Examination of Witnesses (Questions 254
WEDNESDAY 13 JUNE 2007
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
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 usesso 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
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.