Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320
WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2007
Q320 Chairman: Is there not a real
issue there about who is going to drive the new technologies?
If we are not doing that within our user groups, then who is going
to do it?
Professor Dalton: This question
applies not only simply apply to this area of science. There are
some big areas of science where we need to be able to make important
contributions as European partners and as global partners. In
many respects, it is time we sat down and figured out precisely
how all of these major contributions and subscriptions to activities
are going to take place and also how we can stimulate and punch
above our weight, if we can, in terms of being able to stimulate
activity that allows us to get proper industry to finance, organise
and structure observation systems. At the moment, we are still
a user and we will be a user.
Q321 Chairman: You do understand
the point that I am making. When you say that we need to get together,
who do you mean by "we"?
Professor Dalton: I mean industry
and government together. This is a partnership.
Q322 Chairman: Do you feel that that
is not effective at the moment?
Professor Dalton: We are not co-ordinating
enough, and that is the real issue for us. We are trying to get
much better co-ordination so that we all know what the problems
are and how they can be properly addressed.
Q323 Chairman: Who should lead that
Professor Dalton: For example,
we are taking a lead in government over GMES and GEOSS.
Q324 Chairman: You indicate from
your evidence that you do not quite know why you are doing it
because you are a user.
Professor Dalton: We are doing
it because we are a user and we need this activity to take place.
Who should do it? That is a good question. I will leave that up
to other government departments to sit down and think about it.
Chairman: We might come back to that
Q325 Dr Harris: Professor Dalton
again, with regard to GMES, is it true to say that the UK contribution
has been heavily criticised by industry because the geographic
return or the juste retour of ESA means that UK companies
are unable to secure major contracts in this programme? Is that
a true statement? We will come to whether it is fair or not. Is
it fair criticism?
Professor Dalton: It is a fair
criticism. One of the things that industry was concerned about
largely was that if we are going to stimulate, for example, the
satellite industry, they do need to enjoy the juste retour.
If you look at what France puts into this particular area and
Germany and Italy, they are putting in considerably more to the
GMES activities than we do. Therefore, they get a better return
for their industry in terms of the technology associated with
Q326 Dr Harris: You are the lead
of four government funders of this. Are you accepting that that
is a criticism of your funding allocation in this area within
the competing priorities?
Professor Dalton: As I have just
explained, a really important part for us is using the information
and getting that information. Our business is not essentially
trying to stimulate the industry to be able to produce their machines
in the first place. What we try to do is use those data and use
that information. It was quite difficult for us to be able to
come up with the sort of money that we did in order to be able
to make our contributions to GMES.
Q327 Dr Harris: So you are saying
that the £2.5 million that you are putting into the £7.23
million fund is the limit. The criticism which you say is true
and fair is effectively a criticism for the MoD and DTI and NERC
who should be doing more. You cannot do any more because of your
Professor Dalton: In our view,
we have done as much as we possibly can under the circumstances.
Q328 Dr Harris: Which of those three
should be doing more, in your view, or should there be new players
putting in money?
Professor Dalton: This is the
sort of issue that I mentioned before which really needs a more
cross-government and cross-industry approach to it. There are
a number of government departments that could benefit from this.
We are one of them that will benefit from it ultimately. Because
we took the lead in terms of being able to co-ordinate GMES, we
were the ones who tended to put in a bit more money as it was.
It is a cross-government responsibility; it is not our responsibility.
We are just stimulating it and catalysing it.
Q329 Dr Harris: Is it your responsibility;
do you think that you are the ones who should be putting in more
to bridge the 75% gap compared with countries like Italy and Germany
whose companies are getting these big contracts under the principle
of juste retour?
Professor Thorpe: There are two
points to make. First, GMES is definitely delivering policy outcomes,
so it is on the side of leading to operational satellites rather
than supporting new research instrumentation, which is where we
tend to focus our investment. The second point is that therefore
we would not think that it would be our role to lead on GMES,
for example. But it is clear that our role is to look after the
basic science that needs to be carried out. Our investment and
our strategy is focused on that issue. It is not focused purely
on industry. It is focused on making sure that we stimulate the
basic science and understanding that we need of the climate system.
Our investment is in that line. We have tried to help in this
case GMES with a contribution, which was significant but, compared
to other countries overall, the contribution was small. I do not
think NERC would have or should have taken a larger role in that.
Q330 Dr Harris: That just leaves
government departments really. Is that the DTI and the MoD? There
are not here.
Professor Thorpe: Clearly DTI
have a role in technology development and industrial stimulation.
It would be natural to ask the question whether the issue should
Q331 Dr Harris: I am asking for your
view of the answer. Is that a polite way of saying that that is
where the answer lies?
Professor Thorpe: It would seem
natural to me that that is the place where the leadership might
Q332 Dr Harris: How do we progress
this? I do not know when the next funding round takes place and
how we are going to improve our position from the 5% of our current
contribution. Are people talking to each other? Is there a new
Professor Dalton: There is a so-called
GMES Whitehall Group, which does involve a number of different
government departments. We are talking about what we should be
doing in the future. All we can do at the moment with the very
tight budgets that we are all working towards is to find a much
better way of being able to stimulate these sorts of activities.
Q333 Chairman: In terms of this cross-cutting
role, and you have all basically said that needs to be brought
together and that link with industry, surely that is BNSC's role,
is it not? Why are they not being proactive here?
Professor Thorpe: I would say
BNSC are proactive in bringing groups together and that it would
be wrong to say that there is not interaction between industry
and the research base, for example, and government departments.
BNSC plays a key role there. We have active discussions with UK
Space, which is an industry group, and with the British Association
for Remote Sensing Companies. There is dialogue there. The issue,
though, that we are talking about is the one of the level of subscription
to ESA, which is a national question and involves the ministerial
team for negotiation periodically. You asked when the next occasion
is. They happen every several years. The GMES programme is in
a set of phases. The first phase that we are in now is the early
phase, but there will be subsequent points when the UK can reassess
Q334 Dr Harris: Professor Dalton
first: do you think it is a fair criticism of GMES that there
is a lack of focus on climate monitoring within the initiativepresumably
that it is too security focused at the moment? Is that a fair
Professor Dalton: Climate monitoring
is still an important part of it. Monitoring the environment in
all its guises is a critically important part of what GMES is
trying to do. Whether you put greater emphasis in one area or
another is not for me to comment. As far as we are concerned,
we are quite comfortable with the sort of information we are getting
back from it because we use that information in order to try and
develop our policy activities. The split and the break-up of it
is not critically important to us at this stage.
Q335 Dr Harris: Your view is that
you do not believe that there is a relative lack of focus on climate
monitoring within the initiative at the moment from your perspective?
Professor Dalton: Yes.
Q336 Dr Harris: Mr Douglas, that
was from your evidence. Can you take the opportunity to try to
explain to us, and indeed Professor Dalton, why you had that concern?
Mr Douglas: Our concern is that
we want to make sure that all of the evidence or all of the observations
are being evolved and developed. I do not think we said from the
Met Office side that it was all concentrated on security. What
we were saying is that we need to move to sustained observations,
as I have said earlier, and we do not believe that the success
of GMES is on the individual missions. So it is trying to understand
and maximise the way in which we can get continuity of observations.
Whether it is from a GMES mission or it is part of any other mission
really does not matter. It is about getting the required observations
and securing those in a sustained way. We want to maximise the
use of existing facilities and therefore we need equally to explore
ways in which other existing groups, such as the operational capabilities
of groups like EUMETSAT, are best placed to support value-for-money
returns across the whole of Europe from these initiatives through
Q337 Dr Harris: My final question
is to ask whether any of your are concerned because of the obsession
that we politicians have with security that too much of this GMES
approach might be used for security work, or alternatively that
funders might switch their money to more security-focused schemes
away from a scheme like GMES, which is not solely about security?
Is that a real concern you might have and is it increased with
the increased obsession it has been said that governments have
Professor Thorpe: I would say
that there is a lot of environment in GMES and other programmes.
You say there is an obsession with security, but I would say that
environmental issues are also high on the political agenda as
well. Personally, I do not see a particular issue at the moment.
Q338 Dr Turner: Howard, you have
commented on the international collaboration that goes on in earth
observation but collaboration begins at home. It has been suggested
to us, and I quote the National Physical Laboratory: Whilst there
is some co-ordination between government agencies and departments,
this is very weak and leads to inefficiency and fragmentation.
It leads to duplication of efforts in studies and expertise. More
seriously, it prevents the development of critical mass to allow
co-ordinated funding for larger scale projects which would allow
the UK to take on greater international leadership roles. Do you
recognise that criticism? Do you have any comments on it? If it
is valid, how do you think it might be improved?
Professor Dalton: I think it is
fair to say historically that we have not necessarily co-ordinated
together as well as we ought. There is a lot that can still be
done. The whole purpose behind BNSC was to try and bring as many
different government departments and the industry together so
that we can get a clear view of where we are trying to go. I am
not so sure that it has achieved all of those objectives. I think
what we need to do now, and exactly what we are doing now, is
to sit down, re-think, restructure and reorganise in such a way
that we can meet these criticisms. I think it is important to
recognise that there is a willingness on the part of many government
departments to sit down and work better together. We do need much
better co-ordination. I accept that. I think that is a fair thing
to say. We have to sit down now and try to work out how best to
do it. We are certainly doing it ourselves in-house within Defra.
We are looking very closely at what our needs are going to be.
Other government departments should be doing that. We all ought
then to sit round the table and figure out precisely what we all
want to get out of this so that there is much better co-ordination
and we can take this forward in the future.
Q339 Dr Turner: Do you think that
that effort would be enhanced if the status of the BNSC were increased
to that of an agency, as NASA, et cetera? Would that help?
Professor Dalton: There is no
doubt that if it was enhanced to the stature of NASA it certainly
would. I do not doubt that. I just do not know whether or not
Government is in a position to be able to do that at this stage.