Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by Mr Colin S J McCarthy

  First may I congratulate all those involved in the preparation of the White Paper. This is a well thought out and wide ranging review based on sound scientific and democratic processes. The comments I have made are intended to improve what is already a significant document!

  The willingness of the Minister for Science to appear before the Science and Technology Committee and to attempt to address some of the concerns raised is welcome! The UK Government is now in the enviable position of having Foresight that has enabled the UK Government to be as well prepared as possible to exploit new technology and innovation. However, as "Stepping Stones to Sustainability by the Energy and Natural Environment Panel" (DTI December 2000) concurs, the biggest barrier to innovation appears to be vested interests and the perceived dominance of the private sector! With the world market for environmental goods and services expected to be £1,000 billion in 2014 radical action must be taken to stop global companies holding back the UK which at present is a leader in a lot of the new technologies.

  By its very nature the White Paper covers parts of the economy that are performing well, eg ITEC, but others in traditional manufacturing sectors are failing and although less glamorous they also need attention and help to change where necessary. It is important that science and technology policy takes into account cross departmental issues; the availability of affordable housing, an efficient transport system and a social and commercial infrastructure that can cope with further expansion are often barriers to further development in the South East. It would be desirable to have the regional clusters and innovation section of the White Paper tackled as a priority. It is important companies accept the need to move to other areas of the country as physical location is often irrelevant in a global economy.

  I think it is daft to believe that by creating an oversupply in the numbers of graduates throughout the country can solve temporary skill shortages in certain areas of the South East.

  1.  It is essential that the primacy of Westminster and Whitehall is preserved. MPs are democratically elected to represent the interests of their constituents NOT undemocratic global companies. It is essential that there is more democracy and transparency in large companies, especially as they often dictate conditions for SMEs.

  2.  Science Engineering and Technology are falling in popularity for students partly because they are difficult but also, because paper qualifications have been devalued, it is more important to have any pass at GCSE, A Level or Degree than it is a specific qualification. Students are also aware of parents, friends and relatives made redundant from science and technology based industries or who have insecure short-term contracts or have had to take early retirement. They therefore opt for having a good time now rather than investing in a quality science qualification.

  It is also perceived that government and business only value business and management qualifications.

  Apprenticeships and graduate apprenticeships may prove more popular. Long-term job security may still be possible if business management can be improved! However, there is oversupply of graduates at the moment and job satisfaction surveys reveal the most dissatisfaction for people who are overqualified for the job they are doing (if they can get one) and are unable to gain employment doing what they trained for!

  3.  Defence sector companies producing arms for sale to undemocratic countries with dubious human rights policies are not supported by the general population. The Ministry of Defence's recent decision not to reopen the inquiry into the Chinook Helicopter crash goes against scientific and democratic principles, which is especially disconcerting given the Public Accounts Committee findings. This highlights the need to modernise the MOD and military research to match a changed world political climate in which international organised crime is probably the greatest threat to democracy!

  As a part of the British economy the defence sector does not perform well. A lot of projects attract large amounts of government funding for research, development and pre-production prototypes. Any foreign sales are usually supported by UK government export credit guarantees and when, as is often the case with arms sales, the customer does not pay it is the UK Government that foots the bill. This is of even more concern when the latest technology is finding its way to countries that the UK and its allies are in conflict with, or to international organised criminals.

  The Government must understand that with an increasingly aware electorate it is politically unacceptable to have British weapons used on defenceless civilians or against British troops or their allies. The MOD should have as its priority defence of this country and its citizens!

  4.  Even if an offset deal is made for the payment of arms or defence technologies it has often led to unacceptable deals where British construction companies build dams in unsuitable areas and the consequent flooding of forests etc, cause very large releases of greenhouse gases from the decaying vegetation. The defence research carried out should be more targeted with prototype funding for products required for the UK or European and NATO allies. The overseas manufacture of products developed in this country should be discouraged. In a global market it is the skills of manufacture and development that are as important as knowledge. Information is more easily transferable across national boundaries.

  5.  When financial assistance in the form of grants, loans etc, is given to private sector companies more effort should be made to ensure the funds are used for the purpose for which they were intended. Any financial assistance should also take into account other government departments' legislation.

  The accountancy profession in general and especially accountants working on behalf of the Government should be required to report any major inappropriate use of funds that are not clearly identified in a companies published accounts.

  6.  Investment in buildings, facilities and equipment at universities and schools is welcome but long overdue. However, universities should concentrate on speculative research and leave companies to do product development. Faraday Partnerships are welcome!

  7.  Climate change is now regarded as a major area for investigation and more funds need to be invested into solving climate change problems and to tackle urban regeneration and environmental problems.

  Areas such as fuel cells and alternative green fuels are areas ripe for expansion. The Foresight process is a very good way of considering the details (if you can get the best people involved in it!) and the consultation document "Fuelling the Future by the Energy Futures Task Force" sets out a useful analysis of various R&D scenarios.

  8.  One of the biggest problems in the world economy is poor management. Most large companies have suffered from the external management consultant who has little knowledge of a company or its products, who comes in for a short period at a ridiculous pay rate, pronounces the need for drastic changes and then disappears leaving others to try to sort out the mess. It is also all too common for people with MBAs, and no science, engineering or technology background to use fairly powerful manipulative techniques to achieve a position of power and influence in a company but they do not have the technical ability to keep the company trading successfully. Managers often end up just following the latest management fashion for fear of losing their job if they question anything. The rapid turnover of staff also means research and development work is often repeated and more experienced older workers are the first to lose their jobs in any down sizing. Smaller companies are often dominated by large companies and can not act as freely or as independently as market analysts suggest. School students are often aware of this and do not choose to study a technical subject.

  In order for bad managers to keep control they often prefer to employ less well skilled, but more compliant, foreign workers; either that or subcontract work abroad. If the Government stopped the excess numbers of foreign students and workers entering the country it would help remove bad management and also increase the amount of long-term sustainable employment! Business must be compelled to plan for the long-term and not to continually concentrate on short-term share price driven panic!

  9.  The DTI must be more active in its efforts to identify companies acting illegally; this may mean co-operation with other governments to deal with errant global companies. However, it may be more effective to ensure the public are kept well informed of bad companies as increasingly the consumer has the power to force big business to behave in a more responsible manner.

  10.  More effort needs to be made to ensure money allocated in the Science Budget produces long-term sustainable jobs for the UK electorate. Although we have to pay due regard to the global economy its existence should not be used to subvert parliamentary democracy we need to "Think Globally But Act Locally".

18 December 2000

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 3 April 2001