Examination of Witnesses (Questions 74-79)|
MP, SIR BRIAN
24 APRIL 2006
Q74 Chairman: Could I welcome the Secretary
of State and a high powered team: Sir David King, the government
chief scientific adviser, Sir Brian Bender, the permanent secretary
for the DTI, Professor Sir Keith O'Nions, the director general
of science and innovation. Thank you all very much for coming
and a very warm welcome to members of the public and the press
who are also attending this afternoon. We were a little concerned
having received notice from Sir Brian Bender that these very significant
changes were taking place with the Office of Science and Technology
which is going to be renamed the Office of Science and Innovation.
When the budget came up, this was a budget for science. I mentioned
that in my remarks during the budget debate. I think you would
accept that that was very much the case. This seemed to indicate
a very significant set of changes on the back of what was going
to be a change in terms of the Department and the Office of Science
and Technology. We felt it was important as a Committee that we
got to grips with what exactly was happening and also gave you
and your team an opportunity to explain what these changes are
about and what will be the real effect once they are embedded
into the system. That is the background to this session. We are
very grateful to you and your colleagues for coming today. It
is the most high-powered team we have ever had before us in the
history of the select committee. I do not know whether that is
quite true but it sounded good. Is the creation of the Office
of Science and Innovation a superficial change or is it one of
the most significant changes, for instance, during your time as
Secretary of State? How significant is it?
Alan Johnson: Thank you for those
opening remarks. We are delighted to be here. It is certainly
not superficial. Is it as substantial as some people may be indicatingie,
does it give them fears about some change that would for instance,
affect the independence of the research councils? It is certainly
not that either. We think it is a very important change. Myself
and the permanent secretary asked for a piece of work to be done
on the organisational and working methods of the DTI, given our
absolute central aim to make science an integral part of the DTI,
which it is. It is more than half of our budget now, but there
is still a concern that science is seen as somehow separate from
the DTI, not integrated within the DTI. We had some terrific success
with the work David Hughes did. We felt it was time to take that
on to a new level. Using the outcome of the piece of research
that we commissioned and the report we commissioned, we decided
to implement this change. What this change means is the Department
now has a complete marry up between the push of science and the
pull of innovation. The old system had a DG for science and a
separate DG for innovation. Bringing that under one DG we think
is the right management change. Introducing a director with business
experience of innovation and putting this under the umbrella of
the Office of Science and Innovation rather than science and technology,
which goes back to 1964 and the introduction of the Department
under Frank Cousins, we think reflected what that Department does
much better now. Substantially, yes; no interference with the
ring fenced budgets both in terms of innovation and science; no
interference with the independence of the Research Councils and
certainly no interference with the sacred Haldane principle. We
want to put your minds at ease. It is certainly a much better
structure for the DTI.
Q75 Chairman: Four years ago when
Mr Hughes was appointed, exactly those words were used about that
appointment. Here was going to be someone heading up the most
senior position within the DTI, innovation, someone who was going
to be recruited directly from industry to lead what was seen as
a bold new world in terms of innovation. Has that been a failure?
Alan Johnson: No, it has not.
There is no criticism implied or otherwise of David Hughes's work.
We have done that. We have that work in and we have set up the
various arms of this, including the Technology Strategy Board.
The feeling of many of the people we consulted during this review
was that we needed to ensure that innovation and science were
in the same place. Having two DGs, one dealing with the innovation
side and one dealing with science, was not the best way to take
this project forward. In a sense, we have built on the success
with the introduction four years ago of the work of David Hughes
and now we move to the next level. It has been well received.
I think it is going to operate and is already operating, as of
3 April, very successfully. It is certainly not any criticism
of the previous regime.
Q76 Chairman: Sir Brian, there was
a rumourI am sure it is a malicious and wicked rumourthat
the Civil Service could not cope with somebody who had come from
industry, who wanted to do things differently and therefore, in
true "Yes, Minister" style, the Secretary of State had
to be persuaded of the change.
Sir Brian Bender: It is a malicious
rumour. It was not put to me or I could have rebutted it straight
away. If you look at the top team in the DTI, there are some with
a Civil Service background; there are some at this table with
academic backgrounds and the process of peer review in academia
is brutally challenging. David and Keith bring some of that challenge
to the discussions with the DTI. There are some, including our
chief economist, who have a private sector background. I would
want to have that diversity and sense of challenge and different
backgrounds in the top team in the Department.
Q77 Adam Afriyie: The government
memorandum notes the achievements of the innovation group so what
were its shortcomings?
Alan Johnson: I do not think there
were shortcomings of the innovation group. This is confidential
so I will not name the company. One company said they had two
different aspects of the same project. For one aspect they had
to go to the DG science and for the other aspect they had to go
to the DG innovation. That led to problems in terms of our stakeholders.
It is simply moving to the next level. It has helped us to embed
science into the DTI because previously innovation was with a
different business relations group. Bringing that together under
one DG, that DG now being the DTI's chief adviser in science,
we think is a sensible, structural move.
Q78 Adam Afriyie: Perhaps you could
remind us how long the innovation group was in existence. Does
not making such a radical change now indicate that there must
have been some sort of failure somewhere?
Alan Johnson: No. It was in existence
for three or four years.
Q79 Adam Afriyie: That is a very
short life span.
Alan Johnson: Yes, but if you
adopted that principle you would never change anything. This is
a constant process. The stuff we have said in the Budget in terms
of the next steps on the 10 year science and innovation framework
shows that every time you get to a step you see more steps that
need to be taken. Whilst I understand the line of questioning,
I can say absolutely for myself and for Brian that this was in
no way saying that innovation has failed either in the personalities
involved or the system involved. It is just felt that we can move
to another stage now and that is a process of evolution.