measured in any quantified way or its success cannot
be. Does that slightly disturb you?
Sir Brian Bender: It comes back
to one of the points maybe the Chairman or Mr Dunne was asking
earlier. We do need to get smarter at assessing the overall benefits
of some of these projects and that is where we agree with the
NAO. We do quite a lot to assess the benefits and measure them,
but actually we do not do enough. We need to get better at that
and I would only be repeating one or two of the points I made
earlier if I carried on along this line.
Q55 Dr Pugh: In terms of the obvious
measures, one measure is counting the number of research papers
that are generated. You clearly would not accept that as a viable
way of measuring the success of a project, the fact that it generates
hosts of scientific articles, because scientists will generate
that for themselves anyway, will they not?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: In
terms of the success of the investment in one of these projects,
there have to be measures of its pure scientific success, whether
this is world class science, whether it has actually generated
any economic benefits and whether the people who have trained
there have also gone off and generated economic benefits. In terms
of measuring the scientific success, that is generally worked
in quite well. What we completely accept, and again will not go
over the same things again, is that,the overall economic impact,
both specifically of investment in that project and of the people
that have been trained in it, is something where we do not have
a good enough understanding.
Q56 Dr Pugh: I accept that it is
extraordinarily difficult to assess success. Given that it is
a very tricky business and you are hiring project managers for
what are by and large one-off projects, maybe unheralded elsewhere
in the world, is the whole process of hiring a project manager
a very high risk process?
Professor Mason: One of the things
we are trying to move away from is having to hire one-off project
managers for each one of these projects and one of the elements
that a new research council brings is a great deal of experience
in managing large projects. What we intend to do is to maintain
a cadre of expertise in those areas of project management generally
of large projects. For individual future projects we will need
to supplement that with appropriate expertise in the specific
areas that we are dealing with, but what we can provide are the
generic project management skills and the experience of having
managed several large projects previously. We will absolutely
agree that we need to move away as far as possible from hiring
one-off managers whose expertise we then lose.
Q57 Derek Wyatt: I wonder whether
I could move the debate a little bit to the international perspective.
As I understand it, the Prime Minister has set up UKIERI, which
is the UK India higher education relationship. I wonder how you
feed into that.
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: It
is an initiative with the Office of Science and Innovation and
it is the Office of Science and Innovation's resources that are
matching Indian resources in that. How does this particular initiative
feed into it? Not in a particularly direct way, but if you see
UKIERI as part of an initiative to engage further with India,
more deeply with Indian scienceand the same would be true
for China as well but that is another storythen one would
expect these facilities to become part of that in scientific engagement
and so on. Some of the facilities that Keith is responsible for,
international facilities where we would be contributors in CERN,
have a panoply of engagement including India and China.
Q58 Derek Wyatt: On the science side
do we have MoUs (Memoranda of Understanding) currently with the
senior research bodies in India and China?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: We
have a great many MoUs. We do have formal agreements in medical
research with China and neutrons with India, but let me just take
Sir Brian Bender: We can provide
you with a note on some of the international relationships.
Q59 Derek Wyatt: No, no. Mr Dunne
asked about the science and in computer science in Britain fewer
people qualified this year than in 1997. On my visit to Bangalore
a couple of years ago I was astonished at the quality of the graduates,
so I am equally going to be astonished at what is coming out of
Shanghai and Beijing and other cities.
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: Yes.