Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 254 - 259)



  Chairman: Good morning to our witnesses this morning in this evidence session of the major inquiry this Committee has undertaken in investigating the oceans. We welcome this morning Mr Richard Burt, a member of the Executive Committee of the Association of Marine Scientific Industries, Mr Ian Gallett, the Executive Secretary of the Society of Underwater Technology, Dr Ralph Rayner, the Vice President of the Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology, and Dr Lesley Thompson, the acting Director for the Research and Innovation directorate of the Physical Sciences Research Council. Welcome to you all.

  Linda Gilroy: Before you begin, Chairman, may I declare an interest. I am an honorary officer for the Society of Maritime Industries of which some of these organisations are or may be members.

  Q254  Chairman: Thank you very much. I would like to start with a question to Mr Burt, Mr Gallett and Dr Rayner. The European Marine Strategy Green Paper was really quite pessimistic about the decline in maritime science and marine science generally. What is your assessment of the UK's position in marine science and technology in that sector?

  Dr Rayner: Is that addressed specifically to the position in Europe?

  Q255  Chairman: Both. If across Europe the Green Paper is saying that things are declining, are they declining in the UK?

  Dr Rayner: I would say not declining and, at a European level, I would say that operational oceanography is now very alive and well. The moves to coordinate particularly operational oceanography in Europe are well developed and are progressing quite effectively.

  Mr Gallett: I would agree with that. On the fisheries side we are probably quite strong as well. We certainly are getting support in our activities from the European Union itself with the developing across European activities and offshore fish farming, for instance.

  Q256  Chairman: So, as far as the UK's position within Europe, we are very strong in maritime science.

  Mr Gallett: Yes.

  Mr Burt: I would totally agree. I think there has been a significant change from individual scientific programmes to coordinating programmes towards operation oceanography. As Dr Rayner says, I think that has been achieved quite well. We have to implement and take that through and I think marine science, in support of operation oceanography, is underpinning quite well.

  Q257  Chairman: Mr Gallett, how would you characterise the role of the private sector funding in marine science? We are finding it difficult to get a handle on how much is spent in that area. Can the three of you enlighten us on that?

  Mr Gallett: I am not particularly well placed to answer that question but I also find it very difficult to decide how it all fits together. One of the problems I have specifically is understanding the role of the agencies. When the agencies were first privatised, if I may put it that way, when they started having training funds and so forth, they moved from being government bodies which we understood and they are now stalled, in my mind, somewhere in limbo between a proper private organisation and being a government body still.

  Q258  Chairman: Can you throw any light on the private sector's contribution in funding terms?

  Dr Rayner: The private sector acts as a conduit in respect of linking what happens in research and operational observations to specific uses—so very much as an intermediate user of data and information to create services. It is not really directly engaged in the funding of marine scientific research; it is a recipient of the benefits of that research and the benefits of data and information that are collected from public funds and a user of that information to create secondary products. It is more a flow in the direction of creating useful and useable products for particular sectors than as a sponsor directly of research activity.

  Q259  Chairman: Where are the growing trends, then, Mr Burt in this area?

  Mr Burt: From the industry perspective, there are two main areas. The one to which Dr Rayner has alluded is the added-value product: once you have gathered scientific information, oceanographic data, what you do to give added value for UK industry. But right at the front end, the initial stage, is the technology, the instrumentation that you require to gather the data in the first place. You see UK industry dividing into those two aspects. It is very important, I think, at the front end, for academic and UK government agencies to be able to link with the industry in the early days for technology pull through. In many cases industry has developed technologies that it thinks the customer needs, and that is not necessarily appropriate, or, indeed, has allied with technologies being developed in centres of excellence in the UK.

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