Appendix 6: VISIT TO THE NORTHWEST DEVELOPMENT
1. Continuing the first hand observation of how
RDAs interacted with their regional partners, members of the Sub-Committee
visited NWDA on 11 February 2003. The visit was not to the NWDA's
headquarters in Warrington but, to simplify travelling arrangements
and by kind invitation of AstraZeneca,
to the latter's premises at Alderley Park near Macclesfield.
2. The visiting party consisted of Lord Patel
(Chairman of the Inquiry), Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, Lord Freeman,
Lord Methuen, Lord Mitchell, Lord Oxburgh, Lord Thomas of Macclesfield,
Lord Turnberg and Lord Wade of Chorlton. They were supported by
the Specialist Adviser to the Inquiry (Dr Marilyn Wedgwood), the
Clerk (Mr Roger Morgan) and Assistant Clerk (Mr Gordon Baker).
3. The party was welcomed by Mr John Burrows,
the NWDA's Director of Business Development, and Dr John Stageman,
a member of the NorthWest Science Council and Vice-President and
Head of Enabling Science and Technology at AstraZeneca.
4. In an introductory briefing,
Mr Burrows made the following main points.
a. Before RDAs were set up, the national research
agenda lacked a regional dimension and the scientific and economic
bases of the English regions had no structured inter-relationship.
As a result, research-based universities had not been linked to
regional economic priorities, and Government-funded research had
been over-concentrated in the South East of England. With the
advent of RDAs and their Regional Economic Strategies, the economic
role of science and HE was clearly recognised.
b. The NWDA's strategy identified 16 target sectors
or clusters for economic development. 12 of these (namely: aerospace;
chemicals; environmental; renewable and nuclear energy; textiles;
biotechnology; digital industries; food and drink; automotive;
construction; maritime; and health care) had clear links to science,
building on the region's strong academic and industrial research
bases. Government-funded scientific research (not least through
Daresbury see paragraph 13 below) was also important in
c. Major science-based projects in which NWDA
was involved included: the National Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing
Facility; the NW Genetics Knowledge Park; InfoLab 21 (Lancaster
University's combined research and new business incubator for
computing and IT); the National Microsystems Packaging Centre;
the National Centre of Excellence in Science & Teaching; an
Aerospace Innovation Centre; and a Centre for Environmental Excellence
Research and Teaching. NWDA was also providing £2.5 million
towards upgrading of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope, and was
supporting the merger of Manchester University and UMIST as well
as the development of another science park linked to Liverpool
d. NWDA had good working relationships with neighbouring
RDAs and was ready to collaborate with them on soundly-based joint
ventures and joint promotion exercises. Many projects depended
on capital or expertise from outside the region.
e. Financial assistance schemes promoted by NWDA
included the North West Equity Fund (which had so far raised £35
million in venture capital) and the Rising Stars Growth Fund (which
offered £9.5 million in seed capital for early-stage technology
businesses). NWDA also offered advisory and support services,
especially for start-up companies in incubator centres.
f. The current investment climate made it more
difficult to finance developments with long-lead times. If the
regional economy continued to improve, EU funds seemed likely
to become harder to obtain and would, in any case, be stretched
by EU enlargement pressures. NWDA was in discussion with DTI about
proposals for joint DTI/RDA funding to expand Third Leg commercialisation
of research by HEIs.
The NorthWest Science Council
5. Dr Stageman noted that the NorthWest Science
established in 2001, was the first regional science council in
England. Membership was drawn from regional leaders of industry,
universities and public sector scientific institutions (Daresbury
and the NHS), as well as the NWDA. There were close links to the
business clusters and to the North West Universities Association.
6. The Council was committed to expanding the
regional science base and to advocating science and technology
as the cornerstone of future regional economic success. It had
launched its Science Strategy in December 2002. It had informal,
as well as formal, structures for offering independent professional
advice to the NWDA on science strategy and tactics. This helped
NWDA to produce robust and well-informed action plans. The Council
could also stimulate peer review of projects and give added weight
and direction to funding proposals.
7. Dr David Brown
of Arthur D Little Ltd, consultants to the NWDA, said that the
Science Council provided vital underpinning for NWDA's initiatives
and the Agency's efforts to promote not only closer working by
the regional business and academic communities but also general
scientific awareness throughout the region.
8. A similar model had been adopted by One NorthEast
(NWDA's counterpart in the North East), and other RDAs were also
considering forming similar scientific advisory bodies. But Science
Councils did not remove the need for RDAs to have a core of professional
scientific staff with good links to the regional scientific community
and a good understanding of the latest scientific developments.
9. Dr Brown also made the following general observations.
a. While university research was important, it
accounted for only about a third of national R&D spending.
R&D spending by the NHS was significant, although over-concentrated
in the London area.
b. There was not a simple division between SET-related
activities that were of either regional or national (and international)
significance. World-renowned centres of scientific excellence
nevertheless had strong local roots and economic impact.
c. Prioritisation was vital: regions, like companies
and universities, could not excel at everything. RDAs should avoid
spreading resources too thinly. Difficult as it may be, they might
have to say "no" more often.
d. Successful knowledge transfer depended on
better understanding and networking between researchers, business
and finance. RDAs should help to build bridges and stimulate interaction
10. Over lunch (hosted by NWDA's Chairman, Mr
Bryan Gray) the party met representatives of regional universities,
members of the NorthWest Science Council and NWDA staff.
11. Professor Michael Harloe, Vice Chancellor
of Salford University, made the following main points on behalf
of the North West Universities Association,
of which he was Chairman.
a. The cluster concept was valid, but needed
to be flexible in pursuit of long-term winners.
b. R&D needed the sustained support of public
c. The recent HE White Paper
tended to concentrate too much on too few big universities. It
had too static a view of the relationship between business and
d. RDAs needed high calibre staff to appraise
projects and mediate between business and academic interests.
12. The discussion over lunch then turned to
more general matters, when the following main points were made.
a. Government policy was far too London-centric.
Important decisions were still being taken without sufficient
thought for or consultation with the regions.
b. Whitehall tended to micro-manage the RDAs
with over-concentration on short-term targets of questionable
relevance. RDAs needed more freedom to pursue longer-term goals
and might usefully assist Whitehall in devising more relevant
measures for evaluating success.
c. RDAs had an important role in turning rhetoric
about Third Leg commercialisation of the science based into reality.
Part of this would be by bringing together people, ideas and resources
to create an enabling environment in which commercially-exploitable
scientific research could flourish.
d. The exploitation of the science base was too
often hampered by complications in managing IPR. RDAs could usefully
help universities draw best practice and provide much-needed advice
to researchers and entrepreneurs.
e. RDAs could do more to promote public awareness
and debate about scientific issues and regional capabilities.
At the same time, industry leaders should actively promote technological
excellence throughout their supply chains.
f. Despite advances in IT, physical proximity
was still an asset for R&D. However, regional clusters also
generally benefited from the stimulus of good external links.
g. Substantial sums were available from the EU,
but it was time-consuming, complex and costly to pursue them.
NWDA's engagement of a specialist to stimulate more EU funding
13. Dr Hywel Price, Director of the Daresbury
Laboratory gave an overview presentation of the Laboratory's work.
Operating under the Council for the Central Laboratory of the
Research Councils (CCLRC), the Laboratory's major facility was
the UK's synchrotron source. While it also provided a number of
other resources and services of strategic importance for the research
community, it and the region would be impoverished
when the centre of UK synchrotron research transferred to the
CCLRC's Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory near Oxford when the successor
Diamond Project came on stream in 2008.
14. Because of Daresbury's significance for the
region, the NWDA was actively supporting the Laboratory's pursuit
of successor facilities and, in conjunction with North West Universities,
the development of a Science Park to provide spin-off facilities
related to Daresbury projects. 4GLS (the Fourth Generation Light
Source) to which NWDA had pledged a capital contribution
of some £4.5 million and had brokered lease-back facilities
for the building to house it was seen as the key project.
As described by Professor Peter Weightman of Liverpool University
and Professor Wendy Flavell of UMIST, 4GLS was designed to take
very fast imaging and spectroscopy beyond the Diamond Project,
offering unparalleled advances in biological dynamics, nanoscience
15. Other new projects being pursued at Daresbury
a. HPCx (a High Performance Computer)
a joint venture with Edinburgh University described by
Dr Martyn Guest as the best large-scale scientific computation
facilities in Europe with a wide range of advanced applications;
b. the SuperSTEM project, described by Professor
Peter Goodhew as two super-stable high performance scanning transmission
electron microscopes providing an invaluable research tool at
16. Dr Richard Dodds, NWDA's Regional Foresight
Director, said that the strong knowledge base of its universities
and industries put the region in a strong position to take a lead
in developing valuable new technologies in other areas such as
waste management, construction industry automation and laser deposition.
It could also make an important national contribution to enhancing
independent living for the elderly and disabled.
17. NWDA could provide vital seed corn for these
developments, through its own budget and by brokering financial
packages. It could help to overcome barriers to development, such
as lack of affordable premises, patenting expertise and administrative
support. Helping with the continued development of the regional
skills base was another important task for the NWDA.
18. Members endorsed the Chairman's thanks to
the NWDA, the NorthWest Science Council and the participants in
the various sessions for an informative and useful day, and also
to AstraZeneca for generously hosting the visit.
71 Whose Chief Executive, Sir Tom McKillop, chaired
the NorthWest Science Council. Back
As noted in Appendix 1, Lord Thomas was the Chairman of NWDA from
1998 to 2002. Back
Who conveyed apologies from the NWDA Chief Executive, Mr Mike
Shields, that he was unable to be present as planned. Back
Who conveyed Sir Tom McKillop's apologies for absence. Back
The NWDA subsequently submitted written material to the Inquiry
and, on 21 March 2003, also gave oral evidence (see pages 159
and 191 of Volume II). Back
The NorthWest Science Council subsequently submitted written material
to the Inquiry and, on 21 March 2003, also gave oral evidence
(see pages 146 and 152 of Volume II). Back
Dr Brown subsequently submitted written evidence to the Inquiry
(see page 268 of Volume II). Back
The North West Universities Association subsequently submitted
written evidence to the Inquiry (see page 295 of Volume II). Back
The Future of Higher Education, Cm 5735, January 2003. Back
On 2 April 2003, NWDA confirmed its investment of £25.7 million
to develop Daresbury's Science Park. On the same date, DTI announced
the go-ahead for the research, development and design phases of
the 4GLS project. Back