Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
28 NOVEMBER 2006
Q1 Chairman: Welcome. This is an evidence
session with Dstl, and so I should be grateful if you would just
introduce your team. Tell us who you are and what role you take
Dr Saunders: I am Frances Saunders,
I am the Acting Chief Executive in Dstl. I took over in May of
this year when Martin Earwicker left the position of Chief Executive.
On my right is Peter Starkey, who is our Future Business Director
and is looking after the development of the kinds of products
and services that we will provide to our customers into the future,
and Mark Hone, who is the Finance Director of Dstl.
Q2 Chairman: You are the Acting Chief
Dr Saunders: That is correct.
Q3 Chairman: Why is that exactly?
Dr Saunders: When Martin Earwicker
left they appointed me on an interim position whilst the MoD ran
a competition to find a new Chief Executive.
Q4 Chairman: Is that competition
Dr Saunders: I believe it is.
I think you should probably ask my colleagues in MoD where they
have got to in that competition.
Q5 Chairman: Your report and accounts
tell us a bit about your work, but how is your work different
from what QinetiQ does and what universities do?
Dr Saunders: That is a very good
question. You have to go back to look at the reason why Dstl was
created at the split up of DERA into the QinetiQ organisation,
which was destined to be working in the private sector and to
be privatised, and the Dstl organisation which was retained in
government to do those things that are best done in government,
and to do those things, particularly, of a sensitive nature or
where we need to work very closely with industry and need to deal
with proprietary information in areas such as support to operations
or counter-terrorism, where you can understand the sensitivities,
where it would not be appropriate for some of that work to be
done in the private sector. As regards the universities, we tend
to do rather more applied research than seeking out new knowledge
for its own sake. We do not tend to do academic research but we
do work very closely with the universities so that they have a
better understanding of what MoD requirements from science and
technology might be in the future. Then we can work with them
to pull through their ideas into our more applied research and
then into the equipments and the thinking that goes on within
the rest of the department.
Q6 Chairman: Your report says that
you employ about 3,400 people. Is that right?
Dr Saunders: That is about right,
Q7 Chairman: Could you say how those
people are broken down into each of the broad areas of the work
that Dstl does? Roughly.
Dr Saunders: Roughly. If you think
about the three sorts of work we tend to do, some is associated
with supporting systems workthe higher level concept of
development, support to policy development and support to the
early stages of procurementand probably about a third of
our people are involved in that kind of work. The second third
are looking more at the technology, so actually developing technology
solutions that will be deployed in future equipments, particularly
supporting things like urgent operational requirements (UORs)
in areas that support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The
final third is doing rather longer-term research of a strategic
nature which uses the deeper end of Dstl's research base into
areas such as biomedical counter measures, detection of chemical
agents in the field, biological agents and explosives, and some
of that longer-term research increasingly including some of the
social science issues that need to be dealt with and brought into
our thinking, as the nature of warfare is changing.
Q8 Mr Holloway: To what extent are
you involved in the Litvinenko investigation? Are you involved
in trying to trace the source of this material?
Dr Saunders: That is something
that has obviously happened very recently. We have been asked
by the Health Protection Agency to support them in providing some
of our radiological detection capability to support them in looking
at sites that they are dealing with in London at the moment. That
is the extent of our engagement. They `phoned us on Sunday and
said could we deploy our team. We have a team that we would normally
use if there was an accident in a military establishment, and
we can use that to support the Health Protection Agency.
Q9 Chairman: Thank you. Do you fund
any research that is done by third parties?
Dr Saunders: Yes, we do. We have
what we call an extramural research programme budget, which is
a relatively small amount of money and has been going down since
Dstl was formed. This year about £9 million of that extramural
budget goes into the universities, so we fund work in universities,
both in our own regard and also as an agent of MoD, in something
called the joint grant scheme, which is a joint Research Council/MoD
scheme for funding work in universities. We also fund work in
industry in areas where we want to combine capability to integrate
into some of the programmes we are asked to do by MoD, and that
includes some of the support to operational requirements where
we bring in small companies to develop prototypes of equipment,
and so on.
Q10 Chairman: Why do you do that?
Why is it necessary to have you as a barrier between the MoD and
the industry that does the work?
Dr Saunders: It is interesting
you use the word "barrier"; we actually only do that
when we add value. So it is particularly where we need to explain
the detail of the technical work to suppliers so that we can integrate
it into some of the more sensitive areas of our programme. We
need to have that technical expertise in order to be able to specify
what is required and we understand the depth of that information.
When it comes to the university linkages, again, it is this issue
of integration; as more and more of the work in the research programme
is competed and different suppliers provide output, there is a
need to make sure that the MoD has a good understanding of the
overall picture of work that has been done in a particular field
in the UK. One of the reasons Dstl was kept in government was
to provide that integration role. So we tend, really, only to
put work out ourselves rather than it going directly from MoD
in areas where we really believe, and MoD agree, that we can add
value through that exercise.
Q11 Chairman: We have just received
Dstl's framework document. Are there any major changes in that
over the previous one? If so, how will they affect you?
Dr Saunders: There are two main
things I would point to. One is, I think, a rather clearer statement
of the top level objectives for Dstl, and I was particularly pleased
to see in there an objective about maintaining and sustaining
capability to support MoD in the future. Yes, we are there to
do the things that need to be done right now, that need to be
done in government, but there is also a recognition that you can
only do that if you have got a very strong research base or S&T
base and good people who have been active for a period of time.
So this idea of sustaining capabilities and making it a specific
objective will, I think, be very helpful to us. The other change,
of course, is the governance arrangement. This recognises that
over the last year or so there has been a new non-executive-dominated
board put in place overseeing Dstl to discharge the ownership
function on behalf of MoD as owner. So it looks at what is the
role of that board vis-a"-vis the role of the executive team
and what are the levels of delegation and corporate governance
arrangements that flow with that.
Q12 Willie Rennie: The Defence Technology
Strategy. How is that going to impact on your work?
Dr Saunders: I think it is going
to impact in quite a great way. If you go through the DTS document
you will find Dstl's name liberally sprinkled in thereI
think we counted 77 times. So the message from this since our
aim has always been to be indispensable for MoD and to be part
of them managing the science and technology base in the UK and
helping them do that. I think the Defence Technology Strategy
and the kind of challenges it puts out to Dstl to do that is extremely
good news, and it is a recognition that we are part of the family.
In terms of the detail of how it is going to change things, you
will see an emphasis in there about our relationship with universities.
They see Dstl very much as a node in the network of the academic
research in the UK and being able to bring into defence some of
those advances in technology that are more widely applicable,
and so on. So a very clear remit to work more closely with the
universities and support MoD. Obviously, there is also mention
in there of the need to look at the balance between the work the
Dstl does; how much research we do vis-a"-vis how much advice
workthe balance we talked about right at the start, about
the third a third: is that right? Should it be different? Should
it be different in different areas? Of course, when you start
to then go into (section B) the different technology areas, the
different market segments, then I think you will see a change
over time of where Dstl has expertise as the implications of that
strategy work their way through. We will be working with our colleagues
in MoD over the next few months to articulate what does this mean
in specifics for Dstli.e. are there areas of technology
that actually we need to strengthen because they are going to
be even more important to have an in-government capability? Are
there areas of technology where actually we are going to allow
the market to drive the technology forward and, therefore, perhaps
we should disinvest? So there will be quite a lot of debate, I
expect, over the next few months with our colleagues in MoD about
what the actual implementation plan for this strategy means.
Q13 Willie Rennie: What do you think
is going to be the biggest challenge within the strategy for yourselves?
Dr Saunders: The biggest challenge
will always be this issue of evolving and adapting in areas where
we need to strengthen our capability, to make sure we are able
to do that and that we have the programmes to do that, because
you do not develop technical and scientific capability just by
sort of sitting in a lab in isolation; you have got to have the
right programmes of work. So making sure that the programmes follow
where the requirements are going to be.
Q14 Willie Rennie: So there is no
one specific area that you think is the biggest?
Dr Saunders: No, there is no one
specific area that I think is the biggest challenge. If you look
in terms of what work we are funding, one of the areas where we
do need to, I think, strengthen our capability is in the whole
area of information management, which is an area where, when we
were set up as Dstl, we had a relatively low proportion of the
capability that had originally been in DERA, and we have gradually
been strengthening that over the last five years. I think that
whole area of the use of information technology and ISTAR on the
battlefield is an area where the MoD does need some good quality
in-house support, and that is what we intend to be providing.
Q15 Mr Hancock: In the Defence Technology
Strategy the Government suggested that their national target of
R&D investment would be 2.5% of GDP by 2014. Do you confirm
that that figure refers to all R&D, not just to defence, and
what is your interpretation of where the Government's share of
that spend is going to bewhat the Government themselves
are going to take on? Has it been indicated to you what you can
expect as a share of that?
Dr Saunders: From a policy point
of view I really do not think I can add anything, but my colleagues
may be better placed to talk about what the overall policy means.
In terms of what is the intention for Dstl, our forward projections
of our income are relatively flat, so we are seeing possibly a
rise to cover inflation but no more than that. So at the moment
we are not expecting to see any big increase in investment in
Q16 Mr Hancock: Do you know what
the Government's target is for Research & Development specifically
Dr Saunders: I do not know that.
Q17 Mr Hancock: So you are not party
Dr Saunders: I am not party to
those policy discussions.
Q18 Mr Hancock: That is a decision
that has now been made. It is not how the policy was made; it
is now out to be implemented. You have not been given any indication
over the next seven years what you would expect to have?
Dr Saunders: Not specifically.
We currently receive around 37% of the defence research budget
and we are expecting to continue to receive roughly about the
same proportion into the future. That is the best information
that we have.
Q19 Chairman: Mr Starkey, do you
want to join in?
Mr Starkey: All I would add is
to reinforce that we only do those things which need to be done
in government, and that in itself determines the volume of our
work. At the moment, there is an arrangement whereby, yes, we
receive a particular proportion of most of the research programme37%
of thatbut that depends on our role. We do not go up and
down with the general volume; we look just at our role.