CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 1194-i

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

INNOVATION, UNIVERSITIES SCIENCE & SKILLS COMMITTEE

 

ENGINEERING IN GOVERNMENT

 

 

Wednesday 19 November 2008

PROFESSOR DAVID FISK, PROFESSOR MICHAEL KELLY and PROFESSOR WENDY HALL

LORD BROERS and PROFESSOR CHRISTOPHER SNOWDEN

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 81

 

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.

This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

 

2.

The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.

 

 


Oral Evidence

Taken before the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee

on Wednesday 19 November 2008

Members present

Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair

Mr Tim Boswell

Mr Ian Cawsey

Dr Brian Iddon

Ian Stewart

________________

 

Examination of Witnesses

 

Witnesses: Professor David Fisk, Imperial College London; Professor Michael Kelly, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Communities and Local Government; and Professor Wendy Hall, Member, Council for Science and Technology, gave evidence

Q1 Chairman: I welcome our first panel of witnesses this morning to our inquiry on engineering in government, part of a major piece of work which the Committee is doing looking at engineering. We welcome in particular Professor David Fisk, a former departmental Chief Scientist, Professor Michael Kelly, the Chief Scientific Adviser in the Department for Communities and Local Government and Professor Wendy Hall, a member of the Council for Science and Technology and a professor of computer science at the University of Southampton. Could I start with you, Professor Kelly? We have Chief Scientific Advisers, of which you are one, within government departments, and certainly David King was very keen on promoting that and John Beddington is equally very keen on that, but we do not have Engineering Advisers. When we talk about STEM subjects, science is very much to the fore of it and engineering is slipped over very quickly. Why is that?

Professor Kelly: I think that is probably historical. I want to correct you, though; there are a number of Chief Scientific Advisers now who are engineers.

Q2 Chairman: Now, but they are called Scientific Advisers and not Chief Engineering Advisers.

Professor Kelly: That is correct, but I happen to have had a first degree in maths and physics and became an engineer while working in industry, so I feel quite passionate about engineering with all the passion of a convert. I think you are quite right. As I said last time I was here, my distinction between science and engineering is that scientists know and engineers do. There is a certain element about scaling up and, as my colleague David Fisk mentioned, making professional judgments about the feasibility of aspects of projects which I think are integral to an engineering training and which may not necessarily come through the regular scientific route.

Q3 Chairman: Given the massive infrastructure projects which are being procured by government, surely having professional engineers very much at the heart of those projects would be something which we ought to be promoting?

Professor Kelly: I totally agree with you, sir.

Professor Fisk: Chairman, I think in a way it is a failure of the internal audit processes on those projects. In very many cases the real catastrophe is a back room failure; it is people not recognising the symptoms, not doing the right processes, not having enough background. If you look very often at the audit, the audit is largely about whether contracts are delivered on time and indicators which are not full measures of the project process. I fully support the idea. It just seems to me that somewhere you need the pressure in the system to ask: how does a department assess different proposals for a project? In the Ministry of Defence there has always been an internal challenge function that has been there for years trying to check and steel up the way the process works. My main point is that one needs to find the pressure to make sure that it happens.

Q4 Chairman: Are we barking up the wrong tree as a committee by thinking that there should be a separate engineering discipline as opposed to a scientific discipline, or in fact, as some claim, are they are just two sides of the same coin?

Professor Hall: I do not think you are barking up the wrong tree. I would like to say it a bit more strongly than my colleagues here: I believe that the Government does not engage engineers and engineering practices enough in its processes. David King and John Beddington both use science to mean science and engineering but to me - and you will understand this - it is very like when people say, "Well, 'he' means he and she" but when people say "he" they mean he, particularly "he's" when they say "he". When scientists say "science" they mean science. I believe quite strongly that engineering needs to be pulled out. In "The Council for Science and Technology", "Technology" adds a bit of development and implementation and practical things but I would much rather it had "Engineering" in the title as well. There are a number of engineers on CST and we have a very good say in what CST does, and we produce some good engineering-based reports. I do not think Government engages engineers early enough in the procurement processes. I think they should be there from day one on these large-scale projects and identified as such.

Q5 Chairman: So you distinguish between scientific advice and engineering advice?

Professor Hall: Yes, I do.

Q6 Chairman: Professor Fisk, would you distinguish between those two, engineering advice and scientific advice?

Professor Fisk: Chairman, I think I have a very good precedent. When Michael Faraday explored the problem of exploding dust in coal mines, he cracked the science and then, in his final report on these tragic events, gave his view of how much fresh air needed to be supplied in order to stop this happening, and then very bluntly says he does not have an idea how on earth how he would get that amount of fresh air down into the mine. "This has to be left", he said, "to men who are practical". In the Victorian times there was a very clear division in people's minds between the practice and knowledge of things and actually getting them set up.

Q7 Chairman: You would have a clear distinction between scientific advice and engineering advice. Would you, Professor Kelly?

Professor Kelly: Certainly in some subjects and last time I was here you asked me whether I could give you confidence about the engineering integrity of the Olympic legacy. I took that as a mission sense. Of course what has happened is that the people inside the Department who look after the London Olympics, but the first thing they have done is retain a group, a company, as independent consultants for them. I always feel that that is second best to having somebody inside the tent who will argue the case with the passion of being the ultimate owner or having ultimate responsibility for a big project.

Q8 Chairman: On the clear question as to whether this Committee should recommend that there is a Chief Engineering Adviser in each department alongside a Chief Scientific Adviser, what would your answer be?

Professor Kelly: My answer would be: yes, for the vast majority of departments.

Q9 Chairman: Would that be same for you Professor Fisk?

Professor Fisk: I do not find it a very thrilling question, to be honest.

Q10 Chairman: I am very sorry about that. I will try my best later on.

Professor Fisk: That is because most of the errors in engineering are not occurring at the level at which the Chief Engineer would see things. In fact, Chief Scientists tend to see things quite late, unless it is a very big, very high profile Secretary of State issue. The problem in many departments is what is going on in the engine rooms when quite small but very important parts of White Papers are being discussed in committees and so on. It is probably more important that the Chief Scientist is assured that there are people who know their engineering in the department than having to read every one of the engineering papers. Probably in some departments they would just be overwhelmed.

Q11 Chairman: To that specific question, yes or no, Professor Hall? Should we have a Chief Engineer alongside a Chief Scientific Adviser in most departments?

Professor Hall: Yes.

Q12 Chairman: Could I move on from that and ask, and you seemed to hint at this earlier and certainly Professor Fisk also hinted at it: are engineers, be it in terms of a consultative group, consulted at the policy formulation stage in government, do you think, or is it when we are executing the policy?

Professor Hall: I think it is too late in the process and this is the problem. I disagree slightly with Professor Fisk.

Q13 Chairman: Disagree seriously as he insulted me earlier!

Professor Hall: I believe that just as Chief Scientific Advisers set best practice for science policy in a department, you need the engineering expertise to set best practice for engineering policy. Obviously, if we had a Chief Engineering Adviser, he or she is not going to look at every report. You have to lead from the top on the best practice for doing that. There are not enough engineers in the Civil Service anyway; the Civil Service should be recruiting more engineers at every level. We should not just be talking about at the top level; we should be recruiting at every level.

Chairman: I think the whole panel agrees with that.

Q14 Dr Iddon: My first question was going to be: what role do Chief Scientific Advisers play in enabling Government to make full use of engineering expertise? Professor Fisk has already indicated that certainly at the lower tiers of the Civil Service engineering expertise is not trickling down, even if the CSA is an engineer. How can we alter that? What mechanisms do we need to put in place? Perhaps we should start with Michael Kelly.

Professor Kelly: One of the submissions that came in reported to the level of just what I call GCSE level science that general civil servants have. Most people would be ashamed if they could not read a series of basic economic tables or understand certain aspects of statistics but none of them would be ashamed if they admitted they did not know the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Look at the National School of Government and see to what extent civil servants are exposed to some of what is basically GCSE science. The other day when I had somebody from another department in wanting to reduce the energy consumption in a house by 5, I said, "Let us take your shower. Do you want to have a shower for one-fifth of the time or do you want to raise the water temperature by one-fifth, so that you have the same time but a colder than blood temperature shower? Those are the only alternative you have". That is zero order physics upon which a lot of dreams came cascading down. I think there is a huge problem there. Even in our own department when it was a matter of setting up a climate change group, we had to have two economists and a statistician; that was the starting point of a problem which is essentially about climate change in buildings. If they had said, "Let us get a buildings engineer and a couple of people to support that", I would have said that was the appropriate way to start.

Q15 Dr Iddon: Let me get this quite clear. The Chief Scientific Adviser should ensure that when serious policies are being considered right down to the lower tiers of the Civil Service, if the expertise is not there, it should be brought in? That is what you are saying?

Professor Kelly: Yes.

Q16 Dr Iddon: Does anyone have a different view or do we all agree on that? Moving to the next question: can any of you give any examples of where the advice of engineers in departments or that brought in externally has been used successfully in policy making and, on the reverse side of that coin, can you give any examples of failures in policy making due to a lack of engineering expertise?

Professor Kelly: Can I answer the first part of that? If you take the work that the Climate Change Committee is doing, I certainly saw some figures a year ago which I thought were out by a factor of 5 on the impact of certain aspects of measures on buildings. I queried these. They had come from another department. As a result, that work has been done again and the results are much closer to that which I had expected. The net result of that is that the group concerned with the papers and the announcements that are coming out soon have asked me, and I arranged for both the Royal Academy of Engineering and a group of consulting building engineers at the Bartlett School, to review the material. They both came back with critiques, but these were not critiques saying "this is out of the order" but "you might want to tweak this or tweak that", or that they thought there was a slightly different way. Basically what came back was to say that these people are now on the right track. I can do that with my networks, and have done it on a number of other occasions. Another issue is coming out on multi-foil insulation where through my networks I could get two experts who have not become involved in the legalities of a particular claim that is being made about their effectiveness. I was able to do that and I find that is one of the important roles that I have that I can pick up the phone.

Q17 Dr Iddon: If I can just pick up the first one, I think you are referring to your experience with carbon efficiency in buildings and there was this team meeting to bring in new regulations presumably. Had you been told that that team was meeting or did you stumble over that committee?

Professor Kelly: There are a lot of meetings. I only work three days a week, so that lots of things happen without me. I have commitments in my other job which do not mean I can chop and change freely. If there are 20 students to lecture to, I have to be there. I am able to attend some meetings, but not to be a systematic party to it. At the time when I saw the material to which I described above it was a slide that was being used and imported into a paper one of my colleagues was using. I said, "Hey, I think this needs another hard look at before it goes any further".

Q18 Dr Iddon: I think what you are really saying, Professor Kelly, is that you should not always be responsible for trying to find out what is going on in the department but the committees that are meeting on various aspects of policy, if they require engineering or scientific advice, they should be coming to the Chief Scientific Adviser and saying, "Have we got this right?" and they are not by the sound of it.

Professor Kelly: You are correct. It is important to realise that some of these people do not appreciate the finessing of some of the issues in front of them. I have a different version of this. If you look at all the 30 odd policy measures out there for reduction of carbon emissions in buildings, I have been asking for two years what exactly is the expectation in terms of actual carbon savings by 2015. That is a hard engineering question so that we will know in 2012 if we are on the trajectory. I am afraid I cannot get that answer. It is not just the responsibility of my department; it is for several departments to get that information.

Q19 Dr Iddon: Can we assume, Professor Kelly, that the carbon efficiency problem is now fixed?

Professor Kelly: I do not have it by the throat, but wherever I have been able to intervene I am content with the quality of the work that is coming out. It is fit for purpose.

Q20 Dr Iddon: I wonder whether our other two witnesses could give any examples of successes or failures where engineering policy is of concern.

Professor Hall: I can. On energy, for example, the CST reviewed the Government's nano‑technology policy recently, in the last year. That was taken very seriously and has really raised that up the agenda, we believe. I also remember a meeting we had with Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister about energy supply in the UK. There was a startling moment when our experts in this area showed him the graphs of what would happen if we did not renew the nuclear options. That was taken very seriously but then you see policy being made, if I may use the expression, on the hoof later about alternative energies where really we are raising issues about: is the National Grid up to what is being talked about here? These are big engineering problems. These calculations have not been done. This advice is being ignored - not ignored but it is not being taken up at the moment. I would also say that in my area of computing, software engineering is what runs this country; the infrastructure of this country is built by software engineers almost. There have been many reports about how the procurement of large-scale software systems should be done differently that have been ignored.

Professor Fisk: In my evidence I focused on Treasury. Treasury does not have a Chief Scientist; it does not have a science stream inside it. As a taxpayer sometimes I am grateful that it does intervene in the shaping of policies protecting my interests but there are a number of areas in which the engineering as we have been describing it here would have been a major input into a policy that does not seem to been informed in that way. I had an opportunity to interview the team that designed rail privatisation. It turned out it had never occurred to them that the track and the wheels that rest on it are a coupled spring system. They were not all mechanical engineers. They had in their mind the sort of model you would get owning a train set when you are a boy. So they thought them quite independent and very easy to divide the market in that way. They may still have been right to stratify the market for rail privatisation as they did but what they did not realise was that there would be an engineering cost for making the break where they did. A second example would be when there was a dispute between the Mayor of London and I guess the Treasury essentially about how the ownership of track repairs should occur in the London Underground. Again, there may be good economic reasons for doing it one way or another but it was pretty clear it became presented as a political argument between the players when actually there is a real engineering issue about managing the way men can work in tunnels. It is a very difficult issue in terms of managing cost overruns. So there is a thread in which sometimes the Government Economics Service takes upon itself the engineering realities, having assumed it understood the engineering. There is another last case I might give you, and again all these cases were well-meaning Treasury interventions; they were not trying to do anything wrong. There was the classic case in the 1980s of one of the very earliest green taxes that Treasury tried to introduce, which was intended to be more friendly to cars with low NOx emissions than high ones; it was roughly proportionate to the size of the engine. The tragedy there is that small engines, because they are under so much more strain, actually produce more NOx than very large ones for each kilometre they travel. The Treasury had no internal way of checking that what they thought in man in-the-street way it would work would actually work. This has a large effect on the design of many of the institutions we look at. When the Treasury is protecting our interests it does not always do it with a great deal of engineering knowledge.

Q21 Dr Iddon: Professor Fisk, you are clearly in agreement with this Committee that there should be a CSA in the Treasury. Do our other two witnesses agree with that?

Professor Hall: Absolutely.

Q22 Dr Iddon: Turning to you, Professor Hall, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the engineering institutions, of which there are a great number of course, too many perhaps, have said that more use could be made of the Council for Science and Technology. Do you agree with that? Perhaps you could expand on how that could be done?

Professor Hall: Yes, I would agree. I am a member of that. We are not asked to do enough. We produce reports, which I believe are extremely useful and generally well received. We have a lot of deliberations about what we should do our work on. We want to do things that cut across departments and that cannot be done by one department or another, or one sector or another, but we do not feel we are asked for advice enough about where the Government should be. We are called the Prime Minister's Council of Science and Technology. We used to meet Tony Blair. We are meeting with the current Prime Minister soon, but it will be the first time in this government. We meet with advisers and Chief Scientific Advisers and we have lots of very influential people come to the committee but we do not feel we are giving the advice at the level at which we were commissioned to give it. Other international comparisons show that their top level science committees do talk at the top level to give advice.

Q23 Ian Stewart: Professor Hall, You cite there the different situation now in relation to relations with the Prime Minister. What actions have the institutions taken to put that right?

Professor Hall: We have had meetings with his advisers and talked about the work we do. The secretariats have worked a lot behind the scenes.

Q24 Ian Stewart: In your view, is that a weakness on the part of Number 10 not understanding or is it a weakness on the part of the academies and institutions or is it both?

Professor Hall: I was talking about CST. You must not link that with the academies. One could say the same sort of thing. With CST I think that a meeting should have been set up earlier than it was, or at least what we were doing should have been taken into account when the science and engineering policy was being developed.

Q25 Ian Stewart: Is that a symptom of a lack of confidence in the engineering role?

Professor Hall: You are confusing two things. We are the Council of Science and Technology. You could argue it is a lack of confidence in what the CST does. The evidence is that the reports we have produced and the feedback we have had and the reviews for that have been very positive.

Q26 Dr Iddon: Can we be clear about who organises the CST meetings? Is that arrangement made by the Cabinet Office?

Professor Hall: No, we come under DIUSS now. I think it was all part of the reorganisation of the departments that this happened. We are in GO Science, the Government Office for Science. We have two Chairs because we are half in and half outside government, which is an advantage and a disadvantage. The Chief Scientific Adviser is one of our co-Chairs and the other is a member of CST; it is currently Professor Janet Finch.

Q27 Mr Cawsey: I want to ask a few questions about how the Civil Service should be making greater use of engineers and scientists. Professor John Beddington at a previous session of the Committee said that no-one knows how many engineers there are in the Civil Service and, moreover, when pushed further, he did not even know when that information might be available in the future. Should we know? Is it important? What would we gain from having that information?

Professor Fisk: For my evidence, I had to resort to the Freedom of Information Act to extract from a number of departments how many engineers they had. I tried a very simple test. I just asked how many Chartered Engineers they had because the attraction of Chartered Engineers is that at least they have a continuing professional development programme, so we are not relying on a first degree they took three generations of technology ago. The actual record I record is pretty grim. I think the human resources in the Civil Service at the moment have rather lost the plot on professionalism in general. Unless there is a severe external attack like needing legal advice and so on, it finds it very hard to keep count of professionalism. One or two of the human resources departments I received information from clearly did not really understand what a Chartered Engineer was. One rather extreme case, Ofcom, that works in a very technical area, did not know how many Chartered Engineers they had but they did notice that they paid the fees for three. It seemed to me when I looked at the board of a number of them - the Environment Agency was one I looked at yesterday - very often the scorecards given to the board do not measure the internal competence of the organisation. They will measure how well the outside world is performing as it is being regulated but there is not a track. As you will see from my evidence, at the time I asked the question the Financial Services Agency did not know how many Chartered Accountants it had. You would think, in a body that has been under considerable pressure on its competence over several years, it would have begun to tighten on these things. I think there is a real looseness in the system. May I touch a bit on the earlier question? Comparing the UK system with some of the systems abroad, the thing that strikes me very starkly is that we have a lot of structures to give advice but we have very few structures for critical analysis; that is to say, if you were looking at some of the US material that was accessible, this is commissioned by Congress to look at what the Administration is doing. It is not, as it were, run by the Department of Energy or the Department of Defense. I think there is a sense in which a lot of the things will repair themselves if government departments were aware of that, if there was a bit more free-ranging criticism available from, say, the Council of Science and Technology, rather than reviews necessarily being a mutually agreed agenda. I think that is just a part of what would help Parliament with its task.

Professor Hall: I agree with that but may I say something to the original question? I think Government has to show leadership here. One of the issues that we have not yet touched on is the lack of engineers and the lack of young people wanting to go into careers in engineering. Part of the problem is that engineering does not have the status and knowledge of what a career in engineering is. It is not known about by people. The issue of the Civil Service having so few engineers is part of the problem. It is the same as companies that have boards without scientists or engineers on them. I really think that every sector of society should examine itself and say: we should be encouraging engineers to come into our world - the legal world, the financial world, whatever world it is. Government should be showing leadership on that. Instead of saying we should be able to identify how many engineers there are in the Civil Service, we should have a campaign to encourage people with engineering degrees to come into the Civil Service, go on the fast track and become the Permanent Secretaries of the future.

Q28 Mr Cawsey: You think it is a mixture of needing specialists for the special tasks but also policy generalists who are trained in engineering as well?

Professor Hall: Absolutely, and Government should be showing leadership in this. It would be better for the Government and it would be better for the country, I believe. If we do not do things like this at the highest level, we will never have enough engineers.

Professor Kelly: I want to cut this same question in two slightly different ways. The particular aspect of my job that I am most pleased about and the way it works in the Department is that I am one of something called the Analytical Quartet: the Chief Scientist, the Chief Economist, the Chief Social Scientist and the Chief Statistician. We meet pretty regularly to review the research profile. Until that was formed about a year ago, my knowledge of what was going on in the research agenda was more sketchy. I would like to report that. The other important matter is that it is one thing to get young engineers in. I have a particular task at the moment where I am about to second somebody from one of the major engineering consultancies for a short time to do a piece of work. This will only be for three months. I can see the advantage to both sides if major firms like Arups or WS Atkins were to second one of their engineers for a period of two or three years at a pretty senior level. The reason is that they will bring the outside experience in, but also they can go back to their parent organisation as the person with the experience of working within government. I know that DTI in its form used to do that; I have not checked whether it still does it regularly. In the 1980s when I worked for GEC I was regularly inside the DTI and talking to engineers who were on secondment from other firms.

Professor Fisk: May I reinforce that point? My own inclination would be to close the science fast stream altogether. It does not do any good and it enables the normal fast stream into the Civil Service to get off the question of why it does not recruit quite so many scientists and engineers, despite the fact that they represent something like 30 per cent of the boards of British companies. It would be much better to focus much more on bringing people in who do have some real applied engineering expertise into the service; that is to say, they have done something, which is very much Professor Kelly's point of the added value of the engineer. That is in the weakest part of the Civil Service human resources exercise, which is bringing people mid-career into the service. Agencies have been rather better at it. If I were looking at an area that would really get engineering expertise back in, it is crucial that it is not just that they have been through mine, Professor Kelly's or Professor Hall's courses; it is that they have done some things in the real world and have an inclination of the risks and uncertainties that you need to manage in real projects. That comes, it seems to me, in your early 30s, and that is the entry point that is quite difficult at the moment, particularly in central departments.

Q29 Mr Cawsey: I was going to ask in this batch of questions about why do only three government departments use the fast stream track but you are saying perhaps that is not the best way of doing it anyway.

Professor Fisk: In my experience, those young people try to get themselves transferred to the normal fast stream as fast as possible because otherwise they walk in with a funny mark on their head for most of their Civil Service career.

Professor Hall: I was talking about the normal fast track.

Q30 Chairman: Out of interest, can I ask Michael and David: did you sit on the board of the department?

Professor Kelly: I do not. In fact I report to one Director General, so I am one further down from the Permanent Secretary, i.e. at Director Level.

Q31 Chairman: David, did you sit on the board when you were there?

Professor Fisk: No, and I think Chief Scientists who sit on the board traditionally have quite a large expenditure programme responsibility. So the Chief Scientist in Defra in the past had a responsibility for about 2000 people within the overall Defra network and therefore was a quite legitimate board member. Personally, one had contact with all board members, so I did not find the board meetings particularly added value. I tabled maybe two or three papers a year on issues relating to the research programme.

Q32 Chairman: Would you have wanted to be on the board?

Professor Kelly: I am on the board of an electronics company and I have been on other boards and I feel I would have things to say in those meetings that I would not get an opportunity or sight of doing.

Q33 Mr Cawsey: Finally from me, over the years the Civil Service has moved more and more away from in-house expertise to buying it in through consultancy as and when it is needed. Is there a danger in all of that that we are going to get to a point where we have such a scarce resource within the Civil Service that we cannot make intelligent decisions about the consultancies we need and what we need to commission?

Professor Kelly: Absolutely and I think the other point is the following. If we do retain consultants to ensure the integrity of the legacy, we are going to have to have another group of consultants to come in and peer review what they are doing. There has to be an element of internal "stand up and take personal responsibility". If something went wrong with one of these, there would be a political responsibility but where would the professional responsibility be? I do not think there is anybody in the Department who would be capable of taking that responsibility.

Q34 Mr Boswell: I have just a small point to Michael Kelly. You said, and I think it was a throw-away line, that if you have one lot of consultants you would need another lot to peer‑review them. What about the peer review of your in-house consultants on the grounds that if you have people in-house, your in-house staff, they clearly would need to stand up intellectually. How do you configure that or how should you configure that?

Professor Kelly: There are a number of reviews for handling that, in particular the Government Office for Science did a review of the Department and made a number of recommendations that are due back some time this year.

Q35 Mr Boswell: That would draw on outside expertise?

Professor Kelly: Yes. A couple of people are from other departments and the majority of the people were lay in the sense of not being insiders.

Q36 Chairman: Professor Fisk, I am confused with the answer you gave to Ian Cawsey earlier about fast tract scientific Civil Service. In an earlier reincarnation we made that very strong suggestion that we should bring back a scientific Civil Service. Could you answer briefly how you would incentivise engineering within the Civil Service if you do not in fact have a dedicated stream of engineers coming through? How would you do that?

Professor Fisk: This is just a personal view. My impression is that engineers are just really attracted to very interesting projects.

Q37 Chairman: And the Civil Service is not?

Professor Fisk: If the Civil Service were open to some of the very interesting projects the public sector has, I think at competitive salaries, you would get that process. I raise in my paper that one or two of the Civil Service reforms have by accident made it extremely hard to recruit people at that middle to senior consultant level because it has tended to move into the Senior Civil Service, which has other definitions for its competency. My own view is that that would not be a problem if the price was right and the projects are interesting. There is no doubt at all that the public service is buying more complex, larger engineering than it has ever bought in its life, so I do not think there is any issue about it being boring work in the Civil Service but the recruitment opportunities are not there and probably not at the competitive price to the consultants,

Q38 Chairman: What is the golden or silver bullet which would attract more engineers into the Civil Service at all levels?

Professor Kelly: I do not know that there is a silver bullet. I would endorse that view.

Q39 Ian Stewart: Professor Fisk, you started to allude to other models of relationship between engineering and government from outside the UK. Professor Hall, when you and I had an exchange earlier, I was trying to tease out where the responsibly lay for the lack of a good relationship between engineering and government in this country. Is there a model, one model, that we could consider adopting in this country, be it that of America or any other country?

Professor Fisk: My belief is that just importing models will never quite work because the public service in each country has an enormous number of distinctive features. There are scorecard ticks that I would notice in other countries that are not here. I would score France up very high in the sense that its basic engineering education is far superior to the UK. People leave French engineering schools able to run companies the day they leave, not absolutely packed with five years learning of technology.

Q40 Mr Boswell: Those are not simply engineering skills; those are business skills.

Professor Fisk: No, they are managerial skills. I have French interns and one of them made the rum remark that he thought it was rather quaint to come to a university to learn engineering, because clearly if you are the elite in France you go to the Ecole Nationale and have a very wide spectrum of things you do. That is a rather different model. As I made the point in the evidence, in some cases we do not really have the re-training you would need from someone who had been a consulting engineer to work effectively in the public service. The one I still would press, though, is that, given that this Committee very often rightly points to the United States as a marker for a well-focused technological nation, we should scorecard ourselves against how the US runs some of its projects. It would be very normal to talk to a US policymaker who really knew the subject. Someone from the satellite industry remarked to me that you can easily meet a UK general who has the leadership and charisma to get you to Moscow but, unlike the United States, it would probably never be a three star general who opened the conference of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. It is just simply a different view about the core competence in the system.

Q41 Ian Stewart: Can I press Professor Hall a bit more on this? The system that Professor Fisk has just described is almost an informal voluntary relationship between engineering and government, but in America there is a constitutional link. Would you be in favour of that?

Professor Hall: I was going to raise that. There are two things. I am very interested in the constitutional link with the national academies. Clearly there is not a straight yes or no to that. I really think that in this country we should review the relationship between government and, let us say, the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering in the light of what happens internationally. Ours was set up many years ago and we do not have a formal constitution. We should look at that relationship. The academies know where the expertise is and can point to the institutions that have the members who are the experts. Because the spotlight is on America and we all know a lot more about American politics than we did four years ago, I am fascinated by how they select their governments. They do not have a permanent civil service like we do but they do bring in experts from academia on secondment to run departments. We are not going to do it in the same way but we should review the way that we use the academics. The latest CST report, and I have to plug it, was called for by John Denham on the relationship between how government can get better advice from its academics and visa versa, how the academics can help the government more. I would like this Committee to pick and recommend that we really put the spotlight on that.

Q42 Chairman: We actually did that in a previous report, which was Scientific Advice in Government. We recommended that the Government should look at the way in which it uses the learned societies. We were ahead of the CST and we plug our report.

Professor Hall: We were asked by John Denham to do this. It is interesting in the context of engineering and now we know a lot more about it.

Q43 Ian Stewart: Moving to a different area, how can we encourage career flexibility between the public and private sector and should we be doing that?

Professor Kelly: That is an interesting question. I have been in and out. This is my third stint at Cambridge and I am wondering whether I should take a break and then have a fourth one, if they will have me back a fourth time. The times when I moved were times before I was married, so I had no other person to consider. When I have talked to people about this, their concerns have been about pension rights, the mechanisms and those basic things. I find myself in almost every environment, whether I am on other board of Laird or at a meeting in Cambridge or here, calling on all of the different experiences. The advice I can give is a synthesis of all those. Part of the reason for enjoying this job is that it is adding another range of experience for whatever I do next. The breadth is important.

Q44 Ian Stewart: How can we encourage that flexibility then?

Professor Kelly: I think you will have to go back to these mechanisms. Even inside a university, promotion from Reader to Professor has a series of milestones associated with it, which would then be stretched by somebody coming out at three years to do something. For example, I always have a go about the nature of the research assessment exercise for engineering which puts four academic papers on a pedestal, whereas if somebody actually produces the turnaround of a company down the road and makes 0.1 per cent of its GDP, that is a far more important engineering contribution than four technical papers. It is a systemic thing. I do not think there is one fiat that would then result in people going in and out. I have always encouraged young academics to stay off permanent jobs and on soft money for as long as possible because it gives them the flexibility to build up a kind of cadre of research capability and they can then do their teaching if they come in in their mid-30s. A lot of those people then have the confidence to move out before they are 40, and so on.

Professor Fisk: In my evidence I reminded the Committee that back in the Sixties, in fact post-war, there was a class of civil servants called Unestablished, which had a transferrable pension scheme; people moved in and out of academia and the Civil Service. I think it disappeared about 1972 or 1973, which is a great pity because it was part of the flexibility which was intended to operate after the War when there was a very close relationship with some of British industry and the public process. So we have had it before but we have just lost it, which I think is a tragedy. Universities are not a bad example, if one is thinking of engineering departments. We as academics spend only a small amount of time in industry, so we have visiting professors who spend most of their time in industry and who come and teach our students and help the design classes. We have developed a personal HR policy that works with them in a very flexible way; otherwise we would be open to a similar criticism that we have been academics all our life. It is plausible to do it, but it does require a response to a fierce recommendation by the Committee because at the moment the structures are very weak. As I think was pointed out, if you look at the National School of Government, it does not actually have any courses that would enable an engineer to be trained up to work in the public service. Its curriculum thinks some economists might come in, so there is clearly some flexibility in some areas and disciplines, but it does not even think that you might need engineering expertise to be trained to work in the public service in the sort of class the Committee has been considering.

Q45 Chairman: This is getting more depressing by the minute.

Professor Hall: Might I mention one very quick thing that we have not mentioned in this context. This Government has put money into the entrepreneurship side of universities. Many of us who are practising academics are involved in start-up companies and spin-outs as a result of that. You are never going to get a huge return to the university from that but the country can get a good return and it can inspire the academics. That is an important area.

Q46 Mr Boswell: My apologies for being late but I am trying to distil what I have heard. I suppose the clearest message I am getting from you, but please confirm or deny this, is that there is no single model; there is no advisory committee; there is no necessary professional qualification you could impart, no silver bullet to take the trick about what I think we all feel is a stand-off between engineering and government or an inefficiency in its use. If you look at it the other way round, is there an accountability issue that can be taken forward? I think you said, Professor Fisk, that some departments are winging it at some stage-we have all as politicians done it, dare I say. Is there a way in effect of centrally being able to work out, however the modalities are achieved, that the end result is achievable?

Professor Fisk: In my evidence I come to the conclusion that one had to explain, if there were not very many engineers, why there was still an economics class and a legal class in the Civil Service. My conclusion is that because essentially the external world holds departments more tightly accountable for the quality of legal advice that departments use in going to the courts. The Treasury was well stocked with economists who can challenge the economics of departments. Professor Hall was indicating that the number of bodies in the body politic that can challenge what is going on in the engineering process is at the moment slightly weakened. If they were stronger and more critical, the consequence would be that the Civil Service, which is a very clever animal and allocates its resources according to its pressures, would solve all the problems that we have been wrestling with today. At the moment, if you were just looking at priorities on the Permanent Secretary's list of problems, where was it that everyone felt challenged on their engineering from the outside world? They were challenged on their press office, on their legal advice, their economics, but practically it turned out that all their advisers were just offering advice on engineering issues, which is not quite the same as challenging, "Are you really sure?" For example, Professor Kelly said earlier, "Are you really sure that you have done the sums?"

Q47 Mr Boswell: That is a common view of the Treasury. As a final question, I ought perhaps to have declared an interest as somebody who was taken into the Civil Service in mid-career to sort something out but not, I hasten to say, from an engineering backboard and I have a daughter who is a senior legal civil servant. We are familiar with the expertise. We identified pensions as being a major problem in the flexibility issue. There are two other areas. The first is the management ability because people, as they get up to, say, Grade 7 and Grade 5, are starting to do management jobs. Is that something which is going to hold back engineers or are they people who are rather good at management? Finally, is there a wider cultural issue? It was no accident perhaps that the two persons I mention on my side are both non-engineers but would we fit in more comfortably than engineers trying to do a comparable and equally responsible job?

Professor Hall: Being an engineer does not mean you cannot be a manager. I led a huge department with a 24 million budget and I am an engineer. It is just like any other profession; some people are never good at management and some people are. What people say about engineers is dreadful - you are stuck with greasy dirty hands in this geeky world. We are not. I am not a geek and my hands are very clean.

Professor Kelly: Could I reinforce that? A couple of years ago it was the case that the largest single discipline of vice chancellors in this country was engineering. It comes back to the distinction between a scientist and an engineer. Any engineer worth his/her salt has managed a complicated programme somewhere along the way. It is one of the preconditions for even consideration to be a Fellow of the Academy: what is the big project you have seen through? When it comes to management, there are short courses for civil servants on how to manage but even the management that goes on inside a department of something going on outside tends to be at arm's length and comes back to the point that David made earlier, that as long as the finances are right and there is a good line to put against each bullet point in the milestones to the project, that is it. For somebody to get up there and say, "This is going awry", or "this is going off the tracks or this will not work at some point", engineers are past masters at that.

Chairman: On that note, we will bring to an end this first session. May I thank Professor Fisk, Professor Kelly and Professor Hall. You have been an absolutely splendid panel this morning and given us great food for thought and we thank you very much indeed for your contributions.


Witnesses: Lord Broers, a Member of the House of Lords, former President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and Professor Christopher Snowden, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, University of Surrey, representing the Royal Academy of Engineering and the engineering institutions, gave evidence.

Q48 Chairman: May I welcome our second panel this morning and welcome to the Committee Professor the Lord Broers, former Chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee and former President of the Royal Academy of Engineering. I presume you were delighted to hear the last comments as former Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University. May I welcome Professor Christopher Snowden, the Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Surrey and President Elect of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. Thank you both very much for your presence this morning. Could I start with you, Professor Snowden? We had a discussion earlier this morning about the distinction between engineering and science. Are they two sides of the same coin or do you make a specific distinction?

Professor Snowden: I think there are differences. Obviously there are areas of overlap. Putting it simply, in my own mind engineering in a sense is the appliance of science. You obviously have to have a sound knowledge of the science to apply it. As we heard earlier, engineering nowadays has a very far-reaching influence. In my own mind, for example, you have to have an appreciation of the socio-economics of what you are doing to be a fully fledged engineer. Following on from some of the points that were made earlier, engineers are well placed today to be businessmen. I am an engineer by profession and I have been a chief executive of a multinational company as well as an academic. This was based on the discipline I learnt from my early days and training as a student. We also heard that the position of Chartered Engineer and the rationale for professional engineering is well placed if we want to have reliance on a trusted source of knowledge. To round out the answer, engineering, in a sense, as I say, is the application but also the extension into the real world to science.

Q49 Chairman: Lord Broers, the Royal Academy in its evidence made a clear distinction between the scientist and the engineer in terms that Government should recognise that these are different disciplines. Do you support that?

Lord Broers: No, I do not really. You have to remember that I am sitting here representing nobody but myself. I think there is a strong overlap and that people move from being engineers to being scientists and back again. Of course I spent my working career in industry in the United States and there we did that all the time. We would even be both scientists and engineers almost simultaneously. I managed large projects during the day and in the evening I looked at viruses in the scanning electron microscope that I had built. I think they overlap. It depends how far down you take engineering. The difference in this country is that engineering to the man and woman in the street represents a huge spectrum, a much broader spectrum of activity than it does in the United States or China or anywhere I have been. I happen to be a member of the United States' and the Chinese Academies as well as the Australian one. The Australians are similar to us here. Their technicians are called engineers. This is the big problem in this country, so that the upper grade of engineer in my mind and the research engineer looks very much like the scientist a lot of the time; they just have to know more than the scientists. They have to know the economics and the manufacturability of things as well as just the science.

Q50 Chairman: You have just heard, Lord Broers, because you were in the room at the time, Professor Hall make an impassioned plea for engineers to be recognised as, if you like, a chief engineer within departments alongside Chief Scientific Advisers, but you seem to be saying that these are opposite sides of the same coin and that therefore we do not need to make that distinction.

Lord Broers: I think that is the case but I would have approached this problem from a different point of view. I would have asked the question: is it necessary to have a Chief Scientist alongside the Chief Engineer?

Q51 Chairman: What is your answer?

Lord Broers: Probably not in many instances.

Q52 Chairman: So you would have a Chief Engineer?

Lord Broers: Yes.

Q53 Chairman: Would you settle for a Chief Scientific and Engineering Adviser?

Lord Broers: I would settle for a Chief Engineering and Scientific Adviser.

Q54 Chairman: Professor Snowden, what do engineers offer policy makers that scientists do not?

Professor Snowden: I think that would be a broader base of advice. As I mentioned earlier, to be an engineer in the first place, you have to have a clear understanding of the science behind the issues you are addressing. At the same time, you also have to understand (a) how it is applied, (b) how it would be implemented, so that has cost implications, reliability implications and it also has, as I said earlier, socio-economic implications. For example, if you look at transport planning, or as we were hearing earlier in terms of information technology, it is very tempting always to think of engineering in terms of either civil engineering or mechanical engineering in a very limited fashion, but in fact, as Lord Broers was saying, it is a very broad discipline nowadays.

Q55 Chairman: The Royal Academy of Engineering, of which Lord Broers was a Past President and now disassociates himself from policy, have made it clear that they feel that there ought to be a separate Chief Engineering Adviser to Government. First of all, do you agree with that position?

Professor Snowden: Yes, I do. I am actually the Vice President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and I chair their Engineering Policy Group, so I suppose you would expect me to support that. I am happy to explain this. If we look across all of the government departments, it is quite clear that a chief engineer would be more suitable, for example, in some of those departments than a chief scientist, so, for example, in DBERR, I would suggest, a chief engineer would fit the bill very well, and perhaps a chief scientist may be more appropriate in DIUS, for example, so it is really an extension of what we were agreeing a few minutes ago, that it is fitting the right person to the right role.

Q56 Chairman: Because that was going to be my next question, as to whether in fact there would then be, if you like, an element of competition between the scientists and the engineers because there is clearly some competition between the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser and departmental scientific advisers, so your solution would be quite a neat one.

Professor Snowden: Well, I would recommend that, I think that would work very well. I would like to add that I have been in a company in the United States, I was a chief scientist there, and I actually worked in parallel with their chief engineer and, I have to say, we did not see the differences there. Similarly, in my own companies, I have had similar roles, so I do not see them as competitive, I see them as complementary.

Lord Broers: I would agree with all of that. To correct perhaps what I said before, I do not necessarily disagree with the Academy's policy on these things, but I think we must be flexible in looking at this and realise the breadth of a top engineer because a top engineer has to know as much science as others. I have watched some very good scientists in effect become engineers before they can apply what they do and they are not always aware of what they are doing and it is not necessary to adopt the label necessarily, but a good physicist who wants to apply his ideas has to learn about costs and manufacturability and reliability, et cetera; it is the big lesson that one has when one goes into industry. I would add a little because of the earlier conversations that we had or you had about taking people into the Civil Service and so on as engineers. Now, I do not think engineers are engineers until they have been out there doing something for many years, so to taking graduate engineers in, I do not think, would solve your problem and I think that is what Professor Kelly and others were saying. You need engineers to actually do something before they are taken on as advisers.

Q57 Ian Stewart: One of the things the Committee has come to realise is that in the evidence given there are claims that, for example, engineers were not consulted properly in, say, initiatives like eco-towns. Do you have any examples of where major government initiatives have either failed or not been as strong as they could have been because of not taking advice from engineers?

Professor Snowden: I will happily talk through one example. In 2000/2001, I was involved with the National Advisory Group in relation to semiconductor technologies in the UK and, after some time, the policy was delivered and it was suggested that many of these technologies were not regarded as strategic, and that has had a significant impact on, I have to say, investment by companies in the UK, and I was actually leading a company at that time. Subsequently, by 2005, that view had been completely reversed and in fact, if you look at the Defence Technology Strategy document today, it cites a number of highly strategic technologies, most of which no longer are present in the UK and that is because policy had a significant impact on the way industry reacted to government strategies.

Q58 Ian Stewart: Is that the example of taking advice too late or not taking advice at all?

Professor Snowden: It was not sought widely in the first place and we tried strongly to influence it, including senior industrialists, but our views were not taken on board.

Q59 Ian Stewart: That is interesting, so thank you for that. Now, the evidence that we have received claims that estimates about the contribution of non-fossil fuel sources to energy supply and carbon emissions have been unrealistic. How damaging have those estimates been and can you give us any idea of what the real figures should be?

Lord Broers: I think that that is something where it would be a good idea to turn to the Royal Academy of Engineering for a detailed report. I raised this in the Lords only yesterday or the day before, that the new commitment to 25 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2020 is, to say the least, going to be a massive, if not impossible, challenge. It is going to mean installing ten large turbines a day every day that you can practise in the North Sea, which is about 60 days a year, until 2020, ten a day every day until 2020, and there is one barge at the moment that is capable of carrying, and erecting, one of those towers, so you do not gain engineers' confidence by having a strategy that just states that there is going to be 25 gigawatts of offshore wind in the North Sea.

Q60 Chairman: Is this a clear case though, going back to the earlier panel, of engineers not being there at board level when these decisions are made?

Lord Broers: Yes, well, I am afraid, Chairman, even I am ignorant of quite where these decisions are made. My experience, having chaired the Science and Technology Committee, is that we are always trying to bring back decisions that were made somewhere, but I was never quite sure where, to bring sanity back to the case. In fact, as you know in your Committee, my Committee, when I chaired it, was quite effective in many instances in bringing things back by taking the right evidence from the right people and establishing what is the sensible strategy, but I am not sure where these strategies originate. They are made somewhere deep inside departments, I suppose.

Chairman: I think what we are trying to do with this whole inquiry is really to try to add value to the government process by saying, "Why should engineering actually appear within it?" That is really sort of the core, to make sure that in future the sorts of decisions which you have just been talking about to Ian Stewart do have in fact that engineering scrutiny at the very highest level before in fact they get embedded into policy.

Q61 Ian Stewart: Before you answer that, if I can just add to the Chairman's point, are you really saying not that the scientific approach is wrong, but that it is the lack of the doing element that engineers have that makes these estimates wrong in terms of that? Is that what you are really saying?

Professor Snowden: Absolutely, because you have got a classic example here of policy delivery being expected to be delivered by the engineers, but not being involved in the policy development because, as you have just heard and as you can imagine, if the reality of the resources the UK has had been taken on board in the policy development, we would have had a more realistic policy produced in the first place. Engineers so often have to come along and sort of represent the fix afterwards, and you will probably see that that is simply not a practical proposition, this particular example, so it would have been much wiser to consider that policy development in the first place because the knock-on effects are substantial. We hear about an 80 per cent reduction in the carbon target, well, that relies on the delivery of, as you can hear, potentially undeliverable elements of renewable energy.

Q62 Ian Stewart: Okay, so let me put you both on the spot then about these eco-towns and the way that has developed. If engineers had been consulted in the first place, would we be now talking about implementing eco-towns?

Professor Snowden: We might be implementing them in a different way. I am well aware of one eco-town site that, for example, does not have the transport infrastructure to connect it to the economy it would have to serve, so I would suggest that that is a fairly serious problem in terms of the rationale for the eco-town.

Lord Broers: Yes, vast housing proposals have been made that I have noted particularly while we were conducting an inquiry into water management only to find that all of these housing proposals had been made without any consideration of water supply. Engineers would have stopped that immediately.

Q63 Ian Stewart: So you are actually arguing that engineers have almost a unique perspective on risk assessment?

Lord Broers: Well, it is their discipline. I can recall myself doing a PhD at Cambridge and building scanning microscopes and making some of the smallest structures in the world with these things and rushing off to IBM in America, thinking I was going to revolutionise the world. I spent about six to eight months discovering that my techniques were hopelessly expensive and would be impractical in a manufacturing environment, and that was a very cold shower, as it were, but you learn that when you are an engineer because you have to deliver, so you start thinking that way. You have got all the ideas from science, but your first thought is, "Is it really practical? How could we implement it? What risk can we take that we can solve that problem?" and that is our discipline.

Q64 Chairman: Can I just probe you on the issue of advice to the Government because the Government, in its evidence to us, cited the Defence Science Advisory Council as an example of good practice as to where in fact it gets its advice in that area. The Academy and indeed some of the institutions have highlighted this as a major problem. How do we get such major discrepancies between the learned societies and professional bodies and the Government? Professor Snowden, what is your assessment?

Professor Snowden: Well, I am a member of DSAC, so I can comment actually having worked there.

Q65 Chairman: It was the reason for the question.

Professor Snowden: Well-placed! Let me say straightaway that I think the starting point is a question of what role the consultant or the membership, for example, of DSAC has. For example, I have reviewed reports and processes that have been involved in the Ministry of Defence and have been able to offer obviously strong technical advice, but you have got to bear in mind that that is an after-event type of process rather than being involved at the initiation of projects. I will give another example, that wide use is made of consultants, as we have heard, and they are used on both short-term and long-term bases. I think the rationale for short-term consultants is well-founded, but in GCHQ, for example, as a matter of policy, consultants have to be used on a long-term basis to satisfy many of the engineering and scientific skills that there are now. I have to say, I would challenge the rationale for that because surely, if it is a long-term need, that ought to be part of the core know-how within GCHQ , for example, so I think the problem we are looking at here is one of where the advice comes. Turning specifically to a point you made about, for example, the roles of the Royal Academy and the institutions, we are quite often consulted very far down the process. In one particular case this year, we had 48 hours' notice to provide a consultation on a paper on energy, which, as you can probably appreciate, provides a very limited ability to usefully input to that process and it is far too far down the process. The key point I would make is that engineering input needs to be in the developmental and formulation phase of the policies and strategies, not as an afterthought or in the implementation phase.

Q66 Chairman: But, unless the Government is an intelligent customer and it actually has at board level or certainly at the very highest level that sort of advice, that critical advice, then, no matter how many consultants you have thereafter, if you have made an initial policy decision which is flawed, you are living with it thereafter, are you not?

Professor Snowden: You may be.

Q67 Chairman: Well, if that is obvious to me and it is obvious to you, why is it not obvious to the Government?

Professor Snowden: Because they have not got the advice in the first place or the training. It is a serious point, and I will give an example. You may wonder why these things arise, but, if you look at the makeup in other countries of governments, you will find that engineers and scientists populate a large number of these places. The President of China himself is actually an engineer, so is his Vice President. They are not practising engineers today obviously, but they do have an appreciation of the skill-set. Now, I am not suggesting everybody needs to be engineers, but it is useful to have some content of that from the point of view of having input at that early stage.

Q68 Chairman: Lord Broers, you would support the idea that engineers should at least be on the board of most departments?

Lord Broers: Absolutely; engineers are essential to all things in life. I have just participated in this study with the National Academy of Engineering in the States on the grand challenges for engineers at the beginning of this century and, when you look at this, there are just 14 challenges which are identified, but three of them are related to medicine and deeply embedded in societal needs, there are the energy ones of course, the infrastructure, and everywhere you look engineers are determining how we live and whether or not we will destroy the planet, if the truth be known, so, if they are not central to decision making we are in a hopeless position, as far as I can see.

Q69 Dr Iddon: During this inquiry, we have obviously picked up a great deal of criticism from the engineering institutions and the engineers themselves that their voice is not being heard, and that theme has run through this morning's sessions as well. However, is this not a two-way process? What are the engineers doing to make sure their voices are heard?

Professor Snowden: Well, it obviously is a two-way process, that is the nature of communication, but, I suppose I would have to say, someone would have to be listening to be heard. What I mean by that is that it is rather like the voice of industry is often not heard by the Government, it is said, and that is because there is a question of whether you understand what they are saying to you. For example, I think the Royal Academy of Engineering and the institutions are very willing to work with the Government, in fact very keen to do so, and I think often, when their views are sought, as I said earlier, they are sought far too late, so the influence they can have is quite finite. If their views were sought very early on in the process, I think the type of input and the influence would be greater and, therefore, both the Academy and the institutions would feel that their views were more highly valued. Similarly, I would suggest that the Government would equally feel that their views were of more use to them because they are able to inform the process on policy development much earlier on so that perhaps the right decision will be made when an inappropriate decision would otherwise have been made.

Lord Broers: Let me take a broad view of this. To me, engineering is an effect rather than a cause, and I will explain what I mean by that. We have not been good in the last couple of decades in creating large engineering-based technology companies. We have been getting quite good at forming small companies, and universities are improving in their capability to be innovative and to look at it that way and create small companies, but we have not been good at growing companies. Our economy has depended on the financial world and other things that do not involve engineering, so engineers have been declining in their volume and presence in society just by the nature of British society. A lot of our large companies have been shrinking rather than growing, they are becoming global, and a lot of the good engineering maybe has been going overseas, so engineers are not of influence just because there are not so many of them and they have not been so important to our economy. Now, I think that is a plain fact and, if one could fix the problem of growing larger engineering-based industries, that problem might mend itself. When you look at those two buildings, those of the Mechanical Engineers and the Civil Engineers, on Birdcage Walk, built at the turn of the century and in the post-Victorian age, you realise that engineers did not have any problem being heard, and it was not just because of the personality of a few of them or that they had very loud voices, but they were very important in the British economy and the scene and Engineering has been declining, so, if one fixed that problem, the voice of engineering would re-emerge. I think for engineers to shout loud from their diminished position is just not effective.

Q70 Dr Iddon: But there are still over 40 engineering institutions. How on earth can the Government decide where to go? With science, it goes to the Royal Society and, I suppose, with engineering, it goes to the Royal Academy of Engineering first, does it, or does it go to the individual institutions? There are just so many of them. Do you think that is a good thing or a bad thing, and do you think some rationalisation of the institutions is now necessary?

Professor Snowden: Rationalisation is occurring. In fact, as you have heard, I am President-elect of an institution that actually has absorbed together three other institutions and changed its name to reflect the mergers. I have to say, science is not so different from engineering in that sense because you have the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, you have the Institute of Physics and then you obviously have the chemists and the mathematicians and there are many, many behind them too, so these are membership organisations and, quite naturally, people who work in a very similar aspect of the profession will wish to associate through membership organisations. Clearly, the united voice of engineering is through the Royal Academy of Engineering just as the Royal Society represents the peak of the academy for science. Again as Lord Broers says, I am also a Fellow of the Royal Society, so the overlap between engineering and science is clear too. To provide you with a simple answer, I think the starting point would be to go to the Royal Academy of Engineering who could also then quite easily liaise with the relevant institutions for the expertise that the Government would need. It would be a very straightforward thing to do.

Q71 Chairman: Lord Broers, your analysis as to why in fact the engineering voice is not heard as loudly as it should be and your analysis in terms of the engineering community in terms of large companies, that it has been declining with an emphasis on financial services, et cetera, in terms of running the company, the same could be said about science, but the scientists do have a loud voice. Is that largely as a result of people like Bob May and David King that have shouted from the rooftops? Do we need somebody of that ilk to really make the case for engineers both within the Government and within the country?

Lord Broers: Well, the engineers live in a different world. For engineering to practise effectively, the Government does not fund it, industry funds it. It is part of a big industrial base. Pure science relies on the Government for funding, particularly today. There was a day when industry funded more science, but, even in America, that tends to have disappeared today, so it is a different world, so the scientists have always had to shout very loudly in government circles, but what is an engineer going to do? Government is not going to suddenly start funding big engineering projects. It is up to industry to do that, and I think that is my point, so it is no good our standing up there and saying, "Look, we must be the centre of society. We're great" and telling the Government that. Government can, quite rightly, turn around and say, "Well, that's not really our business, that's industry's business", and quite what the Government can do is what I struggle with all the time. I came back to this country in 1984 when we had just had the Alvey Committee and I was asked to review what had happened in the Alvey Committee, and then there was the Bide Committee that followed that. I was in effect witnessing the death of the indigenous microelectronics industry at that time. Now, there was one thing that the Government could have done there. Government could have done what Ronald Reagan did in the States which was to give encouragement and a small amount of money so that a central research establishment could be set up that the semiconductor companies could cluster around. I wrote to Margaret Thatcher about this and I got a letter back from Eric Forth, saying that that was nothing to do with the Government, that it was strictly a matter for industry. Probably they were right, but there was an intermediate ground, and I think it is making my point. Subsequently whole sectors of industry died and were dragged down because they did not have electronics. For example, we no longer have a really indigenous car industry. It was sort of a fatal decision, but the fact is that it has happened and we now lack that engineering presence in industry.

Q72 Chairman: Much as I hate to disagree with you, could I perhaps throw in another point here, that, if you actually look at the huge infrastructure projects which are being carried out in the UK, if you look at the Olympics, if you look at Crossrail, if you look at the procurement budget of the UK Government, a significant element of it is actually involving engineers in massive construction projects, which dwarfs what we are actually putting into basic science. Surely, that is a good enough advert to say that we have to have engineers and engineers are very much at the heart of British society? We are spending more money now than we have ever done ever.

Lord Broers: Well, the civil engineers do quite well actually, and they are practising away and being very effective for the country in fact, but the range of engineering enterprises has narrowed down now so that my sort of industry has declined very much from what it was two decades ago.

Professor Snowden: If I can perhaps offer one thought on the Olympics ----

Q73 Chairman: Will you be more enthusiastic?

Professor Snowden: Well, there is no question in my mind that often, when we talk about scientists, we are talking about engineers in terms of the public's vision of what actually happens, and the Olympics is a very good example. I would like to suggest that, if engineers had been more involved in the formative phase of what we were going to do for the Olympics and the Olympic site, we would have had a more realistic costing of it because I have talked to many senior civil engineers who have said that it could never have been done, what was originally suggested, so the point I am ----

Q74 Ian Stewart: Maybe that is why you were not consulted!

Professor Snowden: You could be right, but the point I am trying to make is that it would still be a pretty good thing to know, I would have thought, before you knew this in detail. I did cite an example, and I agree with you, that in terms of the visibility of engineering projects, and Crossrail is another example, I would suggest to you that to compare what is happening in the UK with what is happening in other major OECD leading countries where engineering has a much higher profile, and I do not mean just in terms of the social respectability, but the impact it has on the economy, the government recognition of the role that engineering has in the economy is much stronger. Again, I am not just talking about the traditional areas of mechanical and civil engineering, I am talking about the information technology areas, I am talking about energy, I am talking about the environment, and these are engineering areas today and it will be engineers that offer the solutions to these areas, so I would like to suggest that it is exciting, but the Government has to reflect that excitement in the engineering element of it if we want young people to take this up and if we want to see the benefits of it.

Q75 Mr Cawsey: Well, let us try and finish off with a few next steps of where we might go from here then. This Committee obviously receives all sorts of recommendations all the time that people would like us to pass on to the Government, but, looking at the engineering community yourselves, what do you think the community could do to improve the status of engineering and the quality of engineering advice that goes to the Government?

Professor Snowden: You mean the engineering community?

Q76 Mr Cawsey: Yes.

Professor Snowden: Well, I think the engineering community is already poised to be able to do that and I would suggest that, for example, if the Government were to encourage chartered engineers to be present in their own departments, there would be greater uptake of chartered engineering. All of that is available to do today, the process is well-established, and in some of the aspects of engineering, and it is civil engineering we were just talking about, it is de facto, but it is not in other areas, and it is partly because there is no formal requirement for it. I will give you an example. If the Government were to require chartered engineers to be part of the formulation and development policy for information technology projects, I believe the projects themselves would be better and again you would be seeing more engineers coming through down that avenue. I think the Government will have a key role in this by not only, as I say, having a requirement for chartered engineers, but quite clearly expressing through all of their policies, not just through DIUS and through the schools the need for engineers, but to see it as a core capability.

Lord Broers: I think you have been talking about a lot of the things that can be done, and we go back to the beginning. I would advocate having chief engineers, and I think Professor Snowden's suggestion was very good, that DBERR should have a chief engineer, not a chief scientist, and perhaps DIUS a chief scientist, but, to get back to your remarks, Chairman, about scientists and their voice, it is quite obvious with Bob May and Dave King that they were chief scientists, there is not an engineer, and they had the megaphone for a start. Apart from my argument, which I still stand by, because engineering is a different part of things, I think that, if we got engineers with experience into departments at the origins, at the fountain where the decisions are made first, then we would not get into some of these problems and I think this will be a very practical way of going about solving this problem rather than trying to solve it from a status point of view, which I think is in many ways a lost cause. Engineers should be put in effective places where real decisions are made. The other thing I would say quite strongly, and a lot of people will not agree with me on this, but the Royal Academy of Engineering should be the place where the Government goes almost all the time on issues of engineering policy.

Q77 Chairman: But it does not.

Lord Broers: It does not, I know it does not.

Q78 Chairman: So why is the Royal Academy not shouting from the rooftops to make its presence felt?

Lord Broers: Well, it is a very difficult issue, as you understand. In the engineering community, there is a lot of competition from the institutions who want their voices heard as well. I would stick more by the American model wherein my discipline, the IEEE, which is a huge organisation, deals with the professional side of their subject, so they accredit people, they have conferences, they make sure their subject is moving and they are not so much in the policy game. Government policy resides in that academy's building, it is where I was a few weeks ago, and there was just myself and two others representing Obama and McCain and we had a debate on where engineering sat in the United States. The engineers participating in this debate were in the academies, they were not diluted all over the place. The institutions saw their jobs as different. Here, we have a very confused issue, so the Royal Academy of Engineering, and I cannot speak off the record here, but the Royal Academy of Engineering has to tread very carefully because the institutions are very jealous of their ability to advise as well, so the result is that you get a whole lot of confusion and the Government, instead it turns to individuals, and obtains has personality-driven strategies, and some have been absolutely incredible where some major, and I will not name these ----

Q79 Chairman: Do!

Lord Broers: Well, would you choose, in order to get a transport policy, the ex-CEO of British Airways? Is that the way to get a transport policy for the country? Surely, one should have gone to the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Q80 Mr Cawsey: But this is back to my whole point really of what can the engineering community do for themselves. Everything you have just described to me reminds me of a former life when I used to be involved in local education authorities and teachers were separated into several unions which all pathologically hated each other, but made no progress to resolve, and then I chaired a police authority where the Federation represented everybody up to the Chief Inspector, and it was a tremendously effective organisation because of that. Is this not a problem that you are creating for yourselves in your community because the Academy is just one of so many things, so do you not need to sort your own act out if you want to be influential with the Government?

Professor Snowden: Well, I have to say, I think there has been a lot of evolution. I think some of the conflict that you suggest actually is not present today. For example, my own institution, which represents 150,000 engineers, actually works very well with the Royal Academy and works well with the Engineering Technology Board, so this sense of competition is not there. I think that one of the problems is because the Government has not identified itself the sort of route it would like to work with. If you were to say, "Well, actually we're going to talk to the Royal Academy of Engineering and we're going to talk to the Royal Society and they will be our two avenues", then it is very easy for the Royal Academy of Engineering and the institutions to line up their ducks. Since different departments in government are very happy to go to different institutions, completely bypassing the Academy in the first place, needless to say, you are going to get this diversity of input.

Q81 Mr Cawsey: Yes, but the structure allows them to do that.

Professor Snowden: It happens in science too with the Institution of Physics and of Chemists. I am well aware of the fact that they are consulted in just the same pattern and it does not always go to the Royal Society there either, even though, I would absolutely agree, their voice is more strongly heard.

Lord Broers: If I can make a point here too, we must include the Academy of Medical Sciences in the medical world because very much of the future of engineering lies with medicine at the moment, and you see that in all major US universities now where they are forming departments of engineering in medicine and that is where the US has it right again. They have got the three academies and the research councils all sitting right in the middle of Washington, on Constitution Avenue, in the centre of it.

Chairman: Well, there is food for thought there. Could I thank you very, very much indeed, Professor Snowden and Professor Broers, for your excellent evidence this morning. Thank you very, very much indeed.