Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
WEDNESDAY 20 FEBRUARY 2008
MP AND PROFESSOR
Q160 Graham Stringer:
The Committee visited Daresbury on Monday and one of the big surprises
that I was not aware of before we went was that the scientists
at Daresbury told usI am going from memory, so I may not
be exactthat only 3% of the total basic science that was
not done on universities was done in centres outside the golden
triangle and most of that was at Daresbury. Do the Government
have a regional policy when it comes to science expenditure? Are
the Government at all interested in the spatial impact of science?
Ian Pearson: The Government very
clearly is committed to Daresbury and Harwell as science and innovation
campuses; we have said that and we continue to say that. We want
to develop Daresbury as a world-class centre for science and innovation.
When it comes to decisions about allocations of research funding,
those are done on the basis of peer review through the research
councils. So, there is not a particular regional focus to that,
but I would say that the north-west universities do very well
indeed out of that peer review process and I think that one of
the biggest concentrations of research anywhere in the UK will
be found in the north west.
Q161 Graham Stringer:
I am not clear from that answer what you are saying about a regional
policy. Are you saying that you do not have a regional policy?
I understand your response that you do not want to say, "That
is the driver for that accelerator's fund as opposed to that accelerator",
I understand that, but surely it is reasonable to say that money
should be spent on basic science in Newcastle or outside Newcastle
or somewhere else. What is the Government's regional policy when
it comes to science expenditure?
Ian Pearson: Let me be very clear.
We do not say to individual research councils, "You must
spend so much of a percentage of your budget in the north-west,
so much in the north east, so much in the West Midlands or East
Midlands", and I think it would be entirely wrong to do so.
Do you think that it is wrong to have a regional policy for science
expenditure? It does not matter to you whether the money on science
is spent in Manchester or Camden?
Ian Pearson: Clearly, we want
to see a situation where we have world-class science being conducted
in very different parts of the country and we want to see centres
of expertise in all parts of the country as well, but what I do
not think you can do, Graham, is get to a situation where you
are actually dictating to research councils that a certain percentage
of their budget has to be spent in a certain region. What we do
have to do is to allow the research councils to make the best
decisions based on peer review evidence.
Q163 Graham Stringer:
I come back to the same point that you are saying that you would
like science to be dispersed throughout the UK but you have no
levers whatsoever nor do you want any levers which would enable
you to focus money elsewhere within the United Kingdom.
Ian Pearson: If you look at how
the science budget is allocated, you will find that the Government
overall sets some strategic priorities. For instance, we actually
say full economic costing was a strategic priority for us going
into discussions on resource allocations. We say that we are committed
to developing Harwell and Daresbury as science and innovation
campuses. We are saying that we want to see cross-council programmes
which address some of the Government's biggest strategic priorities
such as ageing, such as living with environmental health, global
threats to security and energy. We say all that as a government.
We do not specifically say then, "You have to spend a certain
proportion of your budget in a particular area" and I do
not think that it would be right to do so.
Minister, in some ways, the point that Graham Stringer is making
here is that you have gone on record, as has the Secretary of
State, saying that you want to have world-classworld-classscience
and innovation campuses at Harwell and Daresbury.
Ian Pearson: Yes.
That is regional policy by default, is it not? It just so happens
that Daresbury is in the north-west, but that is regional policy
by default. How on earth can you move from that to saying, "We
have no interest in having world-class facilities on the Daresbury
site" and that you are prepared to allow it to just disappear?
Ian Pearson: I am not saying that
at all and in fact, as a government, we have said very strongly
that we want Daresbury to be developed as a world-class science
and innovation campus.
Without world-class science.
Ian Pearson: With world-class
What does that mean? What does world-class science mean at Daresbury?
Ian Pearson: Firstly, if you look
at the STFC's delivery plan and if you look at their published
statements about Daresbury as a science and innovation campus,
they talk about developing the Cockcroft Institute which will
have world-class accelerator science; they talk about the Hartree
Centre which we anticipate will have world-class computational
science and they talk about setting up a centre for detector systems
as well. As you will be aware, Daresbury has been working on SRS
and the next generation light source.
They are all going, Minister. They are all going. You are not
making a guarantee for any of those. All that science is disappearing.
It is just hot air.
Ian Pearson: It is not true to
say that all that science is disappearing. The fact that SRS was
going to close has been known for a considerable period of time.
Ian Pearson: And there are redundancies
associated with that which have already been announced. As you
will see from the STFC's press release on this matter, apart from
the SRS closures, there are not intended to be any compulsory
redundancies certainly before the McKillop Review reports and
one of the things that the Government have done, as I am sure
you will appreciate, is that we have asked Sir Tom McKillop to
conduct a review about the future of Daresbury. I actually believe
that Daresbury has a very bright future indeed and I expect that,
over the next few months, we will be able to see some positive
announcements about Daresbury, but it is undoubtedly a fact that,
as a result of the decisions on Diamond which were taken a number
of years ago and the decision that was taken last year on 4GLS,
there are problems in the interim and I cannot deny that.
Dr Iddon: I am sure you are aware that
the formation of Cockcroft Institute on the Daresbury site was
a combination pulling together Liverpool University, Manchester
and Lancaster Universities. They were attracted to come on to
that site because of the world-class accelerator and work that
was going on there, some of which has moved now and some of which
is uncertain. The Director told us on Monday when we visited the
site that he was attracted to come to Daresbury all the way from
the United States of America and indeed three other people came
on the reverse brain drain because of the creation of Cockcroft
on that site and because of the facilities there: the computational
facilities, the fact that there were engineers there who could
build advance instruments that the world has not seen before,
because there was a world-class library on the site which we hear
is going to close or it has potential to close. He told us frankly
on Monday that he is clearing off and other people who were attracted
on the reverse brain drain will also clear off unless some definite
decisions are taken about the future of Daresbury. The general
feeling on the Daresbury site on Monday was that a decision has
been taken behind the scenes by the TFC to concentrate basic science
at the Harwell site and to develop Daresbury as a technology park
and we heard also that three major new companies were coming on
to the site to join the others. I put it to you: do you believe
that world-class companies will be attracted to the Daresbury
site if the basic science there is being run down as it clearly
is at the moment?
That is the key point, Minister.
Ian Pearson: Clearly, there are
decisions that follow from the closure of SRS which has been known,
as I say, for some considerable period of time and following the
review on the next generation light source where it was decided
that neither 4GLS nor Sapphire were likely to be appropriate.
Let me very clear on this. Let me quote from the press release
that the STFC issued. It says, "At its meeting on 29 January
2008, the Science and Technologies Facilities Council confirmed
its commitment to the development of the Daresbury science and
innovation campus as one of two national science and innovation
campuses that it will develop". It goes on to say, "The
Council is committed to retaining key scientific and technology
expertise at Daresbury in high performance computing, accelerator
and detector research development for next generation facilities
and underpinning technologies and is looking to expand expertise
on this site as its plans develop". There is undoubtedly
a period of change going through which is very difficult for those
who are working at Daresbury, but the STFC have stated on the
record and through their Council that they are committed to developing
Daresbury and that is exactly what we want to see as a government.
Q171 Dr Harris:
You do not believe everything that is in a press release even
your own, do you? It is not a statement of fact, it is an aspiration
and, if that aspiration comes to fruition
Ian Pearson: This is a decision
that has been taken by the STFC Council and it is confirming its
commitment to this which is exactly what the Government have said
they want to see because, as a government matter of policy, we
want to see the development of Daresbury and Harwell as campuses.
Q172 Dr Harris:
Let me tell you what the Cockcroft Centre actually said to us.
"Are the plans to make Daresbury a Science and Innovation
campus viable?" and that is a term you used. "We fear
the answer is `No'. Lack of support of the STFC leadership for
scientific flagship facilities on the Daresbury campus by design
renders as such a plan incredulous. The Cockcroft Centre by itself,
without a thriving Daresbury Laboratory will have no reason to
be on the site and will retreat to the universities failing the
lofty DIUS goals". Does that not give you pause to think
that maybe the STFC are not going to be able to deliver for you
your policy objectives?
Ian Pearson: What it says to me
is that there is low morale at Daresbury at the moment and I understand
that and it is a difficult time and, when you are seeing a situation
where work is finishing on SRS, then undoubtedly there is going
to be a period of uncertainty. I want to assure people at Daresbury
that the Government remain resolutely committed to developing
Daresbury as a world-class science and innovation campus.
Q173 Dr Harris:
That is not enough in itself and it is not just SRS. 4GLS has
been delayed for two years and no-one we met at Daresbury was
confident that that would eventually come to Daresbury. ERLP,
the Alice Programme, is under threatand Dr Iddon may have
something to say about thisand that undermines the potential
for another project for (?). They do not think and I am concerned
that you are not aware that it is not just morale but its intentions
to not stay at that site for the basic science.
Ian Pearson: Again, let me be
as clear as I can be on this. It is government policy that we
will develop Harwell and Daresbury as world-class science and
innovation campuses and we will do that. The STFC understands
that that is a firm commitment of the Government and the STFC's
published statements and its delivery plan say that they will
develop Daresbury as a world-class science and innovation campus.
Q174 Dr Harris:
If STFC thought it was not viable, would you let them not do that
or are they forced to try and try to implement your policy objective?
Ian Pearson: This is the policy
of the Government and it will remain the policy of the Government.
Obviously in areas like next generation light source, we have
to be guided by what the science says and when the science looked
at 4GLS and looked at Sapphire, the conclusions of an international
peer review suggested that neither was likely to be appropriate
and we have to accept that, but the strategic commitment to Daresbury
by the Government remains.
Minister, there is a fundamental flaw in what you are saying and
what STFC are saying. I do not think that any member of this Committee
doubts your commitment and I say that really quite openly and
Ian Pearson: What you are suggesting
is, can we deliver on it?
Ian Pearson: I am saying to you
that I believe that we can deliver on this, that we will see the
developments of the three centres that I talked aboutthe
Cockcroft Institute, the Hartree Centre and the Detector Systems
Centreand we will maintain strategic capability to do work
on the next generation light source.
Minister, genuinely we are not doubting your commitment and intention,
but the Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Daresbury, the Deputy
Chief for STFC, believes that you can have a striving Cockcroft
without having the new basic large facilities on that site. Everybody
else feels that that is incredulous. I do not think that you have
fully understood the connectionI am perhaps doing you a
disservicebetween having 4GLS or having some major facility
and in fact retaining this as a world-class science site and not
just simply any other science business park.
Ian Pearson: I think that you
are doing me a disservice, to be fair.
Well, I do not mean to.
Ian Pearson: It would be great
if a decision could be taken on what is the next generation light
source and then a decision was taken on location. We are not at
that stage though because, as you know very well, it has not been
fully determined what the next generation light source should
look like, let alone a decision on what its location should be.
I personally very strongly believe that, if we get to the stage
where we can make a decision that it is right to have a next generation
light source project and we know what that project is, then its
location should be at Daresbury, but we are not in that situation
at the moment.
Q179 Dr Iddon:
I think that the problem is the Haldane principle. As the Chairman
said, we do not deny that the Government's intention is to have
world-class science on the Daresbury site, but can you break the
Haldane principle? Can you tell the STFC what they should be doing
on the site when indeed they do not have the money to reach some
of the commitments? I think that the two words which are important
are "critical mass". We had critical mass on the Daresbury
site but from what we were hearing on Monday from all the scientists
from all the divisions at Daresburywe saw an awful lot
of people on Mondaythe message was coming over clear: the
future here is so unsure that we are clearing off now. The critical
mass is crumbling. Cockcroft is crumbling. It does not look as
if Hartree will even arrive on the site because, the way we are
going, they will be lucky to complete. Can you break the Haldane
principle of what the STFC do on the site? I can tell you that
there are clear rumours behind the scenes that the STFC have been
considering closing down basic science on that site.
Ian Pearson: I hope that the Committee
is very careful in terms of its conclusions in this matter because
the last thing that I think we ought to be doing is talking down
the prospects of Daresbury as a science and innovation campus.
We will not do that as a government. We are fully committed to
developing Daresbury as a science and innovation campus and the
STFC know that. They know that it is a strategic priority for
us as a government and that is why it is reflected in their delivery
plan. We would not have approved the delivery plan for the STFC
if we thought that it did not have in it the development of Harwell
and Daresbury as science and innovation campuses. I know that
there is a great desire to have what you might colloquially call
a big piece of kit and that, as 4GLS has not been proceeded with,
that piece of equipment is not there. There is certainly the commitment
from the Government however to develop Daresbury and to ensure
that world-class science is conducted there. We need to look at
this and it is one of the reasons why Sir Tom McKillop is producing
his report which will set out a vision for Daresbury. There is
a vision of Daresbury being developed with those three centres
that will conduct world-class science and, I believe, will make
it an extremely attractive location for scientists who want to
do world-class research and produce the additional benefits of
having companies that want to be associated with that. I think
that Daresbury has a very bright future, but it is obviously going
through a difficult time at the moment and I think that the last
thing we ought to be doing is saying that we are gloomy about
the prospects for Daresbury because I just think that is reading
the long-term situation completely wrong.