Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)|
MP, SIR BRIAN
24 APRIL 2006
Q100 Chairman: Who has ministerial
responsibility for it? Is it the Secretary of State? Do you have
direct responsibility for that strategy board?
Alan Johnson: Yes.
Q101 Chairman: Is it one of your
Alan Johnson: Lord Sainsbury deals
Q102 Bob Spink: Could I please probe
the organisational changes? I wondered first of all how the management
of the OST had changed as a result of the creation of the OSI.
Sir Brian Bender: As far as I
am concerned, Keith reports to me. David is the head of the office
and has this peculiar position that he both reports into the Secretary
of State and to the Prime Minister. If you are asking, as I think
you are, about how the OSI itself is managed, it may be right
that Keith and David answer.
Q103 Bob Spink: I wanted to know
what the impact of the OSI creation had on the OST.
Professor Sir David King: The
Office of Science and Technology had two key parts to it, the
Transdepartmental Science and Technology Group and the Science
and Engineering Base Group. Essentially, the transdepartmental
science and technology team provides the capability that we have
in foresight activities and international activities and also
in reviewing other government departments' work and assisting
in dealing with crises. The SEB team deals with the finances coming
in and passing out to the Research Councils as a key part of its
activity. Then we have a science and society team. Now we also
have an Innovation Group, so there is a third group added to the
Office of Science and Innovation. Within those two first structures,
the change is minimal.
Q104 Chairman: The science and technology
group directly reported to you before. The science and engineering
base group reported directly to you before, Sir Keith?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: Yes.
Q105 Chairman: Who did the overseas
innovation group, this third group, report to before?
Professor Sir David King: The
Innovation Group reported to David Hughes.
Q106 Chairman: That now comes to
Professor Sir David King: Yes,
so you have three pieces instead of two.
Q107 Chairman: You have two of them
and you have one of them?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: I
have two which are now called one piece.
Q108 Bob Spink: Did you want to make
a further comment?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: For
many years, probably back to somewhere in the mid-nineties, the
Office of Science and Technology has had this relationship with
the Government Chief Scientific Adviser at its head and a Director
General of Research Councils so-called reporting to the permanent
secretary and advising the Secretary of State on the budget. It
is a construct that has worked well. You may look at it and say
why does it work so well but it has worked well and it continues
to do so.
Q109 Bob Spink: This Committee is
a very caring, laid back, uncynical group of guys but even we
were a little bit surprised at the speed at which these changes
took place and the lack of public consultation. We had a letter
on 28 February and then, bang, it was all done. Was there any
particular reason for this urgency?
Alan Johnson: That was down to
me, with Brian, who decided that we needed to implement this change.
Once we had an idea of what we wanted to do, there was no point
in hanging around. We just needed to get on and do it, particularly
with a Budget coming up. All the representations we were making
were for a Budget for science. We were confident there would be
a lot of changes coming through from the Budget so there was no
point in dragging it out. We needed to do it and do it quickly.
Q110 Chairman: Was the Chancellor
Alan Johnson: Not at all. This
is an area that the Chancellor was not involved in until we had
made the decision.
Q111 Bob Spink: Sir David, was there
any discussion at all about your particular post and whether the
post of CSA might be split from the headship under the OSI during
these changes? Was that discussed?
Professor Sir David King: It would
be fair to say that in the soundings that took place initially
it was discussed. It would also be fair to say that it was rather
instantly dismissed by most people who discussed it. In other
words, there was a general feelingand I perhaps should
not be the one to say thisthat the added value in having
the chief scientific adviser as head of the Office of Science
and Innovation was well worth maintaining in the new structure.
Q112 Bob Spink: Was it ever thought
that, even though there is some added value and there are always
cons as well as benefits, your role as being truly independent
across government might be challenged by your position as head
of the OSI?
Alan Johnson: No.
Sir Brian Bender: Emphatically
not. I witnessed in my last department the challenge of David
King's role and I would still expect under the new structure that
there will be times when, as the Government Chief Scientific Adviser,
he may well want to assert that challenging role in relation to
Q113 Bob Spink: Was it ever considered
that the administration should be left to the Director General
of Science and Innovation during these changes?
Professor Sir David King: No.
Once the decision had been made in the early discussions that
I should continue as head of the Office of Science and Innovation,
I do not think that discussion was propagated.
Q114 Bob Spink: Sir Keith, it seems
that you have taken on three jobs now. Are you able to perform
all of those jobs well?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: You
had better ask me next October.
Q115 Bob Spink: Do you feel that
some of those jobs may now be part-time?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: The
responsibility for what is now the Science and Innovation Group
is entirely manageable, he says confidently, only to be tripped
up later. The new role for me of Chief Scientific Adviser in the
DTI is worth pursuing. Although I was Chief Scientific Adviser
in defence for five years, which was an enormous job, I have to
create that role in the DTI. I am going to need quite a lot of
help to create it, although I do have some experience. I already
have very considerable help and advice from Dave. I have to get
buy-in across the DTI. It is nothing like a full time job but
to be effective there has to be a culture within the DTI that
seeks out the view of the Chief Scientific Adviser, as is commonplace
in a number of other departments. We are not there yet but I believe
with Brian's very strong support we will get there. This third
hat, if you like, is one that is going to develop, frankly, over
some months. It is not going to be instant and sudden but I greatly
Q116 Bob Spink: I am sure you do.
You are a man for challenges and you always have been. Has there
been any consideration of whether there will be any conflict within
your three roles and, if so, how that will be managed, or is that
not going to arise?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: I
have not thought of any. I immediately pass that to Brian because
it will be Brian's job to resolve any.
Sir Brian Bender: There is a potential
area of conflict which the Secretary of State's early comments
have already addressed. In so far as the same Director General
is going to be responsible for a lot of the action in government
to promote science push and to get the innovation pull, one of
the questions might be: is there a risk that the allocation of
the Research Council money will be skewed, not on the basis of
Haldane principles but on the basis of some business pull? There
first of all the ring fencing will remain and, secondly, if there
were such a risk David King's role, as Chief Scientific Adviser
could come into play at his discretion to operate as a challenge.
I do not believe the conflicts are there but they could be there
and we have set up safeguards to minimise that risk ever occurring.
Q117 Chairman: I am staggered, Sir
Keith, that you say that being the chief scientific adviser to
the DTI, which arguably is the most powerful vehicle for delivering
science, technology and innovation in the country, is just a minor,
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: I
already have a day job. At the moment I spend five days a week
involved in science and innovation. What I am saying is that in
addition to the time I am involved in scientific matters, my involvement
in other areas of the DTI will add to that. There are two obvious
candidate areas where any chief scientific adviser to the DTI
should be looking in addition. One is obviously energy. The other
is probably in some of the biosciences areas of Business Group,
what is known as EBG. What I cannot say at the moment with great
precision is how much extra effort that is going to be. I completely
accept your point that most of my life is involved in scientific
matters and advising the Secretary of State on the most wise use
of his budget.
Professor Sir David King: Could
I come back to the previous question because it seems to me that
the Committee has touched on a very important point. The funding
of the Research Councils not only covers innovation and wealth
creation opportunities. For example, there are many different
government departments with different demands on the research
base and the skills generated by that research base. Outside the
country we have many demands also met by that research base. Quite
clearly my function as head of the Office of Science and Innovation
within this structure that we are describing is to see that I
can provide the challenge that maintains that process. I can only
provide that challenge if the Office of Science and Innovation
operates as a true entity.
Q118 Chairman: It is an issue that
we were very conscious of. One of the reasons we did the current
review of the Research Councils in terms of knowledge transfer
was to tease out where is the split between basic research and
maintaining high quality basic research and having the function
to pull or push that through in terms of applied research. It
was a concern to our Committee that this reorganisation might
re-emphasise the work of the Research Councils very much towards
the wealth creation side, perhaps at the expense of the basic
research which, I think speaking for the Committee, we felt would
be a mistake. That is obviously for others to decide. Secretary
of State, would the Director General of Science and Innovation
always be expected to fulfil the role of chief scientific adviser
within the DTI? Do you think that is a necessity?
Alan Johnson: We will see how
it goes. That is the role that David Hughes had. I do not think
I can, hand on heart, say yes, I think that will always be the
role. I think it is the right place to put that job at the moment.
In relation to Adam's earlier question, are there any other changes
going to come up over the next six months, we will see how all
this works. We have the basic principles right here and I tend
to think it is Sir Keith's position that should be chief scientific
Q119 Chairman: We find it a little
difficult to understand how the DTI chief scientific adviser can
provide very independent advice when he is also Director General
of Science and Innovation. There seems to be a conflict in those
Alan Johnson: The previous role
was as Director General of Innovation.