Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
MP AND PROFESSOR
23 OCTOBER 2007
Q20 Chairman: That is the time you
invest, is it not, when you are doing well economically because
you will not be able to do it when you are not, although arguably
you perhaps should. Can I ask you another supplementary about
the universities. When you look at the funding allocations, the
actual capital allocation to universities in the next Comprehensive
Spending Review is reduced by 28%. Is that because you feel that
the work has been done in our universities?
Ian Pearson: We discuss this regularly
with universities and you are right to say that there is a change.
We have seen massive capital investment over the last ten years,
and you will never say that the job is done, but a large proportion
of the job has been done, and that is why in discussion with the
universities we have talked about having a transition to a new
form of funding, and that is what we have proposed as part of
this CSR settlement, and it is why you will see the university
capital figure actually declining over the period. At the same
time if you look at capital overall and you look at the Large
Facilities Capital Fund you will see that that is a huge increase
over the CSR period, so there is additional capital there that
is flexible and can respond to circumstances should it be required.
Q21 Dr Spink: I will start on a very
positive note: I am delighted that you enjoyed your trip to Manchester,
one of the most excellent science universities in the country.
I would like to come to the Sainsbury Review which went under
the rather grandiose title of The Race to the Top and the
terms of reference of that review talk about "harnessing
the challenges and opportunities of globalisation". Were
you disappointed, Minister, that the key recommendations were
rather pragmatic and pedestrian as opposed to being visionary
Ian Pearson: I do not agree with
you. Where I do agree with you is about the excellence of Manchester
as a university and the fantastic science that they do there.
I was delighted to be able to go and open the University of Manchester
Aeronautical Research Institute, which is really embedded in the
regional economy, it is doing world-class research and it is going
to underpin the 124,000 jobs that we have in the aerospace sector.
I think Sainsbury is very helpful in taking the whole debate forward
on science and innovation. It is an evolutionary report because
we have a Science and Innovation Framework for 10 years and we
are only in year three, so it is not surprising that some of its
recommendations are about how we build on the existing framework,
but what we have in the 10-year framework is something that I
think is widely admired by other countries. We have seen other
countries wanting to do some of the things that we have been doing
for a number of years in the United Kingdom and some of the recommendations
in the Sainsbury Review, for instance doubling the budget for
knowledge transfer partnerships, is exactly the right sort of
thing that we should be doing.
Q22 Dr Spink: Let us look at those
recommendations then. The key recommendations include a new funding
formula for the Higher Education Innovation Fund; incentives to
get more STEM teachers (that is not exactly new; we have been
there many times); a National Science Competition for youngsters;
the Technology Strategy Board taking a lead in co-ordinating;
and reform of the Small Business Research Initiative. Do these
really set the Thames alight? Was this the vision that you were
Ian Pearson: I think we already
have the vision in the 10-year Science and Innovation Framework
and as a Government we will want to respond to Sainsbury and we
will want to refresh and produce a strategy document, and I anticipate
that we will do that in the spring of next year.
Q23 Dr Spink: Which of the recommendations
do you think are the key priorities that you must push for?
Ian Pearson: I think the key thing
about Sainsburyand there are ten and half pages of recommendationsis
that it is fine-tuning a system that is already working well for
the United Kingdom. When you look at what is being proposed on
the Higher Education Innovation Fund, for instance, which you
mentioned, moving to a formula funding so that you do not have
a bidding competition again is the right thing to do, and it has
been welcomed by the academic community. There are people who
have concerns about whether they will do well under the formula
or not, which is not unusual, but the principle of doing it has
been widely accepted. When you look at the recommendations with
regard to the Technology Strategy Board and the role that it is
playing, again I think it is going to help to make a major difference.
The Technology Strategy Board will be co-ordinating funding of
£1 billion over the next three years, £700 million roughly
of its own funds and £180 million from the RDAs and £120
million from the research councils. Again, one of the key recommendations
from the Sainsbury Review was about ensuring that we have that
co-ordination between the RDAs, the TSB and the research councils.
I think that is an important way in which we can maximise the
performance of the UK innovation eco-system.
Q24 Dr Spink: Was this new money?
Ian Pearson: The budget is going
up from currently just under £200 million a year for the
Technology Strategy to over £300 million a year by 2010-11,
so there is new money for applied research just as there is new
money as well for basic research through the work that is being
done by the research councils.
Q25 Dr Spink: What progress have
you made as yet on implementing the recommendations?
Ian Pearson: The Sainsbury Review
only reported in September. We are in the process at the moment
for internal management purposes of producing the implementation
planning work that is required. In some cases some of the recommendations
are quicker and easier to implement than others, but what we will
do is provide a response in spring next year. I want us to crack
on and do this and get on with practically implementing the recommendations.
Those are my marching orders for officials at the moment: let
us get on with implementing the Sainsbury Review.
Q26 Dr Spink: And your response in
spring, the implementation plan is specifically timetabled?
Ian Pearson: I do not believe
in managing a process where you do not set clear responsibilities
and clear timescales for actually achieving these things, and
I would like to be able to report on significant progress by the
spring of next year in terms of having just got on and done this.
Q27 Dr Spink: Will you be using Lord
Sainsbury to overview the implementation process or will you be
doing that in some other way?
Ian Pearson: When we launched
the Sainsbury Review, the launch event was held at Number 10 Downing
Street with the Prime Minister present, and the Prime Minister
said he thought it would be a good idea to get together with the
interested parties around the table in three, four or five months'
time, so I think there will be an opportunity for David and for
the others that were there at the meeting to be able to oversee
the work that I have been doing, and I am very happy for that
to be the case.
Q28 Dr Spink: Could I ask you finally
to ask your officials when you make your response in the spring
to indicate how you will overview the whole process of implementation
and the part that Lord Sainsbury will play in that?
Ian Pearson: I can certainly take
that away, but we do have at the moment an Annual Report on the
Science and Innovation Investment Framework. As a result of this
Sainsbury Review as well, we are going to have an Annual Innovation
Report across government, so we are not going to be short of opportunities
for people to actually assess how we are implementing the Sainsbury
recommendations and how well we are doing on science and innovation
Q29 Chairman: Minister, can I encourage
you to look at one glaring omission in the Sainsbury Report. The
section which he makes great play about, which is about developing
a scientific and technologically equipped workforce, is absolutely
right and, as you know, and I think I say it on behalf of the
Committee, we are very supportive of the Sainsbury Report, we
think it is a very, very good piece of work, but what is missing
in that is there is no mention of the role of women in science,
and yet in terms of part of the workforce they are going to be
one of the most significant groups to actually get into this area
of science and technology over the period of the Sainsbury Review.
I just wonder why you think that was omitted and what in fact
you as Minister can do. I will tell you why I am asking this;
because tomorrow I am speaking to the Women in Science conference
and I would like to take a message from you, Minister, directly
to that conference.
Ian Pearson: There certainly is
work to encourage women in science that is going on at the moment
that has been supported under the whole STEM programme. There
is work to encourage people from black and minority ethnic communities
as well and people from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is all being
funded as part of the STEM programme. I think David in his report
was trying to focus on the general issue of workforce skills rather
than to drill down into some of the detail, but I would not want
the Committee to think that we are not actively engaging in this
agenda because we do want to see more women taking science subjects,
we do want to see more young girls making decisions at the age
of 14 that they want to do science subjects at GCSE level, and
we want to see that pull through to A level and to under-graduate
level as well.
Q30 Dr Harris: Perhaps you would
welcome on inquiry into women in science to evaluate the work
that the York Centre is doing?
Ian Pearson: I always welcome
work in the field of science because I think the more that we
actually are engaged in this as parliamentarians the morethe
point I was making right at the outsetthe central importance
of science to our economic and social well-being can be stressed.
Q31 Dr Harris: I make this point
when there are two male witnesses and six male MPs on this Committee,
which I think points up the Chairman's question. The average annual
increase in spending on the science base is going to rise at an
annual rate of 2.4% on average in real terms; is that right?
Professor Sir Keith O'Nions: I
think it is 2.7. It is about 5.5% cash.
Q32 Dr Harris: I have seen figures
of 2.5%. Total spending on the public science base will rise at
an annual rate of 2.5% in real terms, from £5.4 billion in
2007-08 to £6.3 billion in 2010-11. That is from page 12.
Ian Pearson: That is right across
government, if you talk about the ring-fenced science budget it
is 2.7, but if you talk overall it is 2.5.
Q33 Dr Harris: My understanding is
the estimated average real terms growth in the economy is going
to be more than 2.5% because it is 2.5 to 3.0% in two of the years
and 2.0 to 2.5 in one of the years. Would you accept that it is
going to be slightly more than the growth in science spending?
Ian Pearson: I would certainly
like to think that the economy is going to grow at 2.5% a year
for the next three years. That would be very healthy growth.
Q34 Dr Harris: I am not asking about
the economics; I am pointing up that the Government figures, which
I hope we can agree, show an average increase in the growth of
the economy of more than 2.5% (and we all have our fingers crossed)
but an average increase in science spending annually of marginally
less than that, but nevertheless less than that, and as the Chairman
said, would it not be better, since one imagines that the policy
of the Government is to stimulate growth with spending on the
science base, to ensure that it is not a net loser essentially
or at a stand-still but is one of the beneficiaries of getting
funding above growth, since we know there are departments getting
below growth increases?
Ian Pearson: You have to look
at where we have got to in the science budget with the sustained
investment in science over a 10-year period, where it has clearly
outpaced growth in GDP, to a stage now where we have had a fairly
tough Comprehensive Spending Review round, but the science budget
overall has done extremely well out of it.
Q35 Dr Harris: I understand that
but this is why I was interested because clearly if you have got
that growth of 2.5% or more, nearly 3%, then winners under that
will get more than 3% and losers will get less than 3%, or 2.5
to 3%. You describe science as doing very well. In fact, it has
done averagely, has it not, because it is getting an increase
in its spending rate at growth rate forecast, not more than that?
Ian Pearson: If you look at the
CSR overall it is difficult to conclude that science has not done
well. Science and medical science in particular have done very
Q36 Dr Harris: Medical science has
more, therefore other science has less because it is an average,
is it not?
Ian Pearson: What the Chancellor
has to do when he is making decisions on the Comprehensive Spending
Review is to make decisions taking into account a number of factors,
and the simple fact is that science has done pretty well. When
you look at the budgets for health, education, defence, and a
range of other things that Chancellors have to take into account
when they are coming to the CSR, the sort of judgments that they
make have to reflect the Government's overall priorities.
Q37 Dr Harris: I agree with you but
I am just saying that science has done better than the ones that
have done worse and science has done worse than the ones that
have done better, it is an average, and that is why the investment
in science, as I understand it, is going to rise from .38 to .39%
of GDP by 2010-11 on the basis of what you are saying, which suggests
to me a 0.01% increase in GDP. If that is good then I do not know
what average is and I do not know what bad is, Minister.
Ian Pearson: Sorry?
Q38 Dr Harris: I am just making the
point that if you are saying science has done well to go from
.38 to .39 of GDP, which is a 0.01% increase over the three years,
if that is good as opposed to decent or okay, then what would
Ian Pearson: We can all play with
statistics. The simple fact is that the budget is going up from
£3.4 billion to £4 billion when it comes to the ring-fenced
science budget. It is going up to £6.3 billion in total when
you look at science across government. I suspect if you ask the
average person in the street how much should the Government spend
on research a year, they might be a bit surprised if you say that
we are actually going to be spending £4 billion a year on
research, which is what we will be doing in 2010-11 when it comes
to the science budget allocations, or £6.3 billion across
government; those are big sums.
Q39 Dr Harris: I am giving you percentages
of our GDP, because that is the only comparator we can sensibly
use with other European countries, and you are giving me round
sums, so we are not going to get much further there. I would like
to ask about the target of 2.5% GDP for combined public and private
investment in R&D by 2014. Are you (a) sticking with that
and (b) do you think that target is realistic?
Ian Pearson: We are sticking with
the 2.5% target by 2014. However, I think we have to be aware
that this is really a crude input measurement.