Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
MP, SIR BRIAN
24 APRIL 2006
Q80 Adam Afriyie: In effect, what
has happened is that the innovations group has been taken over
by or assimilated into the OSI? Is that technically what has happened?
Alan Johnson: Not taken over,
Q81 Adam Afriyie: Absorbed?
Alan Johnson: Incorporated into.
Sir Brian Bender: As the Secretary
of State was saying in his earlier answer, one of the points is
to bring together the push from the science end and the pull from
the business end into the Office of Science and Innovation rather
than having separate parts. One of the tests looking forward would
be to ensure that the good work David Hughes did in building up
relations with our Business Group is not lost by this change because
the relationship between the Business Group and the Department
and the Office of Science and Innovation will continue to be very
important for getting the science push and the innovation pull
in one place. That seems to us to be the next step, building on
the success of the last three or four years.
Q82 Adam Afriyie: I did not hear
any statement in the House of Commons; I did not see a written
statement; the website did not say anything about it. Why all
Alan Johnson: I do not think there
was secrecy about this. It was a departmental issue. We announced
it as soon as we had made the decision. I do not know whether
we put it on our website. We should have done.
Sir Brian Bender: The purpose
of writing to the Chairman of this Committee and the Chairman
of the Trade and Industry Committee and the Lords Science and
Technology Committee was to put into it the parliamentary domain
as soon as the decision had been taken. We did not feel it was
significant enough to merit a parliamentary statement, written
or otherwise, but certainly no disrespect was intended and absolutely
no secrecy. Similar material was sent to a number of external
stakeholders in the academic sector and in the business sector.
Q83 Chairman: I do not think it was
a question of a slight. We were very grateful for the letter you
sent us. This seems to be such a significant change in terms of
the direction, admittedly moving forward. I firmly accept the
point that you are making. Not to have made more of it does not
seem to be in line with the way the government operates.
Alan Johnson: We have been hiding
our light under a bushel. It was significant but not significant
enough for a parliamentary statement, I would suggest. We made
sure that those people who needed to know and all the stakeholders
knew very quickly. That was done. I have not checked but maybe
the press and the media just did not pick it up as a story but
it was there. I thought it was quite a significant story but we
cannot insist that they report it.
Q84 Adam Afriyie: You have mentioned
that there will not be any rebudgeting which I am sure is reassuring
in some quarters. What will the changes mean in practice for the
personnel within the OSI or the former two groups? What changes
in personnel will there be or is it simply that the existing groups
will work in exactly the same way, just under a different umbrella?
Once you have made these changes, do you anticipate further changes
that we are not aware of at the moment?
Alan Johnson: The principal change
is the key alliance of the DG for science and innovation so we
have one DG now responsible across the whole piece and the recruitment
of a Director of Innovation which we are currently advertising
Sir Brian Bender: I hope it goes
without saying that David King remains head of the Office of Science
and Innovation and the government Chief Scientific Adviser. That
is not altered by this. Within what we are talking about, there
are a bit over 140 posts for people who were in the Office of
Science and Technology and around 250 who were in the Innovation
Group who are now part of the Office of Science and Innovation.
We are recruiting for a Director of Innovation who would report
to Keith O'Nions, who would be very much focused on the business
pull side of things. It is probably a bit early to say, although
Keith may want to add something, whether the working methods simply
by bringing people together can squeeze out any inefficiencies
or any particular focus. That is something that needs to be thought
about as we look forward. The other element which is relevant
to this was the statement as part of the Chancellor's Budget speech
about the possibility or prospect of the Technology Strategy Board,
which is at the moment staffed from the Department, becoming more
an arm's length body. As we work through what that may mean, that
would have implications for the staffing.
Q85 Adam Afriyie: Sir Keith, you
now take over as director general. Are there any further changes
in personnel or any other reorganisations in the back of your
mind? Are you very happy with the way it is at the moment or are
there changes on the horizon?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: The
present situation offers a great opportunity in having the budgets
for innovation and science alongside. I expect that this will
produce a synergy between them. The Research Councils are much
involved in knowledge transfer and progressively in innovation.
It will make for a stronger, more complete argument in the Comprehensive
Spending Review and it is an important part of it. In terms of
the organisation in the area for which I am now responsible, it
does not change the fundamental relationship between David King
and myself. Fundamentally, that is the same as it was in the OST.
It is a very strong relationship. Within the combined group of
what was the science base innovation groups, we are in the process
of appointing a Director for Innovation. We are looking for somebody
that complements with overall skills in innovation, a strong person
from business. There are some vacancies within the Innovation
Group which have come along in a natural way, and which we will
be filling, but that is it for the foreseeable future. My job
is to put together the strongest possible team, particularly in
a year when we are making the best case we can for future support
of these areas as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review.
Q86 Adam Afriyie: Are you sure we
will not see you again, in the next six months or a year, saying
that there are further changes?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: Not
all of these decisions are in my gift. If there are other changes,
I am not anticipating them. Work is under way to understand what
the options are for putting the Technology Strategy Board at arm's
length and as yet we do not know fully what the implications of
that might be.
Q87 Chairman: I am a little unclear
as to who initiated the review in the first place. Why was that
review undertaken? Were you unhappy with something? What were
its main findings and why has it not been published?
Alan Johnson: The Permanent Secretary
and I instigated the review. I was new; Brian was even newer.
We were struck by the fact that whilst over half of our budget
was science it was still the case that the DTI were not perceived
as being responsible for science. Science is an element of everything
we do but was not seen as such. We were looking around for how
we could tackle that. That is not just about this organisational
change. There is a lot more we have to do to deal with that misconception.
Certainly there had been a piece of work done before that we decided
to revisit. We commissioned the Gaskell Review as a result of
that. In terms of why you cannot see it, I think you should see
it if you want to.
Sir Brian Bender: It was, like
any such report, produced for internal purposes. I would be a
bit concerned if it was intended for publication because it was
not written for publication but equally, if the Committee wish
to see it, then the Committee can see it.
Q88 Chairman: Could we have sight
of it on a confidential basis?
Sir Brian Bender: Absolutely.
Q89 Dr Turner: You say that the OSI
will bring together science push and innovation pull more effectively.
Can you expand on that a little bit? Why do you feel it is really
necessary and how do you think that this reorganisation is going
to make that work better?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: The
notion that investment made in science or the research base is
pushing new knowledge and transferring knowledge into business
against business defining its own requirementsi.e., user
defined requirementsis to the first order quite a good
way of describing it. Because those things need to be married
well across business sectors, whether they are traditional sectors
in chemistry or pharmaceuticals or whether they are newer sectors
in creative industries, for example. There is an argument on that
push/pull basis for putting these together. People who have analysed
this in a lot more detail, as to how the intricacies of that push/pull
relationship work, come to the conclusion that it is rather more
intertwined than simple push/pull and this is often called "open
innovation". Because it is more intertwined in relationship,
I think the argument is probably even stronger that these things
to be in one place because both are trying to get knowledge out
there, to meet user defined requirements and that relationship
is going to be much easier to deal with if it is in one place.
I think the argument is quite a strong one.
Q90 Dr Turner: What obstacles do
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: The
clear obstacle would be if budgets were threatened. The Secretary
of State has given his undertaking that the budgets around the
science and technology strategy are secure so that removes that
threat. The other threat is simply our inability to do it properly
and that is my job so it depends on the level of confidence that
you have in my response to the last two questions.
Q91 Dr Turner: There is no answer
to that, is there?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: Not
a polite one.
Q92 Dr Turner: David, on 15 February
when you were before us, you said there was still a lot of work
to be done on innovation and the wealth creation agenda. Was the
creation of the OSI part of this work? What else do you think
needs to be done?
Professor Sir David King: The
whole science innovation and wealth creation agenda is enormously
important. There is still a big patch of work to be done in sorting
out how we move from the current opportunities that have been
largely thrown out by the fundamental research, the university
research, in the form of small, high tech companies and pulling
those opportunities into the large scale industries where big
wealth creation is possible. There is still an enormous amount
of work to be done. In other words, I still stand by the point
that I made. I feel that we now have a situation which is different
from what we have had before in the sense that this agenda of
science, innovation and wealth creation is not only fully owned
by the DTI in the form of the Secretary of State but is also now
very much at the centre of the DTI's activity. I think that was
a prerequisite for moving this whole agenda forward.
Q93 Dr Turner: Given that the OSI
is very much more embedded in the DTI than the OST apparently
was, seemingly to the outside world, how do you think it is going
to affect the over-arching responsibilities that you for instance
have, David, to review and bring together science across government?
Professor Sir David King: Your
question is a good one. As head of the Office of Science and Innovation
I report to the Secretary of State but also to the Prime Minister
so I have that dual responsibility. Within the office we still
have the transdepartmental science and technology team and within
that team we seek science and innovation strategies from each
government department. This is by way of reminding you that while
£3 billion is the budget for the Office of Science and Innovation
through the Research Councils there is another £2.5 billion
approximately that goes into research and development through
government departments. Part of my function is to oversee the
proper use of the money in those departments and this includes
overseeing a science and innovation strategy. The science and
innovation programme we are now discussing also operates in other
government departments. I also see my role, despite my keenness
to see this embedded through the Secretary of State and the DTI,
as the protector of those parts of the Science Budget that would
not necessarily be seen to deliver on the wealth creation agenda.
Chairman: I am going to come back to
your role because I think it is important to see where everybody
fits in together.
Q94 Adam Afriyie: Sir Keith, you
said that the Office of Science and Innovation would be more effective
with communication and coordination. What was the problem in the
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: I
do not think you should look at it like that. Sincerely, if you
go back, let us say, five years and look at the success of the
Innovation Group and the establishment of the Technology Strategy
Board and what David Hughes achieved there, that has moved that
agenda along at quite a pace. In terms of the Research Councils,
knowledge transfer and innovation have moved way up the agenda
in the performance management of the Research Councils. As I told
you the last time I was here we have a group under Peter Warry
looking at how we can increase their impact and hopefully we are
trying to make a step change there. You have two things that have
been on an upward rising trajectory. There is nothing wrong. The
question is how much further and faster can we drive this extremely
important agenda which not only grips the Government Chief Scientific
Adviser but is now at the centre and a core part of the DTI. What
was wrong? 15 years ago, we just were not doing this stuff. It
is a matter of how quickly it comes right.
Q95 Adam Afriyie: It is a matter
of evolution, a bit like metrics and the use of them.
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: That
is another issue.
Q96 Adam Afriyie: What will be the
role of the Technology Strategy Board within the OSI?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: In
the near term, it will continue the excellent work it has been
doing in terms of defining on behalf of business the optimum innovation
platforms and programmes, including knowledge transfer networks
and knowledge transfer partnerships. That will continue. It is
very important that myself and others in the DTI make it clear
that the changes that have taken place maintain business as usual
for the Technology Strategy Board. In parallel to that we are
looking, following the budget, at options for an arm's length
body but this has to be to reinforce the independence and the
impact of the user defined research and technology strategy.
Q97 Adam Afriyie: Why do you feel
it necessary to have it at arm's length if it has such a key function?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: Let
me give you a personal view. It is extremely important, if we
are going to get the best impact from our few billion pounds a
year in the Research Councils and the interventions we make in
the Technology Strategies, to have a clear user defined strategyie,
business has given its best view of where these financial interventions
will have best effect, rather than somebody like me sitting in
Victoria Street trying to think what they should be. A clear independence
of that process is crucial for us to get the best value for money.
Q98 Adam Afriyie: You mentioned the
business involvement in setting the strategy but how will the
activities of the Board be reviewed and evaluated? Will that also
be an independent function?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: The
Board is 18 months old and we have not undertaken a quinquennial
review of its activities. It is a non-departmental public body
formed as an NDPB advisory board. The normal practice is, on a
cycle, to review the activities of all NDPBs in an independent
way. After 18 months we would not be expecting to undertake a
very major, external review of its function, but we would expect
to do that for any NDPB, whether it be a Research Council or any
Q99 Adam Afriyie: When it does happen,
whenever that may be, do you expect it to be independent?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: I
would expect to have an independent input into it. Any decision
made for advice to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of
State owns the NDPBs under the aegis of the DTI. Yes, that would
be normal practice in my experience.