|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, very briefly, we wish to support and thank the Minister for putting forward this amendment. Issues now surround the Data Protection Act, and we have already had debates on Starred Questions about whether a review of the Act would be appropriate. Many of us believe that that would be a useful way forward.
As regards the regulations under Section 60 referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, the question of whether subsection (11) overrides the requirements of the Data Protection Act is important, since this has been the subject of considerable debate. This being Third Reading and the last opportunity to thank the Minister for his constructive engagement on this Bill, and for the amendments that have been made, I will do so. I join the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in wishing the agency well with the new powers that it will receive under this Act.
Lord Turnberg: My Lords, I hesitate to prolong the discussion very much, but can my noble friend the Minister confirm that the HPA has indeed had approval from the Patient Information Advisory Group, under Section 60, to use information about
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, very briefly, I thank the Minister for having listened so carefully to all the points that have been made at previous stages of the Bill. I apologise that I was unable to be in the House the last time that the Bill was before us, but I formally thank the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for the work that they did to ensure that the agency will work closely in collaboration with the service in Wales, and that the concerns have been allayed by establishing observer status on the board.
Lord Warner: My Lords, I am grateful for the remarks made by a number of noble Lords. This has been a co-operative venture, in that we have tried to make this Bill as constructive and useful as possible for the new agency. I share their views. We wish the Health Protection Agency well.
On the issue of guidance in relation to the Data Protection Act, it will be open to the agency. I am sure that it will look carefully at what has been said in this House to issue guidance to staff about the way in which the Act should be interpreted and used, based on the plentiful guidance that has already been issued in relation to that Act, and is available to all employers.
Does Clause 4(11) override Section 60 regulations? Yes, it overrides restrictions on disclosure, but only in the circumstances that I outlined, which are specified there. I will write with more details to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on the relationship with the Section 60 provisions, and to my noble friend Lord Turnberg.
"In section 133(4), after paragraph (c)(i) "or" and after paragraph (d)(ii) "or""
Lord Patel rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the Science and Technology Committee on Science and the RDAs: SETting the regional agenda (5th Report, Session 200203, HL Paper 140).
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am delighted to be able to present to the House the July 2003 report on Science and the RDAs by the Science and Technology Committee. The committee looked at how to improve, to mutual advantage, the interaction between the recently established regional development agenciesthe RDAs of the titleand science, engineering and technology, normally contracted to "SET".
While the committee took account of the longer experience of these matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, I should explain that our inquiry concentrated on the nine English agencies which were set up some five years ago. Strictly speaking, only eight of those are RDAs. However, the separately established London Development Agency is essentially the same. My and others' references to RDAs should therefore be understood to include the London body.
Alongside the report, we shall be considering the Government's December 2003 response to the committee's wide-ranging recommendations. Copies of the response are available in the Printed Paper Office, and will be published in a follow-up report after this debate. We shall also need from time to time to refer to the Government's December 2003 innovation reportCompeting in the Global Economy: the Innovation Challengeand the contemporaneous report of the Lambert review of business-university collaborationwhich helped inform the innovation report. Both of those reports acknowledge the influence of the committee's recommendations, and I am pleased about that.
I shall also be able to draw on useful material from the RDAs themselves about their actions in the light of the committee's and these other reports. The RDAs have found the report helpful and that is encouraging and pleasing. That material too is available in the Printed Paper Office and will be published in due course.
Before turning to the key points arising from the report and the Government's response, I should like to thank the Select Committee for the honour of chairing the inquiry, and the other members of the sub-committee for making that such an enjoyable experiencemost of the time. I am sure that they will join me in thanking the many people who helped us complete our task: those who provided in writing and orally much useful source material, all as published in the 349 pages of the evidence volume accompanying the report; all those involved in a valuable series of visits in England, Scotland and Wales which helped us to understand the position on the ground, as summarised in appendices to the report; our specialist adviser, Dr Marilyn Wedgwood, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, for helping us work through the inquiry's many interrelated strandsher knowledge of RDAs is phenomenal, to say the least. And
No modern economy can be successful without innovation. Much of that innovation is technological, involving the application and exploitation of SET. The English structures for encouraging innovation as a driver of economic growth were substantially changed in the late 1990s with the introduction of RDAs. The starting point of our inquiry was the effect this explicitly regional perspective is having on the national SET base.
I think it is fair to say that at least some sub-committee members started by doubting that the apparent fragmentation of influences on the national SET base could be beneficial. However, we were quickly won over by what we heard and, during our various visits, saw on the ground. RDAs' activities at the interface between economic development and SET can, when properly focused, be a potent force for good.
While the energy and enthusiasm of RDAs' board members and staff cannot be faulted, our emerging concern was that the framework within which they were required to operate meant that their activities were not always focused on the right things. To allow RDAs to focus their activities better, with consequent benefits to regional and national economies, we saw the main needs as greater coherence, longer-term perspectives and reduced bureaucracy.
To that end, the committee made 19 recommendations, addressed to the Government and others. These arise at various points in our report, but are, for convenience, collected together on pages 8 to 10. I will briefly outline the key points, and comment on them further in the light of the Government's response.
However, on a general point, it is a little disappointing that the Government's formal response deals only with the report's individual recommendations. Most Select Committee reports are more than the sum of their specific recommendations. They normally also represent a committee's considered reflection on a particular issue or area of policy. The response provides no introductory section giving the Government's overview of the role and future of the RDAs. It is therefore difficult to infer the Government's overview from the response, or to glean this from the various references in last December's innovation report.
I hope that the Minister, when replying to this debate, in order to set the context for his more detailed points, will be able to give a brief overview on the lines I have indicated. In particular, I would welcome his assurance that the Government plan to involve RDAs as vital partners in developing arrangements for the exploitation of SET.
Turning to the committee's detailed recommendations, we found that the principal handicap for the RDAsand otherswas the absence of coherent policies for the exploitation of SET. Accordingly, our key recommendationat sub-paragraph (a) on page 8was that the Government should involve relevant national and regional players in urgently devising and implementing a national policy
At the operational level, we recommended at sub-paragraph (b) the establishment of a forum to enable national and regional interests to address the impact of and synergy between national and regional SET investments and, as far as possible, harmonise them. The Government's response states their belief that the Steering Group for the Research Councils and RDAs will fulfil this task. My fear is that this body may not be at a level involving the right people to resolve the operational issues. What will the Government do to ensure that their expectations for the steering group are realised? Are there any incentives for the stakeholders more actively to strive for the highly desirable national/regional synergy?
Several regions made strong representations about the mismatch between the Government's emphasis on regional development and reluctance to increase their R&D funding outside the South East in areas that are far from scientific deserts. We illustrated this with 1999 figures, the latest year for which full data were available at the time. Our recommendation at sub-paragraph (c) on page 8 was that the Government should urgently publish the latest possible information about their R&D spend per region and keep this up to date as a performance measure of support for regional economies through nationally-provided SET.
The Government's comment that regions' success in attracting others' R&D funding might be more relevantand we accepted its value as a regional performance measure at sub-paragraph (f)I thought missed the point of our recommendation. However, I appreciate that there are more recent data for government R&D spend per region. Can the Minister again say whether later figures show any proportionate increase for regions outside the South East?
Our final recommendation relating to overall coherencein sub-paragraph (d) on page 8addressed the need for an analysis of the complex issues in the demand for and supply of SET, better to inform future policies on SET exploitation. The Government's response acknowledges that the thrust of the recommendation was on target, but I should be grateful if the Minister could say whether the activity outlined in the response is now yielding the necessary results.
I now turn to our recommendations on metrics and bureaucracy. Alongside the absence of coherent policies for the exploitation of SET, we found the other principal handicap for RDAs was the government-set framework within which they were required to operate. As noted in Box 4 on page 21 of our report, RDAs are subject to a bewildering array of performance measures. Although SET is both directly and indirectly relevant to a wide range of RDAs' activities, it is mentioned only peripherally in the definition of the eleventh Tier 2 outcome concerning innovation.
Not only were the wrong things being measured, measurements are made over periods too short to allow necessary longer-term projects to show their worth. Moreover, all that was compounded by bureaucratic demands. RDAs operate under some 1,400 pages of guidance documents which, having been developed at different times and by different limbs of government, contain many ambiguities and contradictions. Accordingly, we made a series of recommendations, at sub-paragraphs (e) to (h) on page 9, about providing RDAs with a simplified and more relevant set of performance measures and reducing their bureaucratic load.
The Government's response notes these as covering similar ground to the National Audit Office's November 2003 report Success in the Regions. Of course, our report in fact predated the NAO's report, but I welcome the indication that the committee's comments will be taken into account in implementing the NAO's recommendations. Is the Minister able to say when he expects that work to be complete?
The committee made a number of subsidiary recommendations, addressed principally to RDAs, regional business and higher education interests, about boosting regional capacity and connections on SET-related matters. Time does not permit me to expand on those, although I am pleased to report that RDAs have welcomed these and are tackling them energetically.
There is, however, one particular issue that I should like to highlight before I finishthat of public sector procurement. Small businesses are often the source of the most technologically-innovative products and services. Encouraging their growth is good for the economy and SET base at both regional and national levels. We were concerned to learn that public sector purchasing policies can actively work against such businesses. The committee heard from an Internet company that, solely on the grounds of turnover, was precluded from bidding for a project within its internationally-established competence. Another example was of a small company that could not sell its high-tech equipment needed by the local hospital other than through the German-based preferred contractor.
Accordingly we recommended, at sub-paragraph (p) on page 10, that consideration be given to the case for arrangements such as the USA's small company set aside scheme to help small firms participate in public sector procurements, either directly or as sub-contractors in larger projects. It seemed to us to be a win-win solution: small companies and their regions would benefit from the better opportunities; at the same time, the public sector would benefit from the innovation that is the characteristic of small SET-related businesses.
It is therefore disappointing that the Government rejected this recommendation, particularly as, from the limited steps described in their response to increase the success of smaller businesses in government procurements, they seem to accept that there is a real problem here.
Two reasons are given for the rejection. The first is that such a move would run counter to the Government's objective of basing all public procurement decisions on value for money for the taxpayer. Neither of the examples I gave had anything to do with the price of the product. Even where that is an issue, however, is there not also a broader value for taxpayers' money in helping to develop a vibrant small company sector?
The Government's second objection was conflict with EC and WTO treaty obligations. However, they have presumably not stood in the way of the present limited initiatives. Can the Government really not explore whether any further elbow room might be available?
I have covered most of the recommendations and I hope that my colleagues on the committee will cover the others. I am aware of the time. I look forward to hearing the views of my colleagues on the committee and to the Minister's reply.
I conclude by observing that, as the relatively new RDAs have paid attention to the role of SET in their economic strategies, weaknesses and opportunities have become apparent in the structures intended to encourage and support SET-based economic development. While some of those weaknesses are matters of process, others are consequences of a deep-seated lack of coherence in the various policy levers. For the good of regional and national economies, all those weaknesses need urgently to be redressed. As indicated in the title of our report, SET needs to be an explicit and integral part of the regional agenda. Securing this now will help ensure our national prosperity in the increasingly challenging years to come. I beg to move.
Lord Mitchell: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for introducing the debate. The noble Lord was an inspirational and incisive chairman who kept us on the straight and narrow. We travelled to many places in the UK, but I have to admit some disappointment that the noble Lord was not able to get us to visit Dundee. I also have to thank the noble Lord because it was he who co-opted me onto the sub-committee for microprocessors during the next 20 years, which has led to me being on the Select Committee on Science and Technology itself, a role and a position for which I am truly grateful.
I thank Marilyn Wedgwood, our special adviser. As the noble Lord said, she has a phenomenal knowledge of RDAs, and she too was able to guide us through a difficult period of understanding how the various RDAs operate. I have to thank twice over our Clerk, Roger Morgan, for his superb work. I omitted to thank him when we had the debate on microprocessors.
We have produced a jolly good report. I hope that those people who read it, particularly in the DTI but also elsewhere throughout the country, will take notice of what we have to say. We have made some powerful recommendations.
To be frank, I was left with a series of worries about the report itself. The first was whether we were looking at RDAs too early into their life. Many of them had been going for less than five years, and I wondered if that really was the period when we should be looking at them and seeing how they were doing. Sometimes I had the feeling that we were digging up the plants to see how they were growing. Perhaps we should look at the subject again in three or four years' time. How well are they doing? Well, I am not sure. The jury is out on this, but we certainly saw some encouraging aspects.
My other, perhaps more important, worry about the RDAs concerns how the RDAs themselves operate. I had this feeling that no sooner had they been incorporated than the normal corporatist trappings were being put into the way that they operate. The good and the great were associated with the RDAs: the directors of the public companies, the professors, the knights of the realm. But where were the entrepreneurs? Where were the real customers? We did not see very many of those, and I think that is a great pity. We went to a sumptuous dinner at the splendid offices of the Royal Society in Edinburgh. We had a superb lunch at AstraZeneca in Macclesfield. Speaking frankly, I would have preferred to have gone to the pub with the entrepreneurs in their t-shirts and jeans, and to have shot the breeze with them.
I have this overwhelming worry that the RDAs have become too posh, too grand and too out of touch, and I hope that they keep close to their prime customers, the entrepreneurs and the people who are in the regions. The job of the RDAs is to create the correct environment. It is not necessarily to back winners, and they must become accessible and not remote from the population.
The prime job, I suppose, of an RDA is to generate regional growth and regeneration, but at the moment that is actually happening before our eyes. In our major regional cities which, 10 or 15 years ago, were almost beyond hope, we are seeing some tremendous growth occurring. I think of Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow. Leeds is now a major financial centre in this country. There was an article in the Economist this week that indicated that, for the first time, more people are moving north than are moving south. House prices, as most noble Lords will know, are rising faster in the North than they are in the South. There are economic reasons that propel regional growth. It may even be said that things people might not think are important, such as the Commonwealth Games being in Manchester, or Liverpool being awarded the European Capital of Culture for 2008, actually are important, because they all demonstrate that the regional areas are nice places to live, and they will attract the key people and the key investments that we need in these areas. It is said that while 39 per cent of Newcastle University graduates used to stay within that region after they graduated, that figure is now
It has to be said that one of the reasons why many of our deprived areas are doing well, the North in particular, is the strong economy in this country. I know it is the usual mantra that will be heard from these Benches, but the facts are true: the lowest unemployment, the lowest inflation and low interest rates. Indeed, a smile crossed my face just the other day to read that the inflation rate is dangerously close to 1 per cent, a point at which the Governor of the Bank of England has to write to the Chancellor explaining why inflation is low. I think that is all good news. We can scoff, if we like, at boom and bustand I know people dobut stability and steady growth are absolutely key to regeneration, and they bring their own reward. To quote a phrase, "when the tide comes in, all boats rise", and I think that is what we are seeing in the north of the country.
One of the recommendations we make in the report concerns the funding gap. It is a perennial issue that has been discussed certainly as long as I have been involved in economics. The venture capital community in this country has revolutionised investment in the UK, but there are still problems, and so there are roles for the regional development authorities. There are not many angels around who make seed investments. That is a job for institutions, whether it is the University Challenge Fund, or any other body that is supported by the RDAs. But I have found from my own experience that venture capitalists are not really interested in investments of less than £5 million. It is too costly, it takes up too much time, and, who knows, it may be too risky as well. That is something we saw when we were in Silicon Valley on the microprocessor investigation. So it is important that the RDAs are able to fund this gap. How does my noble friend the Minister, who I know has an interest in this area beyond most people, see this issue and what changes are being made with respect to funding the investment gap below £5 million.
I want to draw attention to one recommendation. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, mentioned the small company set-aside scheme, which relies on the importance of government spending on pump priming with regard to small companies. Once more, in Silicon Valley, we saw the benefit. The US Government use their spending money to give a leg-up to small companies. It is hard for such companies to get government fundsthey do not know who to go to, they cannot fill out the reports, they do not have the infrastructure. We recommended in our report that the DTI should emulate US small company set-aside schemes. So I should like to ask the Minister a difficult question that I think he needs to answer.
This country is spending probably £10 billion on IT infrastructure investmentsin the NHS, Defra and the Ministry of Defencebut I do not see any directive in that spending to support small companies. I should like to know why that is. I have heard the reasons, but I cannot believe them. The first is that when one tenders,
Finally, we have heard about the DTI report on innovation; we have heard about the Lambert report on universities and business; there are various reports from the House of Commons. Is it not possible that these reports could be co-ordinated so that we could bring forward some recommendations that make sense across the board?
Lord Freeman: My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for chairing the Select Committee, on which I was privileged to serve as a co-opted member. The noble Lord's patience, persistence and good humour are quite remarkable. I put it down to his having worked for more than 30 years with real patients in the health sector. For me, a humble accountant, not a scientist, serving on the committee has been a prolonged adult education course, learning more and more about the science base in this country and how government in the public sector can assure that we develop it, as the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, said, to be one of the most dynamic in the world, at the forefront of events.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Patel, was being a bit too modest when he said that very soon after the Select Committee's report was published, a number of public sector reports were published. He seemed to imply that these came in parallel. I detect a good deal of influence exerted by the committee and by the report on a number of public sector reports, which I shall mention for the record. The National Audit Office's report, Success in the Regions, was published towards the end of 2003. The Treasury published Bridging the Finance Gap, and the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, referred, quite rightly, to the funding gap. There was also the DTI's innovation report and, of course, the Lambert review. All four reports drew in some measuresome greater than otherson the work of the committee.
I was impressed by the regional development agencies as we went around the country. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, in his typical fresh, invigorating style, said he thought that some of them were "too posh". The further north I wentnorth of Yorkshire and Humberside, through the north-west, the north-east and Scotlandthe more impressed I became, particularly in the north of England, at how hard-working and how directly rooted those agencies were in the business community. I applaud what they have already achieved; I think their individual responses, which I am sure your Lordships will look forward to reading in due course, were very constructive.
I hope that your Lordships will return, as a matter of discipline, to this subject again in two or three years' time. Parliaments have a great habit of writing reports, listening to the government's response and then all the papers get filed away in the Library. As a discipline, we, as parliamentarians, ought to return to the same subject and see what has and has not been achieved, otherwise the collective memory dissipates and our effect is diminished.
The three points I want to deal with have already been touched upon. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said about bureaucracy and metricsthat is, the measurement of innovation performance and support. Secondly, I want to refer to the funding gap and the success that universities have in spinning out high technology, with or without the support of regional development agencies. Finally, I should like to say a word on the valuable recommendation made in the report about the relationships between universities and the regional development agencies.
On bureaucracy and metrics, it was interesting to read in the National Audit Office's report which was published after that of the Select Committee that the NAO said that the DTI must allow maximum delegationthat is, delegation of responsibility to the regional development agencies. It said that the DTI,
My noble friend Lord Wade and the noble Lord, Lord Thomaswhom it is very nice to see in his placeboth have a very deep knowledge of the work of the Northwest Development Agency, to which I pay tribute. In the agencies' response to the Government's report, they raised a very interesting point. They said that they believed that a wider approach to reducing bureaucracy should initially be dealt with at RDA chair and government Minister level. If the Minister could share his valuable experience and much appreciated work with the chairmen of the nine English RDAs, that would be much appreciated. Those discussions will surely complement what the noble Lord, Lord Patel, was talking aboutthe introduction by March this year of performance indicators for the support of innovation.
The noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, talked about the funding gap. Clearly there has been a problem in funding new start-up technology companies, particularly in the bracket which the noble Lord referred tobetween £250,000 and £500,000 and up to about £5 million, for reasons which he spelt out very clearly. That problem is both cyclical and structural. The Government are seeking to alleviate that problem. My understanding is that detailed bidding guidance was going to be given by the spring of this year on how companies can bid for what is described as a pathfinder round of new enterprise capital funds. I am not sure whether that guidance has been issued by Her Majesty's Treasury or the DTI. Such funds are set up to support the growth of small companies which might have been started up inside or outside university with debt finance coming from the Government to support equity raised locally or nationally. That is modelled on the United
The only point I would add to what the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, said is that in addition to the funding gap, I think there is an entrepreneurial gap. It is very difficult for academics to make that transition from university to the tough world of making money to understand how an idea is translated into a profitable company and how an idea or invention is turned into a product that is needed by the world economy. The regional development agencies have a big role to play because they are rooted in the business community and the advice that they can give to universities in particular is much appreciated and necessary.
My final point is to do with recommendation (r) and the need for greater co-operation between universities and the regional development agencies in strategic working. Universities should co-operate more, in my humble judgment, on a regional basis, in interfacing with the relevant RDA. The RDA can identify the industrial demandwhat clusters of specialisation of industrial knowledge exist in the region and what, therefore, is needed in terms of support, not only from the universities within that region but also nationally. I greatly welcome the setting up of science and industry councils by the RDAs and their participation in them.
The Lambert review referred to the DTI needing to shift its pattern of regional support from projects which created jobs to those where there was an opportunity for collaboration between the regional development agencies and universities on important research and development products. It is the research and development as well as the creation of jobs which is very important. Anything the Minister can say on that would be appreciated.
I end by declaring a prospective interest. Along with Dr Kenny Tang and with Mr Ajay Vohora from Nottingham University, I am co-editing a book to be published this autumn on this very subjectthe development of spin-outs from universities and how the local business community can succour and support them. In advance, I thank the Minister very warmly for having agreed to write a foreword to the book.
Lord Methuen: My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for introducing this debate on our report on science and the RDAs. He was an able chairman and we would not have achieved what we did without his help. It was an interesting inquiry. We much benefited also from the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Macclesfield, whom I am glad to see in his place. His experience as a sometime chairman of the North West RDA was absolutely invaluable to us. We would also have been lost without the expertise of our specialist adviser, Dr Marilyn Wedgwood, and the support of our clerk, Roger Morgan. Roger came into the House when I was sitting on EU Sub-Committee B. Between us, he and I contributed to no fewer than four reports to the House. We also represented the House at the Eureka conferences on
Those visits brought home to me the disparate nature of the problems with which an RDA is faced. Let us take Advantage West Midlands as an example. Not only does it have the benefit of the leading universities of Birmingham, Aston, Warwick and Keele on its doorstep, but also the run-down industrial areas of the Black Country, with substantial ethnic minorities and unemployment. It has the diminishing ceramics industry in the Potteries, and the rural areas of Herefordshire and Shropshire. Similar circumstances apply for many RDAs, though perhaps less so in the south-east of England. That disparity requires different solutions to promote growth in the various parts of the region. One size does not fit all. A typical solution for rural areas is the enabling of broadband communications for the benefit of both private and commercial users. The RDAs can promulgate that.
The RDAs are a comparatively new creation and there was a substantial learning curve before they began to be effective in promoting science, engineering and technology in their regions. That was in part due to the lack of staff suitably qualified to promote SET, although that situation is now being rectified.
When we were in Newcastle, we had a meeting with the North East Science and Industry Council, which comprised local people who had the relevant scientific and industrial experience and who were committed to their region's future. Such councils have a central role to play in helping to steer the region's regeneration. That point was reinforced by the Government's response to conclusion (k) in our report.
However, the regions do not operate in isolation. They must form part of a national agenda. Cross-regional co-operation and co-ordination are vital and they are occurring. Correspondingly, the regions' relationship with the research councils needs to be optimised. The formation of the steering group for the research councils and the RDAs, as mentioned in the Government's innovation report, will go some way to meeting that necessity. However, I suggest that it needs to meet more than the once a year, which I understand to be the current proposal.
I shall emphasise some other local issues. The RDA has a vital role to play in ensuring that the regional education system, at all levels, produces people with the requisite skills for the regions' industries, particularly for the high-tech industries that are now emerging. We must also remember that we need the craft skills such as those produced by the Modern Apprenticeship Scheme; that is, we need a well balanced and well trained workforce. Those people will need employment in the region. It worries me that the start-up and university spin-off companies may achieve only a fraction of what is actually required, particularly in the regions of our old heavy industrythe north-west and the north-east. Thousands of jobs have been lost there in mining and the heavy industries, yet the new start-ups and spin-offs are providing only tens of jobs each. The arithmetic does not add up.
The regions can however maximise opportunities by providing premises for start-up companies and expert professional help during their initial years of operation. It has been remarked that many people in university start-up companies are essentially boffins and do not have the business expertise to do the job. Bureaucracy at the start-up stage needs to be minimised. We received several comments that the RDAs were too bureaucratic and too slow to respond at those early stages.
The RDAs should have a greater responsibility for identifying transport priorities and producing a regional transport strategy that covers both passenger and freight carriage by road and rail. Discussions with various RDAs suggested that central government took insufficient notice of an RDA's transport requirements; particularly for rail. A recent Commons Written Answer to Mr Philip Hammond MP stated that the powers of RDAs or regional assemblieswhen they come into existencewould be limited to making proposals for schemes of regional importance to the Highways Authority or the NRA. It was emphasised to us that transport is vital to regional regeneration and the promulgation of science and technology. More note should be taken of an RDA's or a regional assembly's concerns to enable it to meet its objectives.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for his chairmanship of an enjoyable and interesting inquiry. I declare an interest as I hold a university position in Cardiff. I had the honour of serving on the inquiry into science and RDAs and learnt much in the process.
The Welsh Development Agency welcomed a visit from the inquiry team. The agency explained how it promotes enterprise in conjunction with universities in Wales. I hope to illustrate how the WDA has worked towards the "five Cs" recommended by our report: coherence; connectivity; co-ordination; communication; and co-operation. Our report recommended that they should apply also to the English RDAs.
The Welsh Development Agency was established in 1976. Unlike the new English RDAs, it therefore has long experience of trying to serve the people of Wales by stimulating businesses to grow in vibrant communities and to become more competitive. It has been involved in community regeneration across Wales during the decline of traditional industries, being aware that only successful businesses could create the prosperity needed. Most Welsh companies were fairly small and unable to commit large sums to corporate research and development. Although the WDA played a role in supporting science, technology and innovation since the early 1990s, that activity increased considerably following the development of the Wales Regional Technology Plan in 1996. It is now a major strategic activity.
In Wales, the human dimension of personal networks, short lines of decision-making and responsiveness are particularly helpful drivers to a knowledge-based economy in an increasingly competitive world. Partnerships between public bodies and the private and voluntary sectors are assisted by Wales being, as Roger Jones, Chairman of the WDA described, "a two-telephone call economy". If you phone someone about a problem and they cannot give an answer, they will tell you whom to phone to get the answer. Most things in Wales are therefore two phone calls away.
Against that background, strategic links between the WDA and the university sector have developed for the benefit of all. For example, Cardiff University, which is a Russell Group member, has doubled its research income in the past four years.
The WDA supports applied and collaborative research and outreach to businesses through its Centres of Excellence for Technology and Industrial Collaboration programme, or CETIC. Six of these centres are hosted by Cardiff University, and the funding provided by the WDA enables the university to appoint commercial managers to work at the interface between industry and the academic research teams.
The WDA has been key to the development of strategic all-Wales initiatives based on a critical mass of high-quality research, such as the Wales Gene Park, which is one of the UK's genetic knowledge parks. The Wales Gene Park programme is led by Cardiff University, with links to other universities in Wales, and the university continues to work with the WDA towards developing the next phase of the Wales Gene Park, which will include a physical infrastructure. The Cardiff Institute of Tissue Repair is another example of the WDA being a catalyst for collaborative developments.
Cardiff University hosts one of the nodes of the UK Grid: the Welsh e-Science Centre. Through financial support from the WDA's Wales Information Society initiative, the Welsh e-Science Centre has been able to appoint specialist staff to bring the benefits of the grid to industry in Wales.
The WDA organises showcase events for Welsh R&D technologies, such as the BioWales and Technology Wales events. I went to BioWales 2004 last month. It is ground-level networking and enhances innovation, bringing together people with ideas and those who are able to put those ideas into practice.
The WDA "field-force", the technology and innovation team, comprises some 65 staff who work closely with businesses. It includes 16 innovation and technology counsellors based across Wales, in Cardiff, Treforest, Swansea, Aberystwyth, Newtown and St Asaph, and also commercial managers in 20 Welsh institutions. The staff individually play an important role in alerting businesses to the expertise and specialised facilities available in our academic institutions, and in bringing opportunities for collaboration to the universities.
The WDA has financially supported academics attending international conferences and trade fairs, to facilitate international research collaborations and technology marketing, and has placed students with industry and businesses to form strategic partnerships. It has collaborated with neighbouring English RDAs where there are areas of common interest, such as with the north-west in aerospace development.
The WDA has also worked closely with universities in developing and funding the Wales Spinout Programme, to support the establishment of new enterprises from Welsh universities and colleges. Through this programme alone, which is now managed by the WDA subsidiary Finance Wales, Cardiff University has created 11 spinout companies since the scheme was launched in 2000. The Wales Spinout Programme works especially well in tandem with the Treasury and Wellcome Trust-funded University Challenge Seed Fund at Cardiff University.
The Technium concept is the brainchild of the WDA and Swansea University. The WDA-managed site provides administrative support and business advice to start-ups and spin-off enterprises as short-term tenants who can then move on as their business grows. Technium is now being rolled out across Wales as cluster-related developments. The optoelectronics sector development, OpTIC Technium, has developed in north Wales, where 40 per cent of the UK optoelectronics capacity is based. The Centre for Advanced Software Technologies was also developed in north Wales, with Objective 1 funding, and the Technium concept is now at the centre of Welsh economic development strategy.
The problems of metrics alluded to in the report have been addressed in Wales, as they need to be addressed everywhere. This is about measuring performance, and was highlighted by our inquiry because GDP and job creation are crude markers of success. Metrics are the subject of collaborative research between the WDA and Cardiff Business School.
Forgive me for continuing to talk about Wales, but this is just a taste of what the WDA has done over the years, to try to find locally relevant solutions to national and international development problems. I am confident that a warm welcome to the inquiry came from the confidence of experience over time and the history of having made a very positive difference to
Lord Thomas of Macclesfield: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for providing the opportunity for this debate. When I first met him, the proposed timescale was six months and that frightened the life out of me, because I knew how long it would take me to assess all the ideas about RDAs. However, we did it, although we could have overrun and still hit the target. I would certainly like to thank the special adviser as well because, like the noble Lord, Lord Patel, she taught me in four weeks what would have taken me four years to learn.
I should immediately declare I was not only a co-opted member of this committee but, from 1999 to 2003, I was chairman of the North-West Development Agency. This debate follows a list of complementary reports on RDA operations and involves, for example, reducing the growth rates between regions; the future of higher education, in as much as it involves RDAs; and the provision of support to industries and businessall set up by the House of Commons. Our report predated those later reports, and it is interesting to note that, in general, they confirm our views and conclusions.
There are 350 pages of evidence, but I would like to concentrate on just one indisputable fact when it comes to research and development. It is on page 192 of the evidence, in case anybody wants to check it out. The north-west has the third largest expenditure by private business on research and development, beaten only by the south-east and eastern regions. In stark contrast, it has the third lowest public expenditure on research and development of any region except the north-east and Yorkshire and Humberside, which are the comparable regions in the north. Why is that true, and continue to be true? Does the private sector waste money in the northern regions, I ask myself? Or have we not invested sufficient resources in our northern universities?
If that was true, how would we explain that the splitting of the atom, or the facility to random access computer memory, were invented in our Manchester University, to name just two examples? But these two examples changed the world as we know it. The importance of splitting the atom is self-evident, but RAMrandom access memorygave us what we today call computers, and was invented as recently as the 1950s. Without computers, much of the world would not be able to operate as it does now. It appears to me, and to many others, to be an example of academics' and civil servants' preference for universities in the south-east or eastern regions, with many of those civil servants and academics being trained by those universities, and now living in the south-east. Only government can change the distribution of public sector investment, and they should not be put off by the self-serving claims that it is all based on peer groups views on excellence. Only recently, a
We in the North-West Development Agency pioneered the setting up of Science Council, led by Tom McKillop of AstraZeneca, and including leading scientists and industrialists from diverse groups such as the National Health Service, BAe, Pilkingtons, Unilever, AstraZeneca, BNFL and many others. At no cost to the public purse, they provide those services free, and they are very busy men and women. Such science councils are being replicated elsewhere.
We were told that science, engineering and technology in business clusters are the way forward for improving the region's GNP, and, moreover, that the DTI has all the necessary expertise in those areas. Accepting that the private sector apparently knew nothing about those areas of expertise, we asked for some of these people from DTI to be seconded to the regions. As recorded in our evidence, the DTI needed both notice of that question and time to reply. As far as I know, however, no one with such alleged experience was ever seconded to any of the nine regions of England between 1999 and 2003. I understand that that is still the position.
Only the Government can change the Civil Service's reluctance to change attitudes on regional issues, particularly within the DTI. MORI published a report on a national study of stakeholders' views on RDAs, commissioned by the DTI after RDAs had been operating for four years. The study addressed various issues. I have all the statistics but I shall not bore the House by providing them; but some are very relevant. To the question, "How would you rate the performance of your individual RDA compared with the government office in your region?", 51 per cent thought the RDAs were better and only 9 per cent thought them worse. To the question, "How do you compare that with the local authorities in your region?", 42 per cent thought the RDAs better and only 16 per cent thought them worse. To the question, "How do they compare with all other organisations providing funding and investment?", 52 per cent thought them better and 11 per cent thought them worse. To the question on European fundingwhich is there for all RDAs to grab; this was the clincher in terms of funding60 per cent thought the RDAs better, but 72 per cent thought that the North-West Development Agency was better.
Forgive me for bringing to your Lordships' attention the fact that MORI described the north-west of England as the most successful of the nine English regions in those four formative years. The Select Committee was unsure about the new RDAs, and just five years ago the Conservative Party was totally opposed to their formation. However, the results speak for themselves.
My conversion on the road to Damascus happened for two reasons. First, I got to know the industrialists and scientists who live in the great north-west, where 7 million people live. Although I had already been aware of it, I was again impressed by their intellectual input and commitment to the north-west. If we ever have a regional assembly, it will incorporate the RDAs and the private sector boards that make up the RDAs. It will have sole responsibility for economic development in our region. Although I know that some of my friends in the House will disagree with me on this issue, it is a fundamental point for me. I also have a lot of experience of the power and contacts of such boards. They have always given us excellent advice.
The previous speaker dealt with the Welsh experience. As a banker for 40 years I learned that, on development agencies, the Scots were way ahead of everyone else. However, when they were given a Parliament they did away with their development agency after which politicians dealt with those matters. The Welsh took a different line by embracing the private sector and all the knowledge of that sector. As your Lordships can probably tell from my accent, I am very pleased to see that the Welsh RDA is doing wonderful work.
Many people of Conservative views have been converted on RDAs. However, Damascus is a long way off for the DTI in Whitehall. We know where the policy is pinching. RDAs have never taken anything from local authorities, but their budgets and powers are continuing to come from Whitehall thanks to the effective support of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Lord Wade of Chorlton: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. I am delighted that he has been able to join us today and to give me the opportunity to congratulate him on the excellent job he did as chairman of the North West Regional Development Agency. He established it in great style. I hope that it has been able to continue in that direction. I agree with him that it is terribly important that it is business led and that all the development agencies are business led. Whatever changes the Government may decide to bring to the regions, I hope to God that they do not change that very important fact.
I join other noble Lords in expressing our pleasure in working under our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Patel. One of the great pleasures of being part of this great establishment is to sit on Select Committees. It is always a great pleasure to meet and work with different Select Committee chairmen. The noble Lord brought his great charm and drive to a most enjoyable and, I thought, very effective Select Committee.
In the 1970s and 1980s I was in the food export business. As a major supplier of British foods to the United States I was a member of the United States Cheese and Deli Association which brought together all those involved in that fascinating industry. On one occasion I went to the annual meeting which took place in Loews Hotel, in Dallas. We were given a major address by the then chairman of Federated Foods, an enormous conglomerate in the United States. At the appropriate time we all gathered in a vast auditoriumthere were many thousands; it is an enormous industry in Americaand waited for the speaker. While we waited, soft music played. A very seductive voice said, "Move forward. Move forward". So we were all ready for something very exciting. Finally, the curtains parted and on to the stage drove an enormous open-topped white Cadillac. Fastened to its front were the horns of an enormous beast. Out of it stepped a little fat man in a white suit. It was he. He walked to the front of the stage and said, "Always question the status quo". I have remembered that very clearly, as I was intended to do, ever since.
To question the status quo means innovation. It is the key to many successful businesses. It is the key to financial growth. It is the key to the growing economy and the extra wealth of our nation. It is brought about by science, engineering, technology and their application in business.
Such wealth creation is the reason why RDAs were set up in the first place. They were set up to ensure that each region of the United Kingdom could achieve the highest regional growth levels in the whole of Europe. To achieve that, there would have to be a higher growth rate in the north-west and other regions than there was in some of our wealthier regions. That could happen only by driving businesses to their limits and creating as much enthusiasm and ability in businesses as possible. That entails an understanding and knowledge at the local level. It is in small entrepreneurial businesses that the great innovation occurs that leads to benefits for products and consumers.
The message that came to me as we went through the evidence and discussed the various issues with the RDAs themselves and with all the various businesses and organisations that gave evidence to us was that the Government agreed and wanted to see growth in the regions but did not quite understand how to do it.
I was interested to receive yesterday a paper that has been brought out by the DTI in conjunction with the Treasury and Department for Education and Skills called Science and innovation: working towards a ten-year investment framework. They put down the problems and ask some questions, one of which is:
As I listened again to the evidence, it occurred to me that there was too wide a misunderstanding between the power and the influence that the RDAs could bring about, and those in central government who wanted to achieve something but were not close enough to the operators to make it happen. If we want to achieve what both the Government and the RDAs want to achieve, they must give the RDAs more power to get on with things.
They should understand that innovation is not a one-off development that can be created, but is a continuous process; and that, while something might be innovative one year, there could be something entirely different that needs to be innovative the following year. That means that they have to be close enough to the various industries involved in these changes to see how the policy can be changed and new ideas introduced in order to encourage development and to be influential and definite at the local level.
Far too much regulation was placed on the RDAs and there were far too many frameworks for fitting in with government policy. These were not flexible enough and could not be adjusted at the local level in response to these changing needs.
I hope the Government will ensure that our report is not just read and dismissed, but read, considered and acted upon. I hope they will understand that the power of the RDAs to change so much of what they want to see happenand what needs to happen for our economy to growlies in that advice. Let them get on with it; encourage new ideas; give them the resources; and ensure that by monitoring effectively over a period of time we can see more innovative and exciting business developments that are going to be the key to our success.
Lord Oxburgh: My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Patel for his wisdom and skill in guiding this inquiry through to a successful conclusion. I, too, wish to add my thanks to our special adviser, Dr Marilyn Wedgwood and to our clerk, Dr Roger Morgan.
Duly respecting devolved authority, the inquiry was restricted to the English regions. However, we made very valuable visits to Scotland and Wales to learn from their experience. To ensure total impartiality, we selected our chairman from Scotland.
I must confess that before this inquiry got under way and we started visiting the RDAs, I was not entirely clear how they might play an effective role in the support and promotion of science and technology. But having seen first hand some examples of their work and visited them, I am converted and am an enthusiastic supporter.
Arguably the most important single institution that any region that believes in exploiting its science and technology base can have is a science council. An effective science council can provide a forum in which representatives of all those in the region with an interest in science and technologywhether from industry, commerce, SMEs or universitiesare able to meet each other and devise a science strategy for the region.
At the very least this may provide an opportunity for all to know what research and development is going on in the region, what particular needs exist, and what specialist facilities are available. More optimistically, it may offer the opportunity for the pooling of resources and possibly for preparing collaborative applications for funding to external organisations such as central government or the EU. It can make the region aware of opportunities to strengthen the regional science base to the advantage of local industry.
An excellent example of this was the decision of the North West RDA to provide some tens of millions of pounds to facilitate the merger between the University of Manchester and UMIST. In doing so it acquired for the region what must become one of the most formidable universities in the country, extremely strong in a number of important areas of science and engineering.
The same authority saw advantage in putting money into the famous Jodrell Bank radio telescope, recognising that this historic instrument was not only able to attract able scientists to the area but was also an important tourist attraction.
Although there is scope for many different ways of operating science councils and achieving the desired objectives, it appeared to us that a particularly effective model was one in which the council stood alongside the official RDA structure and was business led, but received some infrastructural support such as a secretariat from the RDA. We saw advantage in the science council being able to offer independent advice to the RDA but without the danger of being stifled by possible RDA bureaucracy.
It was a disappointment to us to see that the research councils found it difficult to interact with the RDAs. Occasional meetings do take place, but we got the feeling that their function was rather for the councils to announce from above to the RDAs what they had decided to do, rather than to enter into a constructive discussion.
From time to time the research councils have to make decisions about the location of particular research facilities or research centres. Sometimes there are very compelling scientific reasons why these should be located in a particular place, but on other occasions there may be several equally attractive sites. Given that such facilities invariably feel that they need more money than is provided for them, partnerships with a particular RDA that had a special interest and was prepared to provide a site or a building could offer
Although we came across great enthusiasm and a great deal of imagination, one could not escape the impression that some of the RDAs were in the losing game of picking winners when it came to selecting areas of technology that the region wished to promote. The trouble was that time and time again we saw the same winners picked: biotechnology, microelectronics, IT systems and so on, rather than looking for local niche opportunities. Experience shows that identifying and backing bright and energetic individuals is the way to optimise chances of success. To be fair, we did see examples of this where the regions were providing advice and inexpensive start-up incubator units in which new businesses spend their vulnerable years. In passing we discovered that one of the performance indicators used by the DTI in assessing the performance of RDAs was the number of new businesses started. Going forward, it would be much more informative to count the number that were still in business after five years. A 20 per cent success rate would be rather good.
I have just returned from Singapore, which I visit several times a year as a member of A*star, the Singapore governmental advisory committee on science technology and research. It occurred to me during my return flight that, given the population of Singapore at 3 million indigenous Singaporeans and 1 million residents from abroad, its three universities and various polytechnics and so on, it was about the size of a small English RDA, and I was a member of the Science Council.
The east Midlands region of England has around 4.3 million people. At a guess it has a score of universities and colleges, although it is hard to keep track in these days of multiple mergers. In both Singapore and the East Midlands the spend on R&D is about 2 per cent of the local GDP. Why should Singapore appear to be so successful and prosperous? I do not mean to suggest that the east Midlands is not, but I think that most people would agree that there is a bit of a difference. Why in Singapore is there a superb system of roads, an excellent underground system and a major international airport that is both architecturally and functionally outstanding? Why in Singapore do we see the startling developments of Futuropolis and of Biopolis? The latter is a complex of excellent buildings with state-of-the-art laboratories that are attracting research workers from all over the world. Indeed, I know that the Minister has visited at least some of those facilities in the recent past.
There is no time today to address the question of the success or otherwise of Singapore, but the point I wish to make is that great achievements are possible in a socio-economic-geographical area the size of our English regions. However, I make two observations. It is clear that while the RDAs are enthusiastic about stimulating economic growth in their regions, they feel that they are hampered by external bureaucratic
The RDAs would perhaps argue that although the research spend in their regions may in some cases be at the same level as that in Singapore, the difference is that they do not control it. In both cases more than half that spend comes from private industry and therefore it is not controlled by the region. However, the big difference is that government research spend is in the case of our RDAs virtually all controlled from outside the region and to a great extent without the needs of the region in mind. That makes an enormous difference. We know that there are very good reasons for some of the issues, but perhaps everything points in the same direction. If the RDAs are expected to stimulate economic growth in their areas, they must have the tools with which to do so. Those that they have at present are insufficient.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page