Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
WEDNESDAY 16 MAY 2007
Q140 Dr Spink: Had we had that in
1953, would it have enabled us to know sooner about the massive
surge in tide and flood that hit the south-east of England, for
Dr Bell: It would not have been
relevant to that particular application. Tide gauges are more
valuable for that particular application. So, yes, there is an
important point there that, in monitoring, you have to be very
clear about the purposes of the monitoring.
Q141 Linda Gilroy: To Dr Hensley,
you have described how you are focused around providing navigational
products and the basic hydrographic activity is to map the bed
of the ocean. What proportion of the oceans has actually been
Dr Hensley: That is a fine question.
Q142 Linda Gilroy: They are not mapped
in their entirety, as I understand it, by a long chalk.
Dr Hensley: They are not. I cannot
give you an answer in terms of percentage, I am afraid. There
is also a question of to what standard they are mapped and whether
they are charted and surveyed to International Hydrographic Office
standards for navigational requirements or whether it is for environmental
purposes. Going back slightly, if I may digress, when I was still
but a lowly student, and it is not that long ago, I understand
that in the deep sea area that I used to work in there was approximately
a football pitch worth of ground, if you like, that had been thoroughly
surveyed but that is at least 15 years ago. I do not have the
figures for the UK. I am sure we get give you those.
Q143 Chairman: It would be useful
if we had those. I turn to you, Dr Horwood, and ask you in terms
of Cefas about how your agency has changed and its work has changed
to meet the changing use of the marine environment, briefly.
Dr Horwood: May I pick up on one
of the technologies for instance which again we share with the
Met Office. We have developed over the last few years some offshore
wave censors, which have been very helpful in predicting local
flooding in the last 12 months. We now have this system of offshore
real time data coming in which complements the shore-based gauges.
We are looking more and more to remote data collection but the
key area for us is really the increasing international interest
and international obligations to monitor and keep an eye on the
coastal seas. Rather than the wonderful technologies that are
coming on board, it is the increasing interest in getting proper
Q144 Chairman: Why do you think that
we have had evidence given to the committee that Cefas is becoming
much more aggressive, much more remote and much less co-operative
in terms of the other marine science organisations of late? Why
do you think that should have been reported to us? Is it true?
You do not look like a very predatory man from here!
Dr Horwood: There are some good
things about that. We have been extremely fortunate, and I think
the country is quite fortunate, in having agreed a ten-year deal
with Defra on our future. We have a ten-year funding programme.
This is in the context of the Public Sector Research Establishment
report, which said that all the government's research establishments
are really at risk from the sustainability point of view. They
have attempted to address that but the agreement is for ten years
of flat funding. Of course, as you can imagine, at the end of
that period, there will be a gap to fill. At present, they are
filling 77 per cent; in ten years' time, they will be filling
than 60 per cent. We will be looking to wider markets to fill
the gap. This is not just to keep people in business. It is actually
to keep teams and facilities alive in order to underpin the government.
There is an induced financial driver to do this but also it has
been enormously beneficial to us. There has been, since the Sixties
and Seventies, a contraction in funding for marine research. Our
area of interest has contracted and this ability to go out into
the wider market has enabled us to do a much richer range of research.
A lot of our scientists are much more fulfilled. If you refer
to the submission from Oxford University, they have pointed out
that some of our institutes might be better if they too were subjected
to more competition. There are lots of good things and drivers
for competition. The people who we are competing with one day
of course are our partners in other complex research projects
the next day.
Q145 Chairman: I do not have a clear
picture yet as to whether you will drive policy and therefore
say to Government, "This is what we need to be doing",
or whether you are just simply recipients of government policy
and carry it out. Can you tell us briefly where you sit on that
continuum between being the driver and being purely the recipient?
Dr Bell: The Met Office's role
is to provide impartial, objective, scientific advice on which
policy can be based but it is not to enter into the discussion
of the policy itself.
Dr Hensley: The policy for data
collection for defence is set within MoD. FLEET is the organisation
that controls vessels to collect the data that we get. We do have
some role at the IHO alongside the MCA but the MCA is responsible
for discharging our SOLAS obligations. We are advisory in that
Dr Horwood: We have no exclusive
policy role or responsibility. We are essentially a delivery agent
but our Defra colleagues see us as partners so that they have
an informed customer role. In addition, we sit on quite a lot
of high level expert panels at the European level where we are
influencing the European policy agenda. We ourselves are not responsible
for agreeing any particular set of policies.
Q146 Dr Spink: Dr Hemsley mentioned
the MoD. I wondered if he could expand a little on what the MoD's
role is in marine science research and technology development.
Dr Hensley: I do not sit in a
research organisation, so I cannot comment directly on the way
MoD directs its research funds. We are recipients of the data
from various programmes that they undertake so that we can turn
them into products and services for them. It would be speculation
for me if I was to throw that back.
Q147 Dr Spink: Mike Bell, do you
have a view on where the MoD sits and how they advise on scientific
Dr Bell: There is a research acquisition
organisation within MoD which plays that sort of role. They acquire
research from us, for example. There is also the DSTL of course,
which undertakes a lot of research for the Ministry of Defence.
Q148 Dr Spink: What sort of research
is it looking for?
Dr Bell: It is a very broad range
of research. I think there are seven pillars under which the research
is organised. I perhaps need to check that and send you a written
Q149 Dr Spink: For instance, do they
come up with specific projects or do they just come up with problems
and ask you to look at how you might design research and technology
to solve those problems?
Dr Bell: In our specific case,
which might be a good example, the programme of work that we do,
which involves some research, is agreed with the MoD customers,
with the policy customer within MoD. There is a discussion as
to what their priorities are, what our capabilities are and what
we could develop that would be valuable to them. The projects
that they drive are worked out in quite a collaborative and constructive
Dr Hensley: There is a body called
the Co-operative Arrangements for Research in Ocean Science. That
is attended by the directors of the NERC institutes and it is
co-chaired by one of the NERC directors and an MoD representative.
At that level, there is mutual discussion on requirements.
Q150 Dr Spink: Could I turn to the
relationship between Cefas and the OSI, Dr Horwood? What is your
relationship with the OSI?
Dr Horwood: I have to admit that
I do not know whether IACMST is still part of OSI.
Q151 Chairman: You do not know whether
Dr Horwood: I personally do not
know; maybe I should. I do not know what the parent of IACMST
is but we have a seat on the IACMST. As you have already heard,
it is a form of co-ordinating body and it sends information up
through the system. We do contribute to the open consultation
on framework programmes. Also, via Defra, the OSI have an overall
responsibility for the quality of science across government. We
see that effect through our science audits and through the review
of science in Defra. I would be straining to find any closer contact.
Q152 Dr Spink: It seems to me then
that there is not really that much collaboration or contact between
you as someone who delivers science in a specific area, the issue
of agriculture, and the OSI. That is quite surprising. I would
have thought there was very close collaboration to make sure that
there are no gaps and overlaps.
Dr Horwood: One area that I missed
is that of course they would probably be leading on our response
to the framework programmes in Europe, and again either independently
or through Defra we would be feeding in our thoughts to that.
Our key association is with the parent department to commission
specific work. There are lots of areas where we are very much
joined up at the European and North Atlantic level.
Q153 Dr Spink: Do the OSI get involved
in any quality issues in terms of your research and quality advice
Dr Horwood: That is only in terms
of their remit to overlook the quality of science conducted by
government departments as a whole.
Q154 Dr Iddon: It sounds to me as
if the bulk of the money for your three agencies comes as a result
of programmes rather than as core funding, which you could direct
as you wish. Is that correct?
Dr Hensley: UKHO is a trading
fund, so we do receive some funding from the MoD in order to turn
around the data that they provide to us to provide defence-specific
products and services. We use the bathometric data from the civilian
hydrographic programme as administered by they MCA and we quality
assure those data and turn those into navigational products and
services. It is the sale of those navigational products and services
that supports the agency.
Q155 Dr Iddon: What about the other
Dr Horwood: To my understanding,
yes, that is right; we are funded through programmes.
Q156 Dr Iddon: Do you think that
is right or would you prefer to have more core funding to develop
research ideas, for example? What would you like to do that you
cannot do at the moment? Are there any pressing problems?
Dr Bell: I think that the existing
arrangements are quite good. I do think having programmes is quite
a good arrangement. There are areas where the co-ordination across
government is quite difficult to bring marine science through
into practical applications. I am thinking in particular, for
example, of counter pollution responses to, for example, oil spills,
to the co-ordination across government of the requirements for
that to bring new marine research through into those operations.
I think that the co-ordination there could be improved. It is
those sorts of areas where I think there is a gap.
Q157 Dr Iddon: Dr Harwood, what could
your organisation be doing if you were not so restricted by programmes?
Dr Horwood: It would depend upon
the scale. There is a very significant list of things that needs
to be done at sea. We really do not understand how the sea works
at all. You might be interested to have a look at the ICES submission
to the Maritime Marine Green paper where they have a fairly pithy
set of recommendations for activities. One of the key things is
to understand how the sea is going to change in response to anthropogenic
stresses and annual climate change. We really need to be monitoring
it more intensively to understand the natural variation from which
we then see signals of change. The first is monitoring; the second
is understanding how the sea as a system works. In terms of our
internal programmes, likewise, I think our marine environment,
and fisheries divisions in Defra, are very supportive of work
in thus area. I am sure if they had more from the Treasury, they
would be more than willing to invest more in this area. Within
our own programmes, we really are a bit constrained to delivering
fairly targeted programmes. It would be nice to have a little
bit of space within each programme for a bit more innovation and
sitting back and thinking.
Dr Hensley: As a trading fund,
we are very focused on our objectives. I will not quote those.
We are there to provide navigation products and services. One
of our objectives is organisational excellence and maximising
the benefit of those uses. I do not have any comments to add to
those of my colleagues.
Q158 Dr Iddon: Are all government
agencies able to bid for their funding and indeed other research
council funding or are there some difficulties in that area?
Dr Horwood: There are some difficulties.
There has been a recent change in the character of research council
eligibility such that my organisation, and I guess the Met Office,
are no longer in a position to be given any of the research council
funding at all. This is a problem. We can still receive it as
subcontractors but the key thing is that as a leader in a programme,
you very much can drive a particular idea forward, in competition
with everybody else who is competing. We did see that as a bit
of a blow. I understand there were representations from the Defra
Chief Scientist back to the research council, although I cannot
say what the outcome of that is.
Dr Bell: The Met Office under
the new rules is not able to apply for money from research councils
but I believe that it can take part in projects as subcontractors.
In the past, it has been a bit less clear whether the Met Office
could take part in, say, NERC-funded projects. There have been
projects where collaboration between the Met Office and NERC was
obviously very desirable and we collaborated in the projects,
but there was difficulty getting funding for the Met Office for
that, so we tried to get funding from the Ministry of Defence
and that did make it difficult to get the projects started. We
were successful in the end, I should say.
Q159 Dr Iddon: Could you each tell
the committee, and you have hinted at some of this already but
perhaps we could clarify it, how much involvement each of your
agencies has with the private sector? Is it important that you
bring in a lot of private sector money or not? We will start with
the Met Office. You must service a lot of the private sector.
Dr Bell: We do service the private
sector. The marine research part of the Met Office has much more
contact with the NERC laboratories, which is very strong at the
moment. To come back to your question, the Met Office in the marine
sector has the Aberdeen Weather Centre, which services the oil
and gas industry, particularly in the North Sea. There is a programme
within the Met Office to develop commercial products to serve
the marine sector in various aspects, like energy, marine renewables
and the leisure industry. There is a list of things. It is in
fact a fairly small group.