WEDNESDAY 19 DECEMBER 2001
Dr Ian Gibson, in the Chair
Mr David Heath
Memoranda submitted by the Department of Trade and Industry and PPARC
Examination of Witnesses
THE RT HON PATRICIA HEWITT, a Member of the House, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, LORD SAINSBURY OF TURVILLE, a Member of the House of Lords, Minister for Science and Innovation, and DR JOHN TAYLOR, Director General of the Research Councils, examined.
(Ms Hewitt) Thank you very much indeed, Chairman. What we looked at in the Review was really the organisation of the DTI. We, therefore, looked at the relationship between the DTI's work specifically and the work of the Office of Science and Technology, which, of course, is cross departmental. It was very clear to me as we went through that Review, and indeed to all of us, that the Office of Science and Technology is doing very important and actually rather successful work right across government. We have Dr Taylor's work as Director of the Research Council and, of course, there has just been a quinquennial review of the research councils, we might want to come back to that, we certainly did not want to repeat that review. We also have the Chief Scientific Adviser reporting directly to the Prime Minister, to him and indeed to the Cabinet as a whole. I certainly did not think it was within the scope of the review of DTI and how we work to start going down the track of whether those arrangements might need changing, they certainly seemed to us to be working well. What I was primarily concerned about was how we match the work we have been doing to support Britain's outstanding science base with increased work to ensure that we are commercialising out of that science base, that we are transferring knowledge and technology into business and industry across the economy and, perhaps, most important of all, we are building an understanding of science and technology and a demand for the products of the science base within British business and industry. That, of course, is why we have concluded as part of the reorganisation of the DTI we need this new science, technology and innovation group. What I think we will have coming out of the review, I hope that was conveyed in the memorandum, is a much stronger and effective relationship between the Office of Science and Technology and the DTI's core work. We will not disrupt - indeed for other reasons we will be strengthening - the work that is being done in relation to the pure science base and, of course, the work of the chief scientific adviser generally.
(Ms Hewitt) We are looking at that at the moment. Dr John Taylor is acting as the Head at the moment of the new Science Technology Innovation and Unit, as well as continuing with his Research Council's job, with remit of designing and building a new group, which we want to have up and running along with the rest of Department's reorganisation in April of next year. We will go out in January for a public recruitment for the new permanent head of that new group.
(Dr Taylor) I think the design of this new organisation is actually going quite well. The model I think that everyone is comfortable with is that the activities currently in the science budget to do with knowledge transfer basically should stay there but that the activities in the new STI Group will pull together at Director General level for the first time a whole set of activities in DTI to do with science, technology and innovation. We are going to set up a new tight management group which will co-manage the interface between what goes on in the science base on push and what should be going on in the industry side in pull. What you will see as this new group gets together is much more effective co-management of the way those two sets of things work together. I think it has been very interesting, not to say exciting, to see the results coming back from the studies we have done lately on the rate of innovation going on in the universities and out of the universities, dramatic increases over last three or four years in the rate of start-ups, and so on. That is really shown very clearly that in research intensive universities, both the generation of new knowledge and the training of very skilled researchers, and the knowledge transfer activities are all going on in a very closely interlinked kind of way. To try and dissect part of that out from that would be a reversal of what everybody one has been trying to do very hard. We are going to provide much clearer interface through the new RC UK organisation into the activities that go on there.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) Professor King is, of course, the Chief Scientific Adviser for the government as a whole. The new head of the Science Technology and Innovation Group will be, amongst other things, the chief scientist for the department, just as, for instance, a new chief scientist has been appointed at DEFRA. There are chief scientists in various other parts of government. I think it is an important part of Professor King's role that he is the head, if you like, of that scientific expertise and profession right across government. It is not David King's role to be particularly the DTI's chief scientist any more than he is the chief scientist for any other department, he is the scientific adviser for the whole of the government.
(Ms Hewitt) Yes, I believe that they will and I think it is essential that they do. I think your concern was widely shared, not least by Margaret Beckett, who has made the appointment of a new chief scientist within the new department within DEFRA. David King was involved as Chief Scientific Adviser in that appointment and I believe I am right in saying for the first time the R&D budget of DEFRA is now increasing in real terms. I think one of the roles that I can play as the cabinet minister responsible for science is particularly through the new cabinet Sub Committee on Science to ensure that right across government colleagues are aware of what does need to be done to strengthen not just scientific expertise within government but the use of that expertise and its communication to the public at large.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) I think there is a real need to have the chief scientific adviser of government keeping what in industry we call a functional responsibility across government to make certain that science in all government departments is of the calibre that it should be and making certain that where necessary we bring people into come into those posts, so that we have people who have been doing scientific research in recent years rather than do administrative tasks and, therefore, fully in contact with top scientists in that particular field. I think the appointment at DEFRA is a first example of this, which is very important in maintaining the standards of science across government.
(Ms Hewitt) When appointing a women you do not have to be very open in your thinking to want to ensure that you are recruiting from the whole of the talent pool, not only half of it. If you are talking about the appointment of the new head of the Science Technology and Innovation Group that will be an open recruitment, in other words we will invite applications from within the Civil Service but also from the entire community. The specification for the job and the individual who we are looking for is being drawn up at the moment but obviously we want somebody who has got a strong expertise in science and technology but who also has some real expertise in the transfer of knowledge and technology between the science base and industry itself. It will be surprising if this person had not worked pretty closely in or with industry. Yes, it would be wonderful to get a woman in that post, we will have to see what we can do.
(Dr Taylor) Can I just add to that, in the last six months we have appointed the first woman chief executive of the Research Council and the first women chairman of the Research Council. In both cases they were entirely on merit.
Chairman: Radical changes all round, great.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) I know this is and issue and one of the issues we are addressing at the cost cutting science review. The part of that which is dealing with other government departments, which David King is leading, is as part of the Spending Review looking at the science and innovation strategies of each government department. We now require each government department to have a science and innovation strategy. The Spending Review is a good opportunity to review those to make certain they are focused on what is necessary to help decision making in that department. Equally there are not overlaps or gap across government, for example in areas like energy research or drug abuse a number of departments have an interest in this and we want to make certain in planing that research you do not duplicate things and equally we do not have gaps. The only way to do that is part of a planning process.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) I think this is an issue. If there are areas like that then this is the sort of point we want to follow up at this stage.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) As you will know in the Review there is the people who are dealing with business relationships and obviously they will deal with the relationships with the biotechnology industry. Where it is a question of designing new schemes or looking at how we diffuse new technology then clearly the Director General of the Science Technology and Innovation Group will have a large part to play in that.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) I am sure you will also note that the food industry is also ahead of the game in national and international statistics. I think this is a big issue and that is why we are looking, as you know, in the Pre Budget Report at the whole question of an R&D tax credit for large companies as well as with small companies. We are looking at how we design that to give a real stimulus to R&D and big companies. There has been an encouraging trend upwards on the R&D figures and the important task now is to make certain that does not fall back during the period of low growth we are going into.
(Ms Hewitt) If I can come in on that. We are all quite clear that we need to see both public and private sector R&D increase significantly. Of course, as this Committee knows well, we have been very substantially increasing the investment in the science base over the last four years and that will continue to be the case. We are looking at the cross cutting review of science going on at the moment as part of the 2002 Spending Review. The incentives to the private sector to increase its R&D are even more important than what we can contribute in the public sector. The outcome of the Chancellor's and my consultation on the design of R&D tax credit is very important.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) It is frustrating and as your Chairman rightly said there are only a few sectors where private sector R&D spend is at or above world class levels, so we need to increase it. One of the things that I observed is that one of the main reasons why the United Kingdom has remained the number one location for foreign direct investment into Europe is the strength of our science base. We are getting more and more foreign companies investing in the United Kingdom in part because they want a partner with one or more university departments, they want to use the outstanding science and technology and engineering graduates that we are producing, they want to do leading edge research here. A recent example of that is the Boeing partnership with the metals department at Sheffield University and with the Welding Institute. What I think we need to do is not only to continue to attract inward investment and market our science base to those potential inward investors, we need to be much more active in building partnerships with British based businesses, businesses who are already here, who have not thought about what the science and technology base could actually do for their business. We have made a start on that in a number of different sectors but there is much, much more we can do. That is going to be one of the chief missions of the new Science and Technology Innovation Group.
(Ms Hewitt) I am not going to pre-empt the outcome of the Spending Review, indeed I have not yet my bids to the Spending Review, so I am not going commit to those bids either. We do have a cross cutting review of science, which Lord Sainsbury is leading. We are very clear that the investment we have made so far in the science base and in the commercialisation of that science base is proving enormously successful. We are also clear, I think, despite the fact we have gone a considerable distance to make up the under funding of the previous 10 years or so there is still an awful lot more to do, so I anticipate making a fairly ambitious bid to the Chancellor as a result of the cost cutting review.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) We will put in an ambitious bid, obviously the circumstances are more difficult now than they were at the last Spending Review. I think there has been a very considerable period of under spending, we have turned that round and we are now going in the right direction. There is still some way to go. It is a rather uncomfortable fact that if you look at the forward look statistics, in spite of a very substantial, real increase which will take place as part of this Spending Review in total terms, real terms, we will be spending less across the whole of government than we were in 1988. I think there is a long way to go but we are heading now in the right direction and we will try and push that forward.
(Ms Hewitt) Not at all. I think Chancellor and Treasury colleagues have demonstrated in the last four years their commitment to the United Kingdom science base. There has been a very, very substantial increase in funding and indeed the science budget in the current year is £1.7 billion. There is a very substantial investment being made there. We hold that budget, which is ring-fenced, in a sense, on behalf of government as a whole. As I say, its value is very well understood in the Treasury. The issue, of course, will simply be that there is already very substantial increases in public spending plans in the current Spending Review period and there are enormous means within the public services, as all of us are aware, and so we will be competing for resources against a number of other very important priorities.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) One of the encouraging things is that we can now point to the extraordinary change that is taking place in universities with spin-off companies, where we have gone from an average of about 70 a year to nearly 200 a year. We can point to the rate of patents going up very strongly, the proportion of university research which is funded by industry, and I think these are very clear indications which will be putting to the Treasury of how valuable this money now is in terms of our economic performance.
(Ms Hewitt) There is a very nice figure which came out from the review we have just done of this commercialisation and knowledge transfer which will commend itself to the Treasury that our universities have managed to identify one spin-off firm for every 8.6 million of research expenditure, in Canada they get one spin-off firm for every 13.9 million of research expenditure and in America they need to invest £53 million to get one spin-off firm. We are getting very high value for money in our investment in the science based fields.
(Ms Hewitt) Not yet.
(Ms Hewitt) It will all be going in in the early part of new year. We would expect to get the results of the Spending Review by the summer of next year
(Ms Hewitt) I am sure that this Committee and others who understand the importance of the science base will be helping us make that case.
(Ms Hewitt) There will be discussions amongst colleagues as well, we do not have to do all of these things on television.
(Dr Taylor) Absolutely. As all of us do moonlighting several times over, we have crosscutting reviews, spending reviews, quinquennial reviews, and so on, and the preparation for the Spending Review is a pretty well organised process that we have been running right across the council since the beginning of this year. I think we have done a fairly thorough, systematic first cycle of the RC UK approach to life in getting that going. I am very confident that my colleagues and my staff are well ahead on that, I am certainly keeping a very close eye on it, and on the relationships between the Spending Review proposals and the crosscutting review, which raises a whole lot of wider issues about funding in universities, and so on.
(Ms Hewitt) What we are doing with the strengthening of the role of the chief scientific adviser and the relationship he will have with the chief scientists in all departments and the creation of this new cabinet Sub Committee on Science will mean we are raising visibility of science right across government. I think all of us are acutely aware of the difficulties that have arisen in recent years, for instance in relation to BSE and there is, therefore, a political willingness and commitment to ensure that we do have proper scientific expertise, that the investment is being made, that the right people are being called upon from outside government as well as within government to advise us and we are acutely aware of the need to communicate scientific issues rather better to the public. All of those things are now being looked at more carefully on a cross departmental basis. As David was indicating earlier I think that means we are much more likely to spot the gaps and ensure that if one department is falling short actually that situation is remedied.
Dr Turner: Thank you.
(Ms Hewitt) I have not heard of any proposal for top slicing budgets.
(Ms Hewitt) We would have liked to publish it earlier but of course after the General Election we had a reorganisation of government departments, which was disruptive but nonetheless desirable, so some of the science strategies had to be reformulated, programmes had to be reviewed to see whether they were consistent with the new priorities of new secretaries of state and departments and I am afraid that that just held up the preparation of the forward look. It is, as you will have seen, a very, very substantial piece of work. I think it was better to get it right and get it up to date than to rush out with something that although it was called a forward look it might have been out of date even before we published it.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) I think the idea is we will keep these constantly up to date because the set tables come from different areas two or three times a year, so what we want to do is update them on the website, we will not publish them, we will keep them up to date so that (a) we save some money, (b) we save some trees and (c) it is done in real time, so you do not have to wait until some period in the year to update, it is updated on a regular basis.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) I think the answer is, as we get the figures in from the departments we will put them up on to the website.
(Dr Taylor) I think it a very good idea and a lot of work has gone into working through how it might work and what is necessary. The way in which it will be different, I think, will be threefold, first of all it will provide a single voice for the Research Council's in the United Kingdom, for science in the United Kingdom, if you will, where people will know that the issues have been debated and that this is a cross council view on those issues. Another way of talking about that is a single portal into Research Councils and where we need to have dialogue with universities, with funding councils, with regions and jurisdictions, with international bodies, and so on, the existence of a single place with which to have that dialogue will be a big improvement. Secondly, it will formalise and make quite a lot more explicit and visible the whole process of our Spending Review cycle, how we pull proposals together for what the programme should be in the future and what kind of strategies we have in the longer term, for example for major facilities and major programmes, so that is a much more visibly cross council properly debated set of issues. Thirdly, we will be able to look, again, right across the councils to see where we can do our business more efficiently and effectively and present a cleaner interface to the people we interact with. Overall to chase the underlying objective which came from this review, which is that science requires flexibility. There are lots of boundaries between different parts of science and those boundaries are moving all of the time, so what we will really drive from RC UK is about the ability to move and manage across the interfaces as science changes, this is what science needs, and this new group will maintain a serious overview of how well we are able to do that.
(Dr Taylor) We looked at lots of options and there is a lot of material in the report about how you might go. At one extreme there is status quo, everything is fine nothing needs to change, at the other extreme there is the question of why not have one Research Council, a sort NSF, plus NIH. Again the independent people involved in both levels of this review debated long and hard, we did a lot of consultation with a lot of other people and basically there was not much support at all for either of those two extremes.
(Dr Taylor) I think in walking through that set of possibilities, we imagined doing it, we imagined wiping away all of the councils and appointing a single supremo, and then going through the process of immediately setting up a set of sub-divisions (because the overall group is much too wide for any one group to manage) we imagined losing all of our current independent members of the several councils, which are working effectively, and trying to re-build all of that and we pictured essentially a two-year planning blight during which time many people's eyes would have been taken off the real issues at a time when science is extremely fertile and moving very fast, so we went with the majority recommendation which was to do this and focus on it and measure it quite soon.
(Dr Taylor) This is something we will now debate quite carefully as we go into that recommendation. The notion of getting together initially a public Funders Forum is quite powerful and we would be very interested to understand how to make that effective with private industry funders as well. There is the usual set of representational issues and so on, but that would be a very important part of what we would want to talk about.
(Ms Hewitt) This is really an issue for Margaret Hodge over at the Department of Education and, of course, she announced in September a review of how arts and humanities' research should be funded, so all of that is being looked at at the moment, including that particular issue of whether the research board should become one of the research councils.
Mr McWalter: I would quite like your alliance on this because I am an interloper in this Committee really in that I am a philosopher.
Chairman: We all are.
Mr Heath: He thinks too much!
(Ms Hewitt) I think that is very well recognised. There has been a debate going back several decades in Britain about the two cultures and the danger of this divide between the humanities - and I am an English literature graduate myself - and the scientific world. Some of the work that is being done around the nature of intelligence and the creativity process again crosses that divide between humanities and science. That is specifically one of the issues that this review is going to look at. Once we have had an outcome of that review we can consult on how we go forward. John, you are involved in that review already.
(Dr Taylor) We have had some very fruitful debates and discussions with a lot of people involved in the communities and this set of issues. Certainly from the research council side, there is a lot of openness to debating and discussing how best we should go forward on this. There are a lot of different areas, you have illustrated one but there are many others, where there is the potential overlap, co-operation and mutuality of interest. I think as the AHRB, which has just been set up in its present form, explores its base, we are very keen to explore with them where those areas of shared interest might lie. I guess the real issue is do they want to move towards research grant kind of modalities, which is what they are starting to do now, instead of individual funding for scholarships and individual research. Understanding what that means for research in the arts and creative media is another thing that needs to be explored quite carefully.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) I was just going to make the point that in fact part of the thing that sparked off this review was an excellent report by the Council of Science and Technology suggesting that the Arts and Humanities Board should become a research council. I thought that was very encouraging. There is certainly a real desire for the research councils and Arts and Humanities Board, in whatever form, to work together on areas where there is a commonalty of interest.
(Ms Hewitt) That is one of the issues that I think has to be considered within that review. One of the implications of becoming a research council is that you then become part of the Research Councils UK and are supported by our excellent DG of Research Councils. I have certainly not begun to look at what the implications of that might be and I think that does need to be looked at within the context of the review Margaret Hodge has commissioned. Obviously there will be a lot of people in the arts and humanities' field who will have a view on that and will see advantages and be concerned about the possible disadvantages of that model. That needs to be thought through rather carefully.
(Dr Taylor) I echo that very much. I think one of the dimensions that is quite important for a lot of the community is that the research council role is a UK-wide role and so we fund the best research anywhere it is, whether it is in England, Scotland or whatever, and there are some funding complications flowing from the way that the AHRB is set up at the moment which need to be looked at, but I think the notion of all of the machinery of doing grants and awarding grants and peer review and all of that kind of thing, and having uniform interfaces with universities that want to be involved with that kind of process mean there would be a lot of positive sides to bringing them into the family. Some of them might worry about titles and names like "science and technology" but I am sure those kind of things are very easily dealt with.
Chairman: Mark Hoban?
(Ms Hewitt) I certainly agree with that conclusion. I felt as a Minister, once I discovered Foresight, that it was one of the best kept secrets within government. It is a wonderful programme and there is really exciting work going on in Foresight. It engages at a very high level with the business and scientific community, and I have no doubt at all that the business community benefits hugely from that engagement, but it is not well used or understood across government. We have recently, as you know, had a review of Foresight and in the light of that review's conclusions we are developing a new Foresight programme that I think will be better focused and will look at investing in exploiting the results of Foresight, not simply doing the Foresight work. Part of that is ensuring that other government departments and other Ministers are engaged in the Foresight process and use the fruits of it. It is an issue we may well come back to in the new Cabinet Sub-Committee on Science.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) We are looking at it in different way. I rather agree with you - I think it was becoming too diffuse and not as effective as it should be. There was also a problem about the way that we managed it which was to start off and have all the programmes start and then they all came to a halt at the same time, and the new way we are looking at managing it is that we will have on-going programmes but fewer at a time because it is much better use of staff in this, and we will also be much clearer about two kinds of Foresight, one which is more science and technology based, and one which is more dealing with particular challenges in particular areas of government, particularly other government departments, so I think we are changing it because it was becoming too diffuse and it was not doing enough science and technology forecasting. We are pulling it back into a more effective mode again.
(Ms Hewitt) One mechanism is the design of the individual Foresight programmes themselves, for instance work that was being done between the DTI and the old DETR on the vehicle of the future which came under the Foresight programme. That was an excellent example of collaboration between two departments and the business and technology community. It worked very effectively indeed. Both my ministerial counterpart and I - this was in my last role within the DTI - were engaged in that programme and were talking to business about it, publicising the fruits of it and so on. In that case I think it worked very well. Similarly, I think some of the work that Foresight has done on how you can use science and technology to reduce crime and catch criminals more effectively, those sorts of issues, I know the Home Office were engaged in and I would expect Home Office Ministers to have been as well. I also think that using the mechanism of this new Cabinet Committee on Science we can probably engender a wider understanding of what it is that Foresight can do so that other Ministers are not simply being involved in things that are coming up to them, as it were, from officials but can actually think about how they might themselves want to use Foresight to help them tackle some of the difficult issues they are confronting within their portfolios.
(Ms Hewitt) Not at this stage. You will understand I have only been Secretary of State for six months and it is not possible to have thought everything through in the space of six months. I know I keep coming back to this Cabinet Sub-Committee but we did have a very, very interesting and good discussion at the first meeting of that Committee, which was only a week or so ago. I am now beginning to think about what the forward programme for that Committee might be. Your question, particularly your reference to the more blue skies science based rather than policy problem based use of Foresight, I think that is an issue we could come back to in the Committee and see if we can engage Ministers at that level because a lot of ministerial colleagues are increasingly interested and concerned about these issues, about the way in which science is actually changing our world and creating very real uncertainties that we need to understand as politicians and we need to engage with the public in.
(Ms Hewitt) I have not got this all in my head. The Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for DEFRA, Stephen Byers, Transport, Local Government and the Regions, the Secretary of State for Health, the Secretary of State for Defence, the Secretary of State for Education, Barbara Roche as Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, Paul Boateng, Financial Secretary, obviously Lord Sainsbury. I chair it. We also have in attendance the Chief Scientific Adviser, the Chief Medical Officer and, where appropriate, the Chief Veterinary Adviser and the Chair of the Food Standards Agency.
(Ms Hewitt) We met for the first time, as I say, just a week or so ago. I think we will have quarterly meetings. I think trying to do anything more often is actually not very practical and I would rather have really good substantive discussions quarterly than poorly attended meetings more often. We are now setting a date for a second meeting in the spring.
(Ms Hewitt) Very often when you bring people together to tackle a particular problem the even greater value you get out of it is precisely that networking that goes on. There are ways in which we can enhance that although that is part of the purpose of the Foresight Programme. For instance, within the DTI we now have a new facility called Future Focus which is a purpose-built - conference centre does not really do it justice - facility and venue created by a consortium between DTI and the business community where teams of people from the business community, from Government and from the academic community can come together to work on longer term issues. It is designed in such a way that there is a huge amount of stimulus, much of which draws upon the Foresight Programme, so that people can really step into Future Focus and start thinking outside the box. That is a very useful way of structuring a set of relationships and getting people thinking very constructively and imaginatively about where we need to go in the future.
(Ms Hewitt) No, but the purpose of the memorandum was really to describe the review of the DTI and the structure that we need to put in place. We work collaboratively with a very wide range of partners: the business community, employees and the trade unions, consumers, the science and research and technology community that we have been talking about. Of course we do that on an international as well as a national basis, but it was not something that I thought needed drawing out in that memorandum.
(Ms Hewitt) I am going to ask David to come to that in a minute. I am very clear that a great deal of this work has to be done at a multinational level because the sheer scale of investment and brain power that is required for modern science is beyond the reach certainly of the United Kingdom, despite the outstanding quality, the world class quality, of our existing science base. We have a very long history of collaboration, for instance, in the CERN project. We work very effectively with our European partners to create an R&D European Union framework that will be good for Europe but will also be beneficial to the United Kingdom. One of the issues that I think our new Science, Technology and Innovation Group has to look at is not simply how we get more effective crossover from the UK science base into business and industry within the United Kingdom but also how we ensure that leading edge technologies that have been developed outside the United Kingdom, and possibly even outside the European Union, are also harnessed for the benefit of our business and industrial base. There is a lot of work going on on this and, David, perhaps you could elaborate?
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) I think there are at least three or four dimensions to this. John Taylor and I spend a lot of time on the international dimension here. First of all, obviously there is the question of facilities, international facilities. I think we have very clearly now defined that John and myself's job is to give access to world class facilities to our scientists rather than to take the view that we should try and have every kind of facility in this country because it is simply not possible to do. That is why, for example, we have put a lot of extra money into PPARC to enable them to go into the European Southern Observatory because it was quite clear that for the next generation of astronomy we had to be part of the European coalition rather than trying to do it ourselves. There are a lot of other examples on facilities which range from neutron sources, synchrotrons, vessels for oceanic research where, again, we need to co-operate to do it most effectively. The second area is research itself and that is why we have spent a lot of time trying to influence the Sixth Framework Programme very much to focus on fewer areas rather than spreading money very widely and to focus particularly on those areas where we really can only compete as part of Europe, for example nanotechnology or aerospace research. If we are to compete against America or Japan we can only do that as part of the Framework Programme. For example, there is a large programme in the Sixth Framework which is on nanotechnology which means that across Europe we will be spending something like £200 to £300 million a year on research. That puts us in roughly the same league as the amount of money going in America. That is also an important part of this mix. The third area is our international relationships on science with other countries where, again, we have done a number of things related to this. In the DTI we now have an excellent scheme called the International Technology Promoters whose aim is putting together companies, British companies and foreign companies, on joint projects and also taking missions abroad to look at areas of science and technology where we think we are not up to speed in world class terms. That is proving very successful. Linked into that we have doubled the number of scientific attachés across the world and made certain they are really focused in places where the interesting science and technology is taking place, both in terms of putting our scientists together on joint research projects and also in terms of importing science and technology for British companies. There is a lot of work in this area.
(Dr Taylor) A couple of operational additions. You will see that one of the key axes on which RC UK provides a single interface is about international collaboration so that we can speak to them right across the science base in those areas. You will see as the new Science, Technology and Innovation Group develops that one of its key interfaces will be with British Trade International and that part of the DTI because what it is all about is giving help to innovative industry in the UK in global markets, so the global outreach part of that is absolutely key.
(Ms Hewitt) Of course it is a concern and, indeed, we have ensured that there is a proper review of CERN to understand where that large cost overrun comes from and what can be done to try to prevent unpleasant surprises of that kind in the future. David, do you want to add to that?
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) I think it is a problem. We have probably a reputation in international circles as being the hard man on this in terms of demanding much tighter cost controls of these areas and much more accountability. I think we were the people who, in fact, made certain there was a proper outside financial review of the Large Hadron Collider, which I think is now taking place. So it is, of course, a worry because you do not have quite as tight a control on an international basis as you do on a national basis and we just have to fight our corner to insist that these things are done properly.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) What we are doing differently now, and John has led this, is we actually have a programme, a road map of what we see coming up over the next ten years, and the point of that is to be clear what our priorities are and then, within that, to look at where we should make links with other countries and do it on an international basis and where we might ourselves take the lead and be the lead player in it. Perhaps John can explain more. What we are doing now is we are trying to plan ahead so that we do not suddenly come up with a particular project and again this is a case where working together on the research councils means we can set clear priorities.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) I think the point is it works the other way round in that we have the plan and obviously that underpins any bid we make to the Treasury and at the spending review we will need a certain amount of money in order to play our part in a collaboration or in a situation where we are a host which will cost a certain amount of money.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) In most cases it is a heck of a lot of money. That is why I think it is important a) that you plan it and b) that are realistic about where we should co-operate and where we could do it ourselves.
Chairman: When does a road map become a strategy?
Bob Spink: When you roll it out.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) There is not a real distinction between a road map and a strategy. This is effectively a strategy which we have as to where we want to do it ourselves and where we think we need to co-operate. It is still early days but it is better compared with what we had, which was just every so often saying what about doing something here or there, and it would come up from one research council. That seemed to me a nonsense. We must look at this on a UK basis and we need to look very hard at what is coming up over the next ten years so we play to our strengths in particular areas where we have the best world class science and take a lead there, but in other areas, where we are not necessarily the best placed in the world to put this or where we are not the biggest funders, we should work with other countries. John spends a lot of time on this.
(Dr Taylor) For the first time this year we published our first shot at a road map which, after some massaging and argument, could well turn into a set of strategies. There are a lot of variables in this game, not least that models for co-operation in these very large projects are themselves changing quite radically, so the notion of do we contemplate another major treaty organisation is set alongside some of the proposals coming from the variable geometry ideas around European research thinking by the Commission. So the way in which people propose different ways of collaborating is going to change and we have to track that but you are quite right, if we decide certain areas are really strategically important for the science base then we have to face the question of how do we maintain enough R&D in the core technologies and core expertise to allow us to take any kind of part in the international debates that will eventually come with putting a process together.
(Dr Taylor) There is always tension between various different kinds of science, even of big science. Big science is by no means uniform, as you see from big biology starting to emerge. There is always that tension. That is what our job around the UKRC table is going to be, to say what kind of capabilities there are, what can slip and go into the future, what is an opportunity now and only now? There is a set of different issues. But, sure, it is always going to be tough because there is never enough money.
(Ms Hewitt) As you will be aware, we have a Government review of energy policy going on at the moment within the Performance and Innovation Unit in the Cabinet Office. Like the Prime Minister, I have not seen the report from the PIU. I look forward to seeing it with great interest. I expect to receive that shortly and no doubt that will be published early in the New Year. We will want to look at issues like nuclear waste management and particularly renewable energy in the context of that overall review. We are already of course investing very substantially in renewable energy. Indeed, I had a meeting earlier today with the head of BP's solar energy Directorate to look at what more we should be doing on the photovoltaic side so we are putting a lot of money into that, we are building up some international collaboration on that. We are also looking into the nuclear waste management issue. As you will be aware, I recently made a statement about the creation of a Liabilities Management Authority and a restructuring of the way in which we manage those historic nuclear waste liabilities, part of which is about ensuring we maintain and effectively use the excellent engineering and technical skills we have got within BNFL.
(Ms Hewitt) I was making a broader point about all these energy policy issues needing to be looked at within the context of that broader strategy. Of course, the historic waste is there and those liabilities have got to be better managed and that is where we are creating the Liabilities Management Authority. In terms of the technical solutions to that historic waste, that of course is now the subject of consultation following the announcement from Margaret Beckett and DEFRA recently. So there will be a specific consultation on the whole issue of do you bury the stuff and how do you treat it and so on and so forth. We have got considerable scientific and technical expertise available in the United Kingdom on that subject and we are mobilising that in that consultation.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) To go back to your original question, there is very considerable international co-operation. As part of the Framework 6 there is considerable research both in terms of the main Framework programme on renewable energy and the different kinds of energy and also then under the EURATOM programme there is also substantial joint research which covers areas like nuclear waste and obviously nuclear fusion as well.
(Ms Hewitt) Let me turn to David on this again.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) Obviously PPARC is a particular situation because a lot of the science it does is, by definition, large-scale science, so it does take up a large part of the budget. I think the answer is we are always looking for the opportunities to work with other countries on that and PPARC is very effective at making alliances, so that, for example, most of the telescopes we use are in fact in one form or another international collaborations. As I said at the beginning, I think John's job and my job is to give to British scientists access to world-class facilities not necessarily to say we will have each one in this country. So wherever we can see opportunities to do this, we look and see whether it makes sense.
(Ms Hewitt) Where is it?
Mr McWalter: --- Are the negotiations going on with other nations, and if there is not, why not?
(Dr Taylor) As you will appreciate I am sure, this is complex, it is in many cases quite delicate and there are all kinds of things going on in different fields. PPARC does not have by any means the majority of the large facility problems. If you look at neutrons, if you look at photons, whether it is syncotrons or lasers or whatever, there are a number of major parts of the scene that need to go to big facilities. I do not think the UK is alone either in feeling this pressure on an overall science budget from the people who want bigger and bigger and better and better facilities, so we are all sort of in the same boat. We are in some areas very well placed, so for example we are generally regarded as the world's best neutron source at the Rutherford laboratories and that has a healthy looking road map for its future capability. If one wanted to go in that direction, it is certainly very capable and there are corresponding activities being talked about around Europe. There are facilities that we are part of in Europe like the ILL neutron source. The Germans have recently unveiled a major set of proposals for the successor to the Large Hadron Collider and, again, a huge amount of debate on a 10 to 20-year timescale is going on around the Community about what that means, where it might be built and might it be built in country X, Y or Z. The heater fusion programme is likewise looking at major global collaborations to get things done. So I think the UK is very well positioned in some of these areas to say, yes indeed, one route would be for the developments to take place in the UK. It is also very well positioned in terms of its seat at the international science table to make major contributions to facilities that would get built elsewhere by various different collaborations, so I think we are doing quite well.
(Ms Hewitt) We are trying to measure the excellence by world standards of the research that goes on within our universities. It seems to me very encouraging that over half of UK researchers are now operating within research establishments that are graded five or five star.
Chairman: We will have a ten-minute break for the division.
The Committee suspended from 5.33 pm to 5.41 pm for a division in the House.
Chairman: I think we might start. Thank you for coming back. We were in the middle of some treason from you about research assessment. Carry on.
(Ms Hewitt) I do not pretend to be an expert on the research assessment exercise and indeed it has got substantial involvement from the Department of Education, but perhaps I could ask John to comment further on it.
(Dr Taylor) I think the underlying reason for having the research assessment exercise is to enable the funding councils to make their formula allocations of block grants to the universities and that is what it is about, and so this is a way of deciding how to be reasonably selective by departmental achievement in research. There will be considerable debate about what the RAE is measuring, indeed I think the funding councils have already indicated that that is something they will be turning their attention to next year. The important thing not to forget is that its only real purpose is to help allocate the block grants for the next few years to universities. I do not think it would claim to be too much more than that.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) Can I just add a point. If you look back over the history of the RAE, there is no doubt it has helped to drive up the quality of research. If you talk to most vice chancellors they will say it has enormously helped them in terms of driving up the quality of research. It gives them an objective measure in which they can go to departments and say, "Against the review of your peers you are not doing as well as you should." Like all measurement systems, it needs to be constantly kept under review because over time people can get round it and have particular manoeuvres to get round the measurement side of it. I think it has to be kept constantly under review. Up to date it has done not a bad job in enabling vice chancellors to drive up the quality of research.
(Ms Hewitt) I think that is very much a matter for the Department of Education and Science, and certainly Margaret Hodge is looking at the results of the research assessment exercise and what that means for future funding and relationships with the departments.
(Ms Hewitt) That is a difficult issue which also confronts my colleagues at the Department of Education and Science.
(Ms Hewitt) I do not believe that is true and very clearly a large part of the investment that we are making is going into blue skies research. Indeed, one of the reasons why we created the structure that we have done in the DTI was to ensure that there was not a perception that we were seeking to take over the science base and destroy blue skies research in the interests of more immediate commercialisation. We are very clear we do need to do more commercialisation, we need to get more transfer and so on, but not by destroying that blue skies research. John, do you want to add something because you are funding a lot of the blue skies research.
(Dr Taylor) I would make two points, I think. The whole ethos behind the RAE and QR money is to send selectively highly discretionary money in the direction of the very best research groups precisely for them to be able to indulge in blue skies research in whatever directions they feel appropriate. Correspondingly, on the research council side, you will see moves in quite a number of areas and larger and longer grants aimed at providing a particular group with rather more freedom to pursue their own particular blue skies avenues without having to try and get a particular grant to do so. We care very much about the ability of people to do blue skies research.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) I am very encouraged to hear you say that because normally we get it the other way, that the RAE discriminates against applied research and it all goes to the basic people. So if you are getting complaints from the basic people I am greatly encouraged because it shows we have almost certainly got it exactly right.
Dr Iddon: I was thinking mainly of the kind of research - and Harry Kroto springs to mind - that goes on over a long period of time and does not result in many research publications. It is that basic blue skies research I was referring to. If I could ask one final question on this because we will be coming back to this exercise --- and it has gone out of my mind but it will come back in a moment.
(Ms Hewitt) I think it would be very helpful if you did. This debate around at what point of the spectrum - between the most basic and pure science right through to very near market R&D - you put the money has been with us for a very long time, and I have doubt will continue to be so, and it is very difficult to get those judgments right and you are never going to satisfy everybody. I welcome the fact that the Committee is suggesting that it would do a review of the research assessment exercise and some of these related questions. Obviously we would be delighted to contribute to that but it would be very helpful to us to have your thoughts on it.
(Ms Hewitt) It is not a matter on which I really feel qualified to speak. I am enjoying hugely building up a much closer relationship with the science departments in the universities, and it is extremely exciting to see what is going on, both at the basic science end and in terms of the work that is being done in the science parks, the commercialisation, the knowledge transfer and so on. But I am not responsible for the universities, the higher education sector as a whole, and I really think that that is an issue you need to take up with Estelle Morris and Margaret Hodge.
(Ms Hewitt) As always.
(Ms Hewitt) This is a source of real concern and some frustration. Indeed, as the E-Commerce Minister it was very, very striking to note that we have fewer women engaged in the information technology industry than we had 20 years ago and we have gone backwards. Across government we are making a real effort to engage girls and young women, as well as older women, in the whole field of science, engineering and technology. Within the schools, for instance, we have already embarked on some very exciting pilot projects around girls IT club, for instance, seeking to get them interested. We are now producing a magazine once a term called Spark. If you have not seen it, perhaps I can make some copies available to the Committee. That is very exciting. It is not a one-off exercise, it is a regular publication that is seeking to make science, engineering and technology really attractive and interesting to young girls and young women in particular. A great deal of work has been done in the Department of Education in terms of seeking to improve the quality of science teaching within the schools, and part of the focus of that is on making science more attractive to girls because we know if we do not get them young and if they do not pursue science subjects at A-levels they will not have the basic education to go into science or engineering subjects at university. So we need to do all of that. We are then looking at what more we can do, having increased the number of girls doing scientific subjects at A-levels - and we are seeing some real progress on that, particularly in chemistry - to get them into universities and technical vocational courses and then using those qualifications in their subsequent careers. I have been working, for instance, with the e-skills training organisation on what more we can do using the women who are already working within industry who have got science and engineering and technology qualifications to act as role models for other women who might be contemplating those careers. We are making some progress on that. We have got a good collaboration between the NTO and industry to work around that. There is a lot more, I think, that we need to do and part of it involves pulling together what has separately been done on science and on engineering. The more we can pull that together and make this a single strategy and a single effort, the more likely we are to get the results we want.
(Ms Hewitt) I completely agree. The fundamental problem we have here is one of culture and attitudes. There is a general perception that engineering, in particular, is old fashioned and rather grubby. One business leader was quoting to me what I think had been said by one of the teachers at his school which was "If you are not very good at school you can go and work in a factory," and that attitude towards engineering and manufacturing is immensely damaging and of course a travesty of what modern high tech manufacturing and industry is all about. There is a particular subset, if you like, of that general cultural problem which affects girls, where engineering, science, computing, and technology generally, these things are seen as male dominated, which they are. If you ask girls about their perception of boys in computing particularly, and science more generally, they will say it is for nerds, it is not seen as attractive, it is not seen as interesting, and it is seen as being about machines not about people. So in all kinds of ways it particularly turns off girls and young women. Since that does not match the reality of what is actually going on in science and technology careers, we need to find all these ways, as I have described, of actually bringing the image much more into line with the reality. Part of what we need to do there - and we are working on it - is actually getting more teachers to understand the reality of what is going on in modern science based industries and scientific and engineering-based careers because quite often you have teachers who have themselves a very, very out-of-date perception of what is going on. So closer links between schools and business, which is something that Howard Davies is looking at for us at the moment, is a very important part of the strategy here.
(Ms Hewitt) What I think we need to do - and this is possibly something that should come out of the cross-cutting review on science - is we really need between ourselves and the Department for Education to be setting targets and then putting an effective strategy and the resources in place behind those targets. As you say, those targets need to be at every level because we need to get more girls doing the appropriate subject at GCSE and A-level and on into further and higher education and then into the jobs they do so they use those qualifications, and I do not think we have got that right.
(Ms Hewitt) Yes.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) We have a target for representation on the SET-related bodies. We want to get that up to 40 per cent. It is not as bad as one might think. It is 35 per cent now and we want to get 40 per cent, but it is quite variable across different research councils. That is a case where we have got quite a precise target.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) One of the other things is we have got this new scheme of science and engineering ambassadors which is getting young people working in universities and industry who will go back into schools to act as role models and do some teaching and mentoring and talking to parents about science and technology, and we have got big companies to buy into this, which is very encouraging. I am very keen we should get that in all schools across the country and that they should have that scheme. That is an area where we can pick some of the very good young women who are in university, science and industry and give them a very prominent part in this scheme because it is role models which I think are quite important here to girls, so that they can see people where they can aspire to be in their position within ten years. That is quite a good way to encourage this whole movement and the role of women within that programme is something I have very much a focus on.
(Ms Hewitt) I do share that concern and I think it is just part of this broad issue that we have been discussing. We can certainly help with that. As David has rightly said, we have set a target for representation on the bodies that we ourselves appoint. We have got, as John indicated earlier in relation to the research councils, some excellent women scientists coming through. We need to do more on that and we need to work with all the bodies, including the Royal Society, on that.
(Ms Hewitt) I am not sure that John and I really understand that question.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) There are two bits. Firstly, there are the research fellows appointed by the Royal Society and some of that money comes from government. I think that is a rather good scheme. It is a good way of making certain that the very bright young scientists selected by the Royal Society do get a boost and I think that works as a whole very well. They do also do some work which is on international relationships between scientists and, again, I think that is quite effective in terms of there are some cases where these things are much better done scientist to scientist or Academy to Royal Society rather than government getting into that particular loop. So it is really doing a job for us which I think they do rather effectively.
(Lord Sainsbury of Turville) I think we are very involved in those two processes. Obviously you get a lot of feedback on the international relationships. We take rather an interest in the appointment of the fellows.
(Ms Hewitt) I think more broadly what we are seeking to do is ensure that we keep in the United Kingdom more of our brilliant young scientists and we attract more of the international community of brilliant scientists into the United Kingdom. We are showing rather good progress on that.
(Dr Taylor) We maintain a very careful level of scrutiny of the way in which those two institutions spend the money, and they make proposals to us in exactly the same way research councils do for future proposals and they are part of the spending review cycle.
(Dr Taylor) I would be very happy to send you a memorandum with the details.
(Ms Hewitt) Thank you Chairman.