Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280
WEDNESDAY 13 JUNE 2007
Q280 Dr Turner: I was going to Oceans
2025 because one of the criticisms that certainly the university
sector will make about it is it is not inclusive. It did not include
them. It clearly does not include the associated industries. Whereas
in the US there is a much more cohesive organisation, it is also
much more bottom-up, so that scientists' views are really coming
through in terms of priorities. Do we need to do something comparable
in the UK. If we did that, could we arrive at a situation where,
instead having a sum of all the different parts that are going
on, we had something bigger and would get more funding?
Mr Burt: Yes, I totally agree.
It needs cross-collaborative engagement and it needs engagement
between science and industry. You are absolutely right, an overarching
clear way forward is fine, providing it is an efficient structure
and just has not grown to too large a compass.
Q281 Dr Turner: What sort of form
do you think this will take? We got the distinct impression that
one of the reasons why things seem to be going quite well in the
States is that it is not done on a top-down basis, like an agency
like NASA, but it is very much based on a sort of bottom-up approach
that comes together. How do you think we could achieve that in
the UK? How would you form this organisation? Would you start
with the IACMST and reform it and give it a more powerful remit
or would you create an equivalent of a NOAA?
Mr Burt: From an industry perspective,
although we know IACMST has lacked teeth, in effect, it has brought
the key players together over a number of yearsand I do
include industry and academia in that area. I think you have the
core players there engaged within that organisation, so I would
say there is a first pass to look at reorganising that rather
than implementing something different.
Q282 Dr Turner: So build on what
you have got.
Mr Burt: But change it for what
we require today.
Q283 Dr Turner: Does anyone want
to add to that?
Dr Rayner: I think you can use
the links to the professional societies as well, they have a strong
role to play in this process. They can help to foster those linkages.
One of the problems you have is that, once you start talking about
funding for marine science and technology, the beneficiaries of
the funding are distributed and they are each vying for their
individual sources of funds. There is no collective pot, either
at a UK level or indeed at the European level, so there has always
been a problem with the marine sector being very diffuse.
Q284 Dr Turner: If it was cohesive,
it might be able to argue for a bigger pot.
Dr Rayner: It would but who would
be the recipient body for that pot?
Q285 Dr Turner: That is always the
Dr Rayner: That is the problem.
You can level the argument but you then have to have clarity as
to the way in which those funds would be administered
Dr Thompson: I would like to make
a personal comment. Always when you find units of organisation
you have to find the right unit for organisation. If you go bottom-up,
it has to be something where everybody feels that committing their
time is giving them what they need and they get their just return.
In my own mind, I am not clear whether an organisation across
the whole of marine, if you are trying to do bottom-up, is appropriate,
or whether it works in smaller units. An example of a smaller
unit with bottom-up organisation is the flood risk management
activity, where a whole range of funders and industry and academic
groups come together to tackle, as consortiums, some of the issues
around flood risk management. That works at a unit where everybody
feels they are getting something. If you cover the whole of the
marine area and then you look at some of the issues in marines
that take energy, there are already other bodies that try to coordinate
energy, and so you will end up with interfaces. I think the most
important thing is that if you go bottom-up people feel they are
making a contribution and they can see some return for their contribution.
I am not sure, necessarily, across a diversity of marine, with
all the interfaces that marine has, either with other technologies
or with other parts of the environment, a single focus on marine
would be enough to bring cohesion across the whole of industry,
government departments, and the science base. In the UK, people
dreadand my own organisation is as guilty of this as anyonegetting
entwined in lots of discussion meetings without seeing very positive
Q286 Dr Turner: That is fair enough.
We have quite enough talk shops and different funding pockets
as it is. That is one of our problems. We need to do a bit of
amalgamation but not necessarily forced amalgamation.
Dr Thompson: I think that is the
very interesting thing, if you want to go bottom-up, how you get
units that self-assemble because they feel self-interest, rather
than being forced down. I think that is sometimes an uncomfortable
marriage. We have some examples where we have got self-assembly
of self-interested groups and we pull together a consortium of
funders, a consortium of companies and of academics to work on
specific areas. One area, I would say, is flood risk management.
Another area is SuperGen Marine Consortium, where we have industry,
NERC, EPSRC, the Environment Agency, the Department of Trade and
Industry and a number of academic groups working together for
common purpose and making sure that there is a short transfer
of any technology that comes out quickly to companies who will
shorten the innovation cycle.
Q287 Dr Turner: SuperGen was essentially
a government initiative, was it not?
Dr Thompson: SuperGen was our
initiative but it has not stayed as an EPSRC initiatives, it has
managed to brigade a consortium of funding partners, a consortium
of industry who have come in and added their funding and, now
it is on its second round, it has also added on additional academic
partners to give what we need for a marine consortium in energy
Q288 Chairman: Dr Rayner, did you
want to come in?
Dr Rayner: I wanted to comment
on the way in which funding mechanisms can engender cooperation.
If I look at what is happening at a European level in terms of
operational oceanography, the GMES programme in Europe and the
moves towards creating a pan-European capability in operational
oceanography have very much been fostered by the fact that there
is a fund being administered through the Framework Programme which
is bringing together all of the parties. It is the existence of
the funding that caused them to come together and, having come
together, they are starting to work as a coherent pan-European
group (that is, industry, academia and government laboratories
working in a team) which is progressively becoming more integrated,
but it took the existence of the pot of funding, partial funding,
to cause that to happen.
Q289 Linda Gilroy: We have begun
to touch on knowledge transfer and I would like to take that a
bit forward and ask you to share with us your thoughts on the
mechanisms to facilitate marine technology development and their
commercialisation. Are they working and how could they be improved?
Mr Burt: From a UK perspective
it is quite interesting. First of all, we have to identify where
the technologies are. There are many, many technologies being
developed in marine science and technology centres in the UK often
for extreme applications. Very few of them are what I would call
commercial products or capable of being commercially exploited.
From the industry perspective we have to do a number of things.
We have to identify technology which we can economically evolve
into a product which can then be sold commercially around the
world and make money for UK industry but, also, we have to produce
the products that the marine science and technology organisations
do require. That is two different things. From an operational
oceanographic point of view, you are looking for sensor technologies,
for example, which have to last for long, long periods of time
in the environment, doing a number of things with very little
human interaction but always giving you good data. That is a clear
link into applications for operational oceanography in climate
change. But if you are looking at some of the basic research that
is being undertaken in the laboratories here to pump-prime that
activity, then the type of instrumentation they require is different.
The first part of the jigsaw is where we have to identify technologies.
From the UK perspective, from a UK company, we have to look at
worldwide technologies, just not UK technologies. There may well
be something applicable in the US or in Japan that is at a very
early development stage which we could licence or enter into an
agreement to pull through, so, although the added value is eventually
there for UK industry, UK marine science, perhaps, does not benefit
because it has not developed that instrumentation route. The financial
mechanisms to make that happen are poor, to say the least. There
are very little opportunities to get significant funding to pull
through technology to the market place. There are DTI schemes,
there are NERC schemes, but when we lay these alongside, for example,
US schemes, then I think the UK is poorly placed. There are a
number of US schemes which are geared to early innovation, fully
funded schemes for small spin-out companies to bring product through
to the market-place. If we sit here today and look at where the
competition is against UK industry, many of our competitors are
in the US and many of those have developed into companies using
third-party funding, and often 100% third-party funding, to bring
them to market-place with a technology and begin trading. In the
UK, even if we embark upon the most generous of DTI schemes, it
contributes very, very little, if anything, as you enter production
and bring products to a commercial realisation, so there are significant
overheads for the UK to have to recoup once it starts to sell
product. If your competition has no overheads to recoup, you are
immediately at a significant disadvantage. I think the funding
schemes within the UK to enable technology to pull through are
not as advantageous as they could be with competition. The other
means of funding is through European schemes, through the framework
schemes, but that then fosters collaboration. Collaboration can
be good for scientific programmes, technology programmes, and
ensuring appropriate technologies are brought to the market-place
for that, but it is not always appropriate to collaborate with
potential competitors commercially. Single-funded schemes out
of a European perspective are not really there, so we have to
come back again to look at the UK situation for funding, which
again is at a disadvantage to overseas.
Q290 Dr Spink: But you do accept
that the sort of funding that they enjoy in the United States
would not be possible with EU regulations in this country.
Mr Burt: Yes. But commercially
the outcome is to disadvantage us.
Dr Spink: We understand that.
Q291 Linda Gilroy: Mr Rayner, the
institute has been very critical, particularly in respect of small
and medium enterpriseswhich very often are what we are
talking about, of course. In your evidence you have said that
it is not only ineffective and excessively bureaucratic but, also,
it can damage existing businesses with unfair competition.
Dr Rayner: There are three separate
elements here. The marine science and technology industry area
is a series of small, niche markets. It is not a very large pooled
market, so companies tend to specialise in a very narrow niche
and what is really required for small companies is helping them
to exploit that niche on a wider geographical basis and helping
them to create new technologies into those global niche markets.
Q292 Linda Gilroy: Have you seen
any good examples of where that happens in the UK? Are any of
the science parks, for instance, developed
Dr Rayner: There is really very
little activity directed towards helping small companies to broaden
their geographical market. I would go back to something that Richard
Burt said about the equivalent position in the United States.
In the United States, government agencies, and particularly NOAA,
are quite engaged in supporting the activities of small companies
in penetrating export markets. It is not surprising, because NOAA
is part of the Department of Commerce, that it has a very specific
commercial imperative and you will quite often see small, niche
American companies being supported in promoting their products
by NOAA as a government body. I cannot think of any examples of
an equivalent position in the UK.
Q293 Linda Gilroy: Have you seen
any evidence of that happening at regional development agency
Dr Rayner: Not really, no.
Q294 Linda Gilroy: Or through the
science parks? I can think of some, in Plymouth, for instance,
fairly modest, where the Tamar Science Park responded at the time
to assist some people who lost some of their funding during the
NERC streamlining. Do you have any contact with the science parks?
Dr Rayner: A little. I think the
difficulty here is making it highly targeted, picking nichesand
I know this is a very interventionist approach.
Q295 Linda Gilroy: The one I am thinking
of was a niche area.
Dr Rayner: You pick a niche and
foster it and then promote it widely internationally. It is very
difficult for small companies to do that in their own right. It
is very beneficial if they can be supported in doing thatand
I do not necessarily mean financial support; I mean support in
terms of proximity to markets and making their products and services
more widely known.
Q296 Linda Gilroy: Are there ways
in which you can think we need to change? Is it a NOAA type organisation
or something more at that sort of regional level of economic activity?
Dr Rayner: I think it should be
national rather than regional. I find it very difficult to see
how it would work at a regional level when you are trying primarily
to promote into export markets. That is something that really
should be driven at a national level.
Q297 Linda Gilroy: I would comment
on that, Chairman, before moving on, that the South West Regional
Development Agency has an office in China, so a lot of the activities
are happening at that level. Mr Gallett, would you like to comment
Mr Gallett: It is not a main area
of interest. I would only note on the regional side that there
does seem to be more money available north of the border. Certainly
Grampian Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise between them seem
to be rather more generous in their support of small companies,
particularly in the Aberdeen area with which I am quite familiar.
Q298 Linda Gilroy: Do any of you
have familiarity with Wales? I have heard anecdotally that that
may be true in Wales as well.
Mr Gallett: I do not have any
knowledge about it.
Dr Thompson: It is clearly an
area of great concern to us. If we are developing technology and
the UK is not making best use of it, then that is a concern for
all of us. Within the resources we have, we work very hard to
make sure that, where it is appropriate, there are good contacts
with companies, so certainly 40% of the research portfolio we
support is collaboration with industry. It is harder for small
companies to collaborate with the science base, although that
does not mean it does not happen. It happens when people have
made the right contacts. Increasingly, we are trying to use our
own time and effort to try to make sure we go directly to companies
and try to look for intermediates that give us the leverage to
have those dialogues, to make companies aware of some support
they can get through engagement with the science base, but it
is much harder than going to talk to the universities that we
have, so it takes a lot more time and a lot more resource and,
increasingly, finding ways we can work together on some of those
things, particularly with things like regional development agencies,
is becoming very high on our agenda. We have just reorganised
our own internal structures so that we have a defined point of
contact with every regional development agency devolved authority
and through that agency we are trying to find ways that we can
jointly promote companies working in the science base, as well
as doing lots of things on a national level working with the DTI.
Q299 Linda Gilroy: It sounds a bit
bureaucratic and like quite hard work at the moment.
Dr Thompson: It is hard work.