Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig

Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee

30/11/2023

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Luke Fletcher
Mike Hedges Yn dirprwyo ar ran Buffy Williams
Substitute for Buffy Williams
Paul Davies Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Samuel Kurtz
Vikki Howells

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Alasdair McDiarmid Undeb Llafur Community
Community Trade Union
Amanda Wilkinson Prifysgolion Cymru
Universities Wales
Andy Silcox Canolfan Ymchwil Gweithgynhyrchu Uwch Cymru
Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre Cymru
Charlotte Brumpton-Childs Undeb GMB
GMB Union
Dan Shah UK Research and Innovation
UK Research and Innovation
Dean Cook Innovate UK (UKRI)
Innovate UK (UKRI)
Harriet Barnes Cyngor Cyllido Addysg Uwch Cymru
Higher Education Funding Council for Wales
Lewis Dean Rhwydwaith Arloesi Cymru
Wales Innovation Network
Peter Hughes Unite Cymru
Unite Wales
Yr Athro Justin Lewis Media Cymru
Media Cymru
Yr Athro Pete Burnap Hyb Arloesedd Seibr Cymru
Wales Cyber Innovation Hub
Yr Athro Roger Whitaker Prifysgolion Cymru
Universities Wales

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Evan Jones Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Gareth David Thomas Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Lara Date Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Lucy Morgan Ymchwilydd
Researcher

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:30.

1. Cyflwyniadau, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions, and declarations of interest

Croeso, bawb, i'r cyfarfod hwn o Bwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig yn y Senedd. Dwi wedi cael ymddiheuriadau gan Buffy Williams a Hefin David, ac mae Mike Hedges yn dirprwyo gyda ni heddiw. Gaf i felly estyn croeso cynnes i Mike? Rŷn ni'n falch iawn o gael eich cwmni chi heddiw. A oes yna unrhyw fuddiannau yr hoffai Aelodau eu datgan o gwbl? Na.

Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Senedd's Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee. I've received apologies from Buffy Williams and Hefin David, and Mike Hedges is substituting with us today. Could I extend a warm welcome to you, Mike? We're pleased to have your company today. Are there any interests to declare? No.

2. Papurau i'w nodi
2. Papers to note

Symudwn ni ymlaen at eitem 2, sef papurau i'w nodi. Mae yna 11 papur i'w nodi heddiw. Oes yna unrhyw faterion hoffai Aelodau eu codi o'r papurau yma o gwbl? Na.

We'll move on, therefore, to item 2, namely the papers to note. There are 11 papers to note today. Are there any issues that Members would like to raise about these papers at all? No.

3. Ymchwiliad: Ymchwil a Datblygu: Cyrff ariannu
3. Inquiry: Research and Development: Funding bodies

Symudwn ni ymlaen, felly, i eitem 3 ar ein hagenda, a dyma'r sesiwn panel cyntaf yn ymchwiliad cipolwg heddiw i ymchwil a datblygu. Rŷn ni'n clywed tystiolaeth gan gynrychiolwyr y cyrff cyllido: Cyngor Cyllido Addysg Uwch Cymru, Ymchwil ac Arloesi yn y DU ac Innovate UK. Yn benodol, mae'r pwyllgor yn ystyried effeithiolrwydd cyllid cyhoeddus, gan gynnwys lefelau cyllido, rhwystrau i fynediad a gwahaniaethau rhanbarthol ledled y Deyrnas Unedig a Chymru, cydweithio rhwng prifysgolion a diwydiant, cefnogaeth i fusnesau Cymru drwy ymchwil a datblygu, a dull gweithredu Llywodraeth Cymru, gan gynnwys ei strategaeth arloesi. A gaf i, felly, groesawu'r tystion i'r sesiwn yma? Cyn ein bod ni'n symud yn syth i gwestiynau, gaf i ofyn iddyn nhw gyflwyno'u hunain ar gyfer y record? Efallai caf i ddechrau gyda Harriet Barnes.

We'll move on, therefore, to item 3 on the agenda, and this is the first panel session of today's snapshot inquiry into research and development. We'll be taking evidence from representatives of funding bodies: the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, UK Research and Innovation and Innovate UK. In particular, the committee is considering the effectiveness of public funding, including funding levels, barriers to access and regional differences across the UK and Wales, collaboration between universities and industry, support for Welsh businesses through research and development, and the Welsh Government's approach, including its innovation strategy. Could I, therefore, welcome the witnesses to this session? Before we move to questions, could I ask the witnesses to introduce themselves for the record? Maybe I can start with Harriet Barnes.

Thank you. Bore da. I'm director of policy and funding at the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and will, in due course, be a member [Correction: 'member of staff'] of the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research.

Good morning. I'm Dean Cook, I'm director of place and levelling up at Innovate UK, and we are one of the nine councils that make up UKRI.

Good morning. I'm Dan Shah, I'm director of investment strategy and systems insight for UK Research and Innovation.

Thank you very much indeed for those introductions. Perhaps I can just kick off this session with a few questions. What role and purpose do you see public funding bodies such as yourselves playing to support Welsh interests within the research, development and innovation landscape, including increasing funding levels? Who'd like to start on that—Harriet?

I shall make a start. I think it's important we recognise that the research, development and innovation landscape is a complex one. There are a lot of players in that space and we need to ensure that they are all able to complement each other and not contradict each other. Therefore, it's helpful here today that we have HEFCW, as the national funding body, alongside UKRI and Innovate UK, who work at the UK level. HEFCW's role, and, in due course, the role that the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research will have, is to provide long-term stable funding for universities—universities in Wales are the core of our research capacity—to enable them to take forward research and innovation activities with an eye to the long term and with a strategic direction. In that respect, we are one side of the UK's dual support system for funding, which balances that core funding alongside competitive grant funding. We do that as HEFCW by providing just over £105 million a year in unhypothecated funding for research and innovation, which enables universities to retain and develop their staff, provide the facilities that you can't easily start up and take down again depending on the grants that have been won, train researchers of the future through postgraduate studies, maintain capacity across a range of disciplines, a range of specialisms, regardless of what the current trends are, and then enable fundamental research into the early stages, things that are not yet commercially viable, things where you need to test them out before there is a possibility of gaining grant funding from them, and then to build the early stages of those collaborations that you need with business, the public sector and others. So, effectively, the role that HEFCW plays is investing in the things that you would never get commercial investment into. We also have a co-ordinating and facilitating role as a regulator for the sector, particularly, for example, in encouraging universities to have positive, healthy, inclusive research cultures. We see ourselves as, as I say, one side of the system. UKRI and Innovate are the other side of the dual support system.

09:35

We're the council within UKRI that looks after business-led research. The grant funding is there to support businesses with the commercialisation of their ideas into new products and services that benefit society. Part of that grant support enables universities and businesses to work collaboratively. We also support universities with their commercialisation through programmes that support spin-out and new commercial activity. But we're more than just funding. Just to give you an idea of the scale of funding, our funding has been rising. Our core funding is about £1 billion per annum for the UK. That actually increases to about £2 billion per annum when you include the managed programmes that we look after for other parts of Government. But we're more than just funding. We also provide business support, through business support advisers. We're very targeted on helping businesses find international partnerships and international markets, as well as helping them to scale and grow as they innovate their product ranges. And we also operate a knowledge transfer network that connects businesses, universities and other actors together as part of that mission.

Thank you. UKRI, encompassing Innovate UK and the other eight councils, is a national funder that wants to ensure a thriving research and innovation system for the benefit of people across the whole of the UK, and indeed to address global issues. We try to make a virtue out of the fact that we bring together the dedicated innovation support that Dean has set out, the seven disciplinary research councils, and the block grant side of the dual support system in England, and close collaboration with our counterparts such as Harriet and in Scotland and Northern Ireland, so that we can get those system-level benefits. This includes thinking about the infrastructures, the people, the ideas, the innovation, and the thriving places that you need to make this work, through a diverse and connected system. One of our specific roles is, again, as Dean said, not only to invest but to engage and to listen. I know that we've benefited from our visits to Wales, taking the board to Cardiff just a couple of months ago, and engagements, for example, in Bangor with the chief executive towards the end of last year. We're keen to listen and to learn from you, as well as to give evidence, and to celebrate the success of the things that we have funded.

If I can direct this question to Dean Cook, could you explain how the collaborative innovation plan for Wales was created, and provide some further detail on the three areas the plan focuses on?

Absolutely. I have a copy of the plan here, in English and Welsh. It was an absolute pleasure to bring this plan to life. It started with a memorandum of understanding that we signed with the Welsh Government. That was between Indro Mukerjee, my chief executive, and the Minister, Vaughan Gething, back in April. Then we launched this at Wales Tech Week. The plan builds upon our strategies that were already in place. This isn't about wiping away and starting all over again. We have the Welsh innovation strategy, and at Innovate UK we published our strategy and our action plan for businesses in 2021. So, what the plan does is it brings an alignment of Innovate UK and Welsh Government strategies to support business-led innovation together, and fleshes out the areas where we intend to co-operate in strategic partnership. That's the basis of the plan. Would you want me to go into any other aspects of the plan?

The three areas you've obviously come up with—perhaps you can just elaborate a little bit on why those three areas, I suppose.

On the three areas, there are a number of commitments around strategic partnership, not just with the Welsh Government, but also the other actors within the Welsh innovation ecosystem, about the alignment of innovation support, and about how we work together in terms of communications and engagement. The reason for that is to address how we're going to support the Welsh innovation community to access more of the funding that's available through Innovate UK, and I can talk to that, if you like. And I can give you examples of what we're doing against those headings of strategic partnership, innovation support and communication engagement, if you'd like.

09:40

Just very, very briefly. Obviously, we don't have much time, but, very, very briefly, if you could, yes, please. 

Yes, okay. So, under strategic partnerships, we're looking at areas of co-investment. So, for example, Welsh Government provides some match funding into our knowledge transfer partnership scheme that enables more Welsh participants within that. We're also looking at co-operation around investment into innovation assets. So, there's a feasibility study that we're looking at, in terms of how we can move towards a Welsh manufacturing institute, for example. And we're looking at public sector procurement in innovation and increased investment, and I'll give the example of our new Launchpad programme as something that we've done against that. 

With innovation support, we within Innovate UK would talk about our products and services, so our grant products, our loan products, and the business services that we provide. And Welsh Government also have their own products and services. So, we're looking at how we best align those, and, then, through our communications and engagement work, making sure we're amplifying each other's products and services and communicating to the community where to go for support, so it's easy to access, easy to find. 

Okay. Okay, that's great. Thanks very much for that. I'll now bring in Mike Hedges. Mike. 

Diolch, Gadeirydd. This question is for UKRI. And can I just start off by saying that I've spoken fairly regularly about the importance of innovation and research in developing our economy? But what progress has been made towards the target in the UK Government's levelling up White Paper to invest at least 55 per cent of funding outside the greater south-east by 2024-25? And what measures have been put in place to achieve this target?

Thank you. So, the overall levelling-up policy set out in the White Paper is led by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and DSIT—the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology—is the cross-Government lead on the R&D mission within that that speaks to all of Government R&D investment. As the largest single public funder, but by no means all of it, we obviously have an important role as UKRI, and we have a comprehensive set of actions across all of our support and engagement. This includes increasing the funding, but also increasing the impact from research and innovation outside the greater south-east. This includes specific interventions driven by a place-based agenda, for example, the local policy innovation partnerships, innovation accelerators, place-based innovation accelerators—two of which I know are in Wales, one of which spans the border—and investments such as the Strength in Places fund, which has funded significant interventions, for example, in Media Cymru and in compound semiconductors in Wales.

But we've also developed a set of policies, including the place toolkit that we published last year and is on our website, to build place considerations in the appropriate way into all of our activities—so, both things that are directed at place, and things that are directed to put place into our overall activity.

In terms of our contribution to the mission, the latest data that I have available is that, between 2019-20, when we invested about £3 billion outside of the greater south-east, and 2020-21, we increased by about £0.5 billion to £3.5 billion outside of the greater south-east. We will continue to update the figures as the more recent numbers become available.

The Welsh Government has set targets for 3 per cent of Innovate UK's budget to be invested in Wales by 2026, and said that it'll set a target for research council funding. What conversations have been had with the Welsh Government about these targets? What needs to be done to meet them? And do you think those are ambitious enough? Why aren't we getting 5 per cent of the non-Oxbridge money?

I'll start, then, and—. So, firstly, we understand what's driving these numbers, and that's the starting conversation with Welsh Government. So, just to keep this as simple as I can, if you look at the average success rate, region to region across the UK, on a NUTS 1 basis, the average success rate is about 23 per cent. So, that's the chances, if you are an applicant into our schemes, of being successful. In Wales, it's 25 per cent. So, it's just above the national average. In fact, just as a comparator, in London, the success is 19 per cent, so you're more likely to be successful if you apply for our funding in Wales than if you're a business based in London. So, we know that there's no bias in the system in terms of favouritism or bias in the application process.

It's demand driven. So, we know that the business population, by the Office for National Statistics 2022 figure, is about 3.9 per cent of the UK business population. We know that Welsh participants are 3 per cent active on a project basis. So, we know that we're not getting enough applications in from Welsh participants. The fact that Welsh participants account for about 3 per cent of the project activity, and yet only 2.6 per cent of our funding is coming to Wales, also tells you that the level of investment that Welsh participants are asking for is a little bit less than what you see in other parts of the country. Now, there's a whole heap of reasons for that that we're talking about with colleagues in Welsh Government.

In terms of the demand driver, we know that there has, historically, been a displacement effect because of the sheer volume of European regional development fund innovation funding that's been available in Wales, and that's probably displaced and meant that Welsh businesses and Welsh universities haven't thought about coming to us for that funding. And then, in terms of the average grant ask being a bit lower, well we know that the characteristic of the business population here is you've got a greater proportion of micro and small businesses. So, there's something about the business population here as well, and probably there's something around ambition.

So, on that basis, that's why we've set the strategy as we have in our action plan for Wales. That's why we're looking at how we can co-operate in terms of new programmes that drive up the demand. That's why we're looking at how we make sure we're properly communicating the opportunity and aligning the support that we have available.

09:45

I'm going to coin a phrase that a colleague used to use—you've got to be in it to win it. We have to encourage businesses and the research sector here to compete and come into the programmes and the competitions that we run. And, actually, that is reflected quite nicely in the call to arms that is in the Welsh innovation strategy.

Shall I say something, briefly, about the wider piece? We have regular conversations with our partners in the Welsh Government, in HEFCW, and indeed with the chief scientific adviser, for example through the science and innovation strategy forum. The next meeting, I think, is due to be in Cardiff.

In terms of comparing percentages, it's worth bearing in mind that, for UKRI as a whole, of course, we're also responsible for the block grant funding for England, so you're not comparing like with like only to look at the overall percentage of UKRI. But, if you were to look at the comparative percentages between the research council competitive grants, the Innovate UK competitive grants and similar things, I think you'd see an increase in the quantum going into Welsh institutions. So, I think, between 2019 and 2020, you'd see an increase in research council funding going from £64 million to £86 million per year. And in Innovate funding, an even more rapid increase, from £27 million to £40 million.

But, as Dean says, the success rates are really important. The success rates for the research council competitive grants for Wales are roughly in line with other geographies in the UK. The success rate by value, so the percentage of what was asked for in the applications that Welsh institutions succeed in winning, is 32 per cent, on average. So, that's actually slightly higher than it is for England, and higher than the average in particular areas of strength, for example, in the social sciences and in engineering and physical sciences.

I think one of the questions there is how to build confidence and an understanding of the system so that more good applications come in, and possibly from a wider range of institutions, building on the successful examples that exist and their networks. I think there's also something about increasing the connectivity and the engagement in order to make those partnerships, and we know, for example, that there are good examples of national activities. The Active Building Centre, perhaps, might be one, that is led by Swansea, but the successful grant involved both Newcastle and Bath as well. So, there are going to be examples where Welsh institutions lead the way for national, big networks and consortia.

Just finally from me, anybody listening to these questions and answers today would be surprised when they looked at the gross value added in Wales, looked at how little employment we had in life sciences, we had in ICT, we had in professional services, compared to the UK average. They'd be surprised at that. Either my figures are wrong, or something is going wrong in terms of getting that innovation money. Which is it?

09:50

So, I think there's another point that, on reflection, I want to make as well about our funding. We're part of a much broader ecosystem. So, I talked about the sorts of businesses that are coming to us for funding that tend to be on the smaller end, so we need to also be supporting those businesses to scale and grow. So, it's not just about the innovation funding, it's about the other economic levers that we've got to support that business community, which is why the partnership approach that we're taking with Welsh Government is so important. I don't think that quite answers the question, but I think it is something that needs to be taken into account.

Well, I think the question raises the point, but I will take it no further.

Thank you, Chair, and good morning to our witnesses. I've got some more questions on funding for universities. Firstly, there was a report by our predecessor committee, and that report found considerable underinvestment in Welsh Government funded research and innovation activity in Wales, even as investment levels increased at the UK level and in England and Scotland, and that, in turn, this underinvestment 

'will make it more difficult for Welsh universities to meet the challenge of needing to win more external funding competitions'.

Now, that was a quote from our report in 2019, so can I ask you all what, if anything, you think has changed since then?

So, I think we should recognise that, in research and innovation terms, 2019 is possibly not that long ago. It will take a long time to address quite a long period of historic underfunding, and we've also obviously had the pandemic since then, which is also reflected in what might have happened in those four years. But we do have to say that, in those four years, HEFCW's core budget from Welsh Government has been broadly flat in real terms, if we talk in general terms. We did see some welcome additional funding from the COVID recovery funds, which enabled us to provide an uplift in innovation funding of about £3 million and about £7.4 million for a programme to support postgraduate researchers and early-career researchers during the pandemic, which has already resulted in several early-career researchers in particular winning external grants because they were able to continue their careers in a way that they may not have been able to had we not had that additional funding.

HEFCW also received some additional funding of £10.5 million in 2021-22, which did bring our levels up to almost equivalent to England for one year, but that was one-off, additional funding; it hasn't been maintained. So, I think the crucial thing is that, last academic year, Research England was able to increase its quality-related funding by 10 per cent and its innovation funding by 13 per cent, whereas HEFCW, both in 2022-23 and 2023-24 has only been able to maintain our equivalent funding streams at flat-cash levels because our overall budget has not increased. There are also targeted pots of investment that Research England are able to offer that we cannot match in HEFCW, although we are going to, this year, be introducing a small amount of funding to support positive and healthy research cultures.

So, I think we do have to say that, on whatever comparator levels you take, the overall funding, certainly for HEFCW, is still at lower levels than we've seen in England, and, where we've seen those budget increases for research and development at a UK level, it is a matter for the Welsh Government as to how they translate the consequentials from that through into their budgets. We do also have to acknowledge the investment that Welsh Government makes directly in research and innovation schemes like Sêr Cymru and its own innovation funding, but I think, even if you take that in the whole, that's still not adding up.

I'll move on to my next question, then, and that's on the Diamond review. The Diamond review recommended maintaining that quality-related or QR funding at the 2016 level of £71 million per annum. QR funding for 2023-24 has been announced at £81.7 million, which is a real-terms cut of £5.3 million. Now, the British Heart Foundation estimates that pro-rata QR funding in Wales should be around £100 million, if compared with England. So, I'd like to ask our witnesses what their view is on why the funding stream has not been maintained and what is the impact on Welsh universities' ability to compete for external funding. 

09:55

So, I would agree, at least approximately, with the figures that the British Heart Foundation have there, and I think I set out in answer to the previous question that why QR hasn't been increased by HEFCW is that the overall budget of HEFCW has not been increased. HEFCW's council in making decisions about funding have to balance quite a number of competing demands, because we have oversight of the whole of the higher education sector. We fund teaching as well as research, so we're dealing with things like increased demand for well-being and health support, other Welsh Government priorities, such as part-time and flexible learning, so it is a juggling act to come up with a balanced figure annually, based on that budget.

I think what we have been able to do is make slightly smaller investments that are catalysts for gaining funding from other sources, the particular example being the Wales innovation network, which I know the committee is hearing from later today. And although they've only been in place for a couple of years, we are definitely beginning to see the fruits of that activity from WIN and that ability to bring together diverse strengths of Welsh universities to gain external funding.

I think we also have to recognise that the Diamond review and, subsequently, Graeme Reid's review, were writing in a slightly different context, when we didn't know what the replacement for EU structural funds was going to be. Now we know what that is, it has turned out very differently to what we might have expected, and therefore we have to be realistic about the extent to which their recommendations can actually be achieved. But I would like to highlight, though, that one of their recommendations that HEFCW has been able to achieve is the reintroduction of innovation funding through the research Wales innovation fund, which was reintroduced in 2019-20. That is at a level of £15 million a year. That is not meeting the ambition that was set of £25 million a year, for budgetary reasons, but we are definitely seeing, in the figures from the higher education business and community interaction survey about income gained by universities, that the impact of the reintroduction of innovation funding is definitely bearing fruit, with those numbers going up year on year: for example, a 16 per cent increase in funding reported through the HEBCI data between 2020-21 and 2021-22, which compares to an 11 per cent increase for the UK as a whole, so Welsh institutions are gaining income at a faster rate than other institutions.

And we've also seen the impact that Welsh institutions can deliver through the research excellence framework in 2021, where Welsh universities were—. World leading and internationally excellent research was above the UK average in terms of the impact case studies that were delivered.

If I may add a brief point, Chair, I would stress also that the benefits coming to Welsh universities and businesses also come from national infrastructures that may not be in Wales, such as the synchrotron and, indeed, international subscriptions to the CERN, for example. But likewise, the rest of the UK benefits from strengths that exist in Wales that come from a combination, at system level, of a number of different funding sources. So, for example, the Innovate UK investment through the Catapult in compound semiconductors, along with research council grants, the universities' own expertise, underpinned by past HEFCW investments, and the capital region city deal investments, led to building some of that capability that then won more capital funding from UKRI through the UK research partnership investment fund and the Strength in Places fund, and that excellence benefits the whole of the country, in part because of the interventions through multiple sources acting in harmony.

Diolch. Diolch, Cadeirydd. I'll just focus in a bit on funding for businesses. One of the things that we've been told as a committee is that there are some differing research needs between universities and business. Is that fair to say? One of the things that was also said was that they might not necessarily be in opposition with each other, though, even though there are differing research needs. Is that something that's fair to say?

Yes. I would agree with that, and, just to qualify it a little bit further, the majority of funding that goes into universities for research is for blue skies research; it's for knowledge generation. Without that very, very wide funnel, you wouldn't have the opportunities for business to leverage that expertise and to bring that into their product development chains. So, that is where the vast majority of university research is focused. But then what we're seeing increasingly is universities that think about translational research, which is at that point where they turn that knowledge into commercial output.

10:00

So, is there a risk that potential barriers might arise, then, from those different research needs, or, generally—you've mentioned it would be quite broad—is that risk limited?

So, there are two things that I'd say that have happened over the last decade, if you like. You've seen that increasing importance of impact in the research excellence framework, so universities are being incentivised to think more about translation and commercialisation and working with industry so society benefits from that underpinning research. The other thing that I'd reflect is just the creation of UKRI. So, UKRI was about bringing the system together. So, you've got Innovate UK looking after the business-led interests, but much more integrating working with the other research councils. And as part of that, there is actually a commercialisation programme, where there's a director of commercialisation; he actually sits in with Innovate UK, but works across all of the councils. So, there's a lot of work in place to harmonise and bring that system together.

Okay. I don't know if Daniel wanted to come in—I could see you were nodding along in agreement.

I think Dean excellently made the point I was going to make.

So, thinking about businesses' ability to access public funding, then, for research and development, what are the main barriers there?

So, I think I've already touched on one of them, which is awareness. I think I touched on another one, which is about ambition. And that's not just about reaching the businesses that are already innovation active and pointing them to the funding and the support opportunities, but also reaching out to those businesses that aren't innovation active and making them think about being more innovative businesses. And I made the point earlier on as well that, those R&D-intensive businesses, we need to be encouraging them to scale and grow. So, there are a number of things there. I think I probably have already addressed it when I talked to the action plan—you can therefore start understanding why we've focused on the actions that we have in the action plan to work with the business community and the business support system to address those barriers.

So, you think the action plan itself then will cover, essentially, what we need to do to remove some of those barriers, then? Is there something else that you would like to see?

I think it's a good start. It's a good start. And one thing I would say about this action plan is that it's a live document, it's a working document, and we will come back to it and relook at it as we have to and as we need to. The other thing we'll do is we'll hold ourselves to account. So, we have started. Innovate UK, we've gone into a number of action plans with different parts of the country against the levelling-up agenda. And if you have seen recent social media, we've gone back, for example, with Liverpool city region, one year on, with Mayor Steve Rotheram, to talk about what we've achieved and what we're planning to do in the year ahead, and we will do exactly the same here in Wales. So, one year on from Wales Tech Week, we'll come back, we'll talk to the community about what we have done, what we've achieved against that plan, and we'll set out ambitions for the years ahead. So, this is live; we keep this live.

So, one final question from me then, Chair. I'm just thinking now in the context of Welsh Government's announcements around its economic missions, and I think it's mission four, investing for growth, that talked particularly about R&D. How do you see this document feeding into that, or how do you see the actions from Welsh Government actually feeding into that mission, so that it actually then leads to some transformation in the sector? Because my slight worry with the announcement that we've had at the moment is that it used the language of a mission-based approach, but there didn't seem to be anything behind that to back it up. And if we're talking about missions, then one of the key things is that we do everything we can to actually ensure that the mission is actually tangible and delivers some sort of benefit.

Yes, I agree. I absolutely agree. We've got really, really well-developed relationships with senior officials in Welsh Government. We work very closely with their innovation team. And if you go through the plan—I'm not going to reference it now, but you see that we bring out all the touch points to the various strategies that are running in Wales. So, we are trying to get that alignment with the economic plans that are in play. Your point I would absolutely agree with, by the way. 

10:05

Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Good morning, panel. I'm going to look specifically around collaboration between higher education and industry, firstly to Harriet. What role do you see public funding bodies playing in terms of facilitating greater collaboration between universities and business, and do you think there's more that can be done in this area? 

I think there are two things that I'd highlight from the perspective of HEFCW in terms of the role that we play in that. First is our research Wales innovation fund, which has three priorities or three strands, one of which is business and commercialisation, the second of which is skills, development of skills, and then the third is community engagement and civic mission. And we see—. Obviously, all three of those are somewhat intertwined. We've just completed the first phase of the reintroduction of the funding, its first three-year strategies. We have now just approved five-year strategies from institutions, recognising a more mature position, that institutions have been able to rebuild their capacity and will continue to grow. There's a really important role there, that we're funding universities to take the role of being anchors in the innovation community local to them, providing facilities, innovation hubs, collaboration spaces and so on. So, I think our funding for innovation is a crucial part of that.

Then, the second part is the wider role that universities play in the skills pipeline. They are the place that trains the researchers and innovators of the future. Providing PhD support and so on is not the sort of thing that businesses can do on their own. Although the collaborative partnerships with industry are important, fundamentally, it is based in universities, and I think the role that the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research will have will extend that even further, because that will enable us to join up the skills development that goes on within further education and work-based learning with what universities do, and then taking it on into business and innovation.

Thank you. I very much agree and, just to add, our strategy, our five-year strategy that we published about a year and a half ago, definitely places emphasis on securing the benefits of business to society by being able to join up the business, the academic, obviously the investor, and the public communities. This includes interventions to strengthen clusters and partnerships, some of which Dean and I have mentioned. I think it includes paying attention not only to the direct interventions, but the signals that we send and the incentives that we set, for example, in careers to be more porous and more interactive between the business and the academic communities, as well as specific interventions to foster collaborations, such as the Catapult, such as the knowledge transfer partnerships.

We are innovating in the things that we fund. So, for example, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is taking a place-based approach to supporting consortia of universities and businesses to do knowledge exchange through place-based innovation accelerator accounts. Three of the 10 funded ones have a strong Welsh connection—two wholly in Wales, one, I think, straddling the border. And I think it's really important to stress the importance of this being an interaction. So, academia gets from engagement with business a real sense of the demand and the future for impact that they're incentivised to achieve, and it gets research questions and research data that are really valuable to them. Business gets not only the direct benefits from the interaction, but it gets sources of ideas it wouldn't be able to generate for itself over longer time frames. It gets infrastructures it may not want to invest in itself because you only use them once in a while, and especially it gets access to people and talent, and we know that that's a massive draw for inward investment internationally, as well as in the UK. Crucial to that is that spirit of porosity between business and academic communities.

I think that the positioning of collaborative R&D can't be overstated. There was a report done a couple of years ago and it concluded—. Well, it actually had a look at the impact of what we funded, and it showed that if you had a university involved in one of our business-led projects—because some of our funding goes just to business consortia or to an individual business, but, if there was an academic party involved, it increased the impact of that work. So, collaborative R&D and the programmes that we provide for that are really, really important.

10:10

Okay, thank you. Just to extend this question a little bit further, then—and it may be more of a question for a later panel today—but, Harriet, you mentioned the word 'commercialisation', and sometimes from the outside looking in, R&D is seen in isolation. What's the benefit in the real world? Where do we see that benefit from investment in R&D in our day-to-day lives, in businesses? What can be done between Government, between yourselves, between higher education and industry, so that the tangible benefit of R&D is seen more clearly? And I'm thinking of the context of this around the European Union debate and our leaving the European Union, that some of the benefits around EU funding weren't felt by people, especially around R&D, hence some of the 'leave' vote. I'm thinking how we can make that more of a synergised discussion of saying, 'Look, this is where R&D happens and this is how it impacts our day-to-day lives positively.' I'm not sure who wants to jump in on that first.

I could make a start from the point of view of—. So, one of the bodies we also fund is the Learned Society of Wales, who’ve recently produced this report, 'Making an Impact', which is very much designed to do that, celebrating the impact that research in Wales has. That is based on the analysis of the impact case studies submitted to the research excellence framework in 2021. The research excellence framework is run jointly by the four funding bodies—HEFCW, Research England, the Scottish Funding Council and the department in Northern Ireland—and there is definitely more we can do as the funding bodies to celebrate the outcomes that come from that research excellence framework. This report found the impact that research in Wales has: the generation of over 2,500 jobs, over a third of the case studies reported an economic impact, 70 per cent of them reported impact in Wales, and 60 per cent globally. There are loads of fantastic figures that have come out of that analysis, and we do all have a role in making sure that’s publicised and celebrated. So, I think that’s the role that HEFCW play, but Dan and Dean may want to say more about UKRI.

Yes, collectively I think we've got to get much better at communication. There is an issue, I think, in terms of society's view of science, and there's a distrust of scientists. That's something we have to work together to get messages out there to overcome that. Also, I think as funders we need to make sure we're really visible when the communication happens. So, when there is a major innovation that has led to a big commercial outcome, if there has been public funding behind it, we need to make sure we shine a light on that public funding. I don't think we've always done as well as we could in that respect, so we really do need to ramp up the communications effort.

Thank you. It's an excellent question, and actually I think we all need to learn how to do communication better. I think we can learn from you, we can learn from the people who are researching this. I know that the Wellcome Trust funded some work done by the Campaign for Science and Engineering under the title of 'Discovery Decade' that did a lot of survey work on public understanding. I think some of the amazing stories are there. One of the challenges I think we have is to keep making them relevant, not just to us who want to tell them, but to the people who are listening, and I think that requires audience insight and sensitivity as well as effort. There'll be different stories for different people. So, the arts and humanities intervention cluster created 400 jobs and £20 million of activity; that's relevant for that audience and that community. A piece of environmental systems research that helped safeguard mussel fishing jobs in the Menai straits is relevant to a different community. Probably we need really to learn from the experts here, who are good at telling stories, to tell these stories that matter to the people who want to hear them.

Can I just say—? Also, challenges and missions are really, really important as part of that communication. Historically, we would have talked about disciplines. It's a bit dry and it's not very engaging to the public. But when you talk about how you're going to transition to a net-zero economy, how you're going to do that to protect the environment, how you're going to help society with healthy living into old age, that's engaging, and that challenge and mission approach is part of the communications story we need to tell.

Because the latest example would be the transatlantic flight that had biofuel. The story around that leans in, Dean, to that story of how it's tangible to the day-to-day lives of an individual, but there are years of research and development that have gone in behind it, and how we can tell that story. Am I fair in saying that, between the three of you on the panel, there's unanimous agreement that more could be done on the communications side of saying, 'This is why R&D is great in our day-to-day lives, the tangible benefit'? Am I fair in that assessment?

I would absolutely agree, and that's something we need to do together, as well.

10:15

Yes, because I do think that this is a really, really important point here. When we try and display the benefit that R&D has to people's lives, there is no better example than the iPhone. I'm a bit concerned, Chair, that I'm setting a record for the most mentions of Mariana Mazzucato, this week, in the Senedd. People are probably going to think I'm quite obsessed at the moment. [Laughter.]

But, there's a point here, isn't it, that throughout history there's been public investment in all sorts of technology, but there hasn't been any benefit seen in the public sphere. Mazzucato talks specifically about the privatisation of reward and the publicisation of risk. So, I think communication is key, but we have got a bit of a cultural and political problem here as well, haven't we? In the sense that we've, for too long now, held up Steve Jobs, for example, as being the great innovator, when actually he was more around how do you actually apply the innovation that's already been funded by public bodies and other researchers in universities, et cetera.

So, I'm just wondering: communication is key, but how do we actually then talk about that bigger problem we have, which is the cultural and political problem around showing the benefits of R&D to people's day-to-day lives, and showing that people on a day-to-day basis have got a stake in what's going on? Because, ultimately, it's the public money that's going into a lot of this stuff. 

I would widen it up to say though that, obviously, the benefits in technology transfer, but there are also huge benefits in the health service or in public service as well: research in social sciences that finds better ways of organising a call centre in the emergency services will give you better response times, and so on. 

There are all kinds of things where R&D is crucial to people's lives and it is important that people understand it, but it is that communications piece again, and recognising that, probably, your academic researcher is maybe not the person to be telling that story. That's not their job, that's not necessarily their skillset. We need to find the people who have the skills and the ability to do it, which is why bodies like ours and others can work together to help celebrate that message.

The ultimate goal would be to be able to go into a pub in Wales and hear them talk about, 'Well, actually, this was made through research and development.' That's actually people recognising that on a day-to-day basis, isn't it? Okay. Thanks for indulging me, Chair. [Laughter.]

Thank you, Luke. And I'm afraid time has beaten us, so our session has come to an end. But thank you very much indeed for being with us this morning. Your evidence will be very useful for our inquiry. A copy of today's transcript will be sent to you in due course, so if there are any issues with that, then please let us know. But once again, thank you very much indeed for being with us this morning.

We'll now take a short break to prepare for the next session. 

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:18 a 10:26.

The meeting adjourned between 10:18 and 10:26.

10:25
4. Ymchwiliad: Ymchwil a Datblygu: Addysg uwch
4. Inquiry: Research and Development: Higher Education

Croeso nôl i gyfarfod Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig. Symudwn ni ymlaen nawr i eitem 4 ar ein hagenda, a dyma ail sesiwn banel ein hymchwiliad undydd i ymchwil a datblygu. Rŷn ni'n clywed tystiolaeth gan gynrychiolwyr addysg uwch, Prifysgolion Cymru a rhwydwaith arloesi Cymru. A gaf i, felly, groesawu'r tystion i'r sesiwn yma? Cyn ein bod ni'n symud yn syth i gwestiynau, a gaf i ofyn iddyn nhw i gyflwyno eu hunain i'r record? Efallai y gallaf ddechrau gydag Amanda Wilkinson.  

Welcome back to this meeting of the Senedd's Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee. We move on to item 4 on the agenda, and this is the second panel session of our one-day inquiry into research and development. We are taking evidence from representatives from higher education, Universities Wales and the Wales innovation network. Could I, therefore, welcome the witnesses to this session? Before we move to questions, could I ask them to introduce themselves for the record? Maybe I'll start with Amanda Wilkinson.

Thank you, Chair. Amanda Wilkinson; I'm the director at Universities Wales.

Roger Whitaker, pro vice-chancellor for research, innovation and enterprise at Cardiff University, but here on behalf of Universities Wales.

I'm Lewis Dean, I'm head of the Wales innovation network. WIN is a network of all of the Welsh universities and it's part of Universities Wales.

Thank you for those introductions, and perhaps I can just kick off this session with a few questions. What are your views on why Wales does not receive its population share of UKRI funding and what can be done, and by whom, to actually address this? Amanda.

I'm happy to open that up. I think, historically, we've had lower levels of core funding for research and innovation. We had a long period where we weren't in receipt of innovation funding at all, in terms of our core funding, and that was, obviously, problematic for us. But in terms of how the model works, roughly speaking, for every research contract that you're able to secure, you have to find 30 per cent of the value of that contract from other resources. So, you know, there is an issue in terms of the availability of core funding, and QR funding in particular, to support that base and allow us to draw the contracts that we are very capable of winning from UKRI.

Thank you. I think there are probably multiple factors, but I think it's worth drawing attention to QR funding. One of my hypotheses is that we're not receiving a population share of UKRI funding, in part due to not receiving population share of QR funding, and to explain that, QR funding is really vital for the lifeblood of universities; it's the means through which we can create time and support for people to bid into UKRI, and also have the facilities through which we can deliver the grants as well.

10:30

Just to quickly add on that, I think Paul Nurse's review highlighted that the end-to-end funding of research and QR funding is vital for that means. Research projects do not start with funding from UKRI, they start before that; there needs to be proof of concept and preliminary work goes on. So, really, that QR funding is vital for that whole research life-cycle.

In terms of spending on research and development, Bangor University has told us that there is significant regional disparity, which reflects the urban-rural composition in Wales. What are your views on this and what, if anything, can be done and by whom to actually address these disparities? 

So, I think we do have some advantage in terms of the spread of our universities across Wales and that is a considerable strength for us in terms of looking at the urban and rural anchors we have in place to deliver research and innovation, and I do think that that really matters. I'm happy to provide further detail on this. We did some economic impact work that looked across all the regions of Wales and, indeed, down to subregional level and that showed that universities have impact even if they're not located in that area. So, there is nothing that would stop, for example, Cardiff University delivering benefit to industrial partners in north-east Wales or other areas of Wales. So, I think we've got a really good mix and a really good place base, but there's also nothing that stops universities delivering across Wales in terms of R&I impact. And we can look at seeing whether we can get a breakdown of that for you. I mean, I would mention regional investment funding, but I can leave other colleagues to talk about that, because, clearly, we have had an impact in areas of Wales as a result of replacement structural funds not really sufficiently meeting R&I requirements.

If you have carried out some work on regional disparities, we'd be very interested to see that work as a committee, so we'd be very grateful if you could pass that information on to us.

I think it's worth looking at the main core funding of research to answer this question. It's well accepted that QR funding is well principled, it's based on quality and volume, and I think colleagues across the sector and Bangor University appreciate that model because it has integrity. Welsh Government, of course, through the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, provides research Wales innovation funding. It seems to me that, actually, there is a dynamic going on within that funding that does support the regions. So, if we take the research excellence framework data on headcount of researchers and look at the investment of research Wales innovation funding to Bangor, that is just over £6,900 per researcher, where, in Cardiff, each researcher receives just over £1,600 equivalent. So, actually, there's over a fourfold investment towards that region, when you look at this through the research perspective, which is the power behind research and innovation.

I think it's worth also highlighting that universities are working with growth deals in their local areas, and some of those growth deals, clearly, have been established for longer than others. So, I think there is good work going on at regional level throughout Wales from the universities.

Okay. And, Amanda, you obviously mentioned that having universities located in different parts of Wales can be useful and, of course, higher education institutions can act as anchors for research and development, but to what extent does this result in public funding being channelled towards areas where universities are based, potentially excluding the wider private sector across Wales, in your view?

10:35

So, I don't think there's any reason why that should be the case, and if you look at impact and you look at impact data, then those impacts will be felt across Wales in terms of that work. We've seen that. We had three Queen's anniversary prize winners this year from Wales—I want to say out of 18—which just really speaks volumes for the fact that research in Wales delivers impact, because those prizes are really focused on impact, and we had three winners, Bangor, Aberystwyth and Swansea. So, I think in terms of impact, we are definitely UK leading on impact, and I'm sure that colleagues can say a little bit more about that.

And as I said before, there's absolutely nothing that stops a university, as we have done, working with industry wherever it's located. I think the important thing is that we have, particularly with the stream of innovation funding that we've now had, I want to say since 2019, colleagues—that then gives us a bit of capacity, really, to engage in work with industry. That stream of funding is very important to us.

Thank you. Just to follow Amanda's point there around impact, I think it's perhaps an undersold element of Wales just how good we are in terms of impact and transferring science and innovation through to and affecting in the real world, so to speak. Speaking from Cardiff University's perspective, we are the top across devolved nations by REF 2021 for research impact, which is slightly hidden, perhaps, but very important. I feel HE and the sector that we have in Wales—we are close to centres of industry, we have that coverage. We also do map on to the growth deals and have relationships that are strong there. I would also, perhaps, argue that post COVID we do have a step change in how we behave and interact through digital means as well as being physically co-located. So, the infrastructure that we have, the importance of that, the importance of broadband, mobility and transport is really important to the sector. 

To just give a little bit of detail on that, a report commissioned by the Learned Society of Wales and co-sponsored by the Wales innovation network, which examined the impact case studies submitted to the REF 2021 exercise, highlighted that 42 per cent of the 280 case studies had economic impact, and 70 per cent had impact in Wales. But, actually, what we saw through that was there was impact on multiple levels, so both locally around the university, across Wales, and then also at UK level and worldwide as well. So, we're seeing Welsh universities working with a really broad range of partners, and in most cases multiple partners in those impact case studies, to develop the impact from their research and innovation.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. The first question is: to what extent do the innovation strategy and delivery plan provide a sufficient framework for universities and industry choosing where to conduct research and innovation?

I suppose what I would say is that the consultation process we were engaged in along with other stakeholders regarding the innovation strategy was one of the better consultation processes that we've been engaged with, and it was a very consultative and robust process. I think the innovation strategy—it gives us a structure, and other colleagues, Lewis in particular, can talk about how we're looking to build on that strategy in terms of delivery by universities.

10:40

I think there is strong complementarity between the missions of the innovation strategy and the positioning of universities; I think there's good overlap. I think one point to reaffirm is the value of innovation; it drives competitive advantage, but also basic research feeds into innovation, so making sure we keep that chain connected is really important. Chemistry drives the battery composition that drives the electric vehicles, and so hard science can soon find its way into really purposeful impact. So, that element is important to us. I think as a strategy it gives the universities flexibility to deliver in different ways as well against those missions, based on specialisms and expertise from across the sector.

And as WIN, we are responding to this strategy, so our work is partly shaped by the strategy. We have networks around net zero and public health, for example, working into some of those key areas, drawing together representatives from across the universities in Wales, and looking at how we can work together on R&I. I think it's important to point out, of course, that if academics are applying for external funding, there are clearly other strategies that apply as well. I think there is a complementarity between those. Increasingly, research and innovation funding is being allocated on mission basis rather than disciplinary basis, and I think that's where we're really able to draw that cross-disciplinary strength that we have in Welsh universities, particularly working across all of the universities to address those missions both in the Welsh innovation strategy and responding to the strategies of external funders.

Thank you for that. Who sets the agenda for conducting research? I'm going to talk about mobile devices. I mean, if it hadn't been for PNP doping, we would never have had mobile devices, but we all remember having a Nokia phone and we all remember having a BlackBerry, all of which have gone out of manufacture, or very close to out of manufacture. So, how do you, working with industry, know where we need to go; and PNP doping, why bother? Our transistors were working fine, weren't they? So, how do you decide how to innovate? Some of these major innovations have really driven economies across the world.

Thank you. So, I think a really important component is making sure we have really strong disciplines in terms of expertise—experts, who in the course of their research can ask the curiosity-driven questions, could also be heading in a particular direction, but spot something just on the corner of the world view, and can actually say, 'Well, this is really important. This will have a really transformative step change.' So, that element is really important, and as universities it's really important that we provide an environment where that can happen, but at the same time, we're porous to industry and commerce and can work in partnership around some of these areas, where we can generate new IP.

So, I do think what's going to be important—. We need to keep a weather eye on what's happening elsewhere in the UK, so we, for example, know that we've had a report on spin-out delivered to the UK Government. If the UK Government accepts that report, that will result in, for example, higher innovation funding to universities for a lower spin-out take. That could transform what we're able to do with industrial partnerships and so it's going to be important from a Wales perspective that we're able to look at that and we're able to operate in the same way, because that allows for the sort of porous interaction with expertise that we're able to provide in the university that I think Roger was alluding to. So, I think there are some real policy-making levers here that we need to think about.

10:45

I'm going to make two comments that you may respond to or not. The first one is that life sciences has been a huge growth area and mainly driven by university researchers and then fed into the economy. I always think back to the comment by Henry Ford, 

'If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.'

I think those are excellent observations. The latter comment from Henry Ford really captures the spirit of innovation and actually being able to think differently. It is about providing an environment where thinking is challenged, where you can work in partnership with different organisations. I think the sector in Wales is actually moving in a very positive direction with respect to this. Examples would be UKRI, EPSRC, and place-based innovation acceleration awards. Wales is involved in three out of 10 of those that have been awarded across the UK, and those are very important in bringing industry and experts together to think about problems in different ways, as well as to translate research into deliverables.

Thank you, Chair, and good morning to our second panel. I've got some questions around funding for universities, looking at external sources of funding as well. I'll start with a quote from our predecessor committee, which found, in 2019, and I quote,

'considerable under-investment in Welsh Government funded research and innovation activity in Wales even as investment levels increase at the UK level and in England and Scotland.'

They said that in turn this

'under-investment will make it more difficult for Welsh universities to meet the challenge of needing to win more external funding competitions.'

So, I'd like to ask our witnesses what, if anything, they feel has changed since 2019. 

Just by way of overview, we have had the reintroduction of innovation funding—RWIF funding, as we call it in Wales. So, that has been very welcome. I should say, of course, though, that the funding landscape moves around us all the time. It is quite a competitive environment and we are at risk again of that drifting away. We did receive significantly more one-off funding during COVID than our counterparts across the border in England, and that was very welcome at a particularly crucial time. 

What I would say, though, is that post COVID what we're starting to see is this return to core funding, which really is setting us up to lag behind again, and I think the key issue is that the baseline QR has remained flat. For all the reasons we've mentioned in answer to other questions, that remains extremely problematic for us.

I think the other key issue is the impact of structural fund withdrawal, which, as colleagues will know from the variety of things we've said and the evidence we've given in terms of other inquiries, has been a very serious challenge to us.

I'd like to mention the importance of place. I feel there has been a wider recognition in the funding landscape of the importance of place. The excellence, the networks, and indeed the culture element has been recognised, not least by UKRI in particular. UKRI have introduced a place-based toolkit for all their programmes across all their research councils. They are very engaged and come to Wales and meet us as a sector very regularly. This is an agenda that I feel is really quite precious for Wales. Indeed, we are showing our competitiveness here by the aforementioned place-based impact acceleration funds, which are multimillion pound in scale. We're the only location in the UK with two Strength in Places awards as well, and so it's a platform on which to build. 

10:50

I just wanted to highlight the Wales innovation network and it being a proactive initiative by the universities to come together to pool their expertise and knowledge and to ensure that universities are more competitive in that increasingly competitive UKRI funding space. I think we have started to see, through our seed funding small grant programme, for example, which has provided research networks with opportunities to bid into funding, some really promising initial results, with relatively small amounts of seed funding turning into some quite large applications. I think that also, as Roger said, reflects UKRI's increased engagement with place and thinking about both the research excellence but also the broader aspects of place on their funding portfolio as well. 

Thank you. I'll move on to a question about the Diamond review. That recommended that we maintain quality-related funding at the 2016 level of £71 million per annum. The QR funding for 2023-24 has been announced at £81.7 million, but that's a real-terms cut of £5.3 million. We have also heard from the British Heart Foundation estimates that pro rata QR funding in Wales should be around £100 million per annum if compared with England. So, I'd like to ask what you think is the impact on Welsh universities’ ability to compete for external funding. What representations have you made to the Welsh Government regarding this?

It's part of our core representations to the Welsh Government, and colleagues will see a much larger examination of this in our submission to the Senedd on the budget process for 2024-25. We think, on a population basis, that we're looking at about £44 million lower than England, £68 million lower than Scotland. Those are not small sums and, for the reasons that we've already articulated, when you've got to find effectively 30 per cent for every research grant that you accept, having proportionate QR puts us on a level playing field with those others in the UK system who are bidding for those funds.  

As I said earlier, QR is absolutely fundamental to the lifeblood, to give that time and facilities for collaboration and for investigation. We are cross-subsidising research to an eye-watering extent—20 per cent to 30 per cent, as has been mentioned. We're not recovering costs on that, and the business model that we have in the sector means that, effectively, it's international student fees that are making up that balance. So, just to emphasise that, with that model, our international reputation is really critical.

Thank you. One final question from me, then, just to ask the panel if there are any other barriers or challenges for universities in accessing external funding that they think we should be aware of, and how they think those challenges can be addressed, and by who.

10:55

If I may, I'll just return to the point made earlier, that we are cross-subsidising significantly from our international fees, and that allows investment into research. By and large, for home students, we are not in a position to provide cross-subsidy from the fees that we receive from that direction. So, thinking about this systemically, thinking about our positioning as a sector, we really do need to make sure we're in a position to maintain a really strong, buoyant reputation for international students on the world stage as a country.

I think it's important to note, as Amanda stated earlier, that funding is not awarded at the full economic cost. In the case of public funding, that's probably between around 70 per cent and 80 per cent, and for some charitable foundations, it is significantly lower than that. The other aspect is match funding components. A range of grant programmes will ask for match funding from institutions, which is a further financial investment by the universities. Without that ability to invest in that match funding, universities will have to make the decisions about which grants they're able to apply for.

We're very dependent on international student recruitment, and I think that point's been made.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I'm just thinking now of the relationship universities have with business. Something we've been told is that relationships tend to be quite ad hoc between business and universities and that more often than not it's on businesses to reach out to universities. Do you think that's a fair assessment? I'm just wondering how proactive universities are in their reaching out to businesses. Are there good practices in Wales, for example, we might not know about of universities dealing with businesses proactively? Roger, do you want to start?

I'm very happy, thank you, to report on that. In large organisations, sometimes it can be difficult to establish front doors into those organisations, and it's important that we strive to do that. Speaking from example in Cardiff University, there is a wide breadth of interactions and partnerships ongoing. At the high level, we have managed partnerships that are strategic with a range of organisations—Airbus, DSV, Siemens, Dŵr Cymru, Amgueddfa Cymru, the Office for National Statistics—and we work closely with the Cardiff capital region as well. Investigators also will bump into people and will have relationships that we need to manage. I see it as a very buoyant activity at the moment. I think if there's any constraint, it's probably around the resources that we have available to do more in terms of interaction with businesses. We also are moving to models where we're working on a much more porous basis with businesses, with businesses being co-located, for example at Cardiff University social science park, in the same building as the academic unit, and also the integration with academies, with the Data Science Academy working with industry, and the National Software Academy, again, working very closely with industry.

If you look at the higher education business and community interaction survey data, which is UK data, then Wales performs fairly strongly in this area. I hate to keep coming back to it, but through structural funds, we did run some cross-university collaborative projects such as the knowledge exchange skills scholarship, which was about how we got Master's students into small businesses, working on real-life projects. This was a project based in Bangor but run across all the Welsh universities. The way in which a project like that helped us to develop, both within the institution but within the business was quite transformational, and similarly with ASTUTE, another programme that we run across universities. And withdrawing that infrastructure, which is obviously what we're having to do at the moment, is not a small issue for us. So, I think, in terms of what we do across all the Welsh universities, getting some sense that we're able to maintain some of that infrastructure, which is why we fought really hard on the issue of regional investment, really does matter.

The data shows we perform quite strongly. We're also quite good in the start-up space, so we have a really high number of graduate start-ups for the size of the sector—5 per cent of the UK sector, 13 per cent of graduate start-ups—and good longevity on those start-ups as well. The issues there will be the same as the issues that you'll hear from all sorts of similar businesses—you know, availability of investment capital—but for us also, in some areas, frankly, the extent to which we're running out of incubation space is also a problem. So, there's a whole cluster of issues that sit around the agenda you're looking at today that are worth looking at in terms of capacity constraint to do more in this space.

11:00

So, with some of those issues, then, what would be the top issues for you, and how would you resolve them?

For me, I do think we need to look at the incubation space in some areas that we have available. Aberystwyth will tell me that their incubator is nearly full. Going back to some of the questions that were raised earlier about rural and urban, that incubation space is, for example, nearly full. So, I do think there are some key issues for us at that end. But I think also, particularly as business faces its challenges and the speed of technology advances, some of those big infrastructure projects that we had—. Maybe being able to save some of that infrastructure will do us a lot of good, because then I think we could do some other really quite interesting things. Some of the key questions that we might be able to collaboratively address around the adoption of robotics in small advanced manufacturing businesses in Wales could be really quite crucial, given the way some of that is going; also the feed-through to skills from R&I, which we haven't mentioned, which is absolutely crucial for industry and for adoption of R&I, and colleagues could say some more about that. But the link-up with skills is also absolutely crucial here. We have run some one-off spot projects with some investment from the funding council that I thought were really interesting, which were industry, university and FE collaborations in this space, around sector. Anyway, I'm going on a bit. But, it's just—. I think I've got about three really important areas there, but there are probably five things that would make a really big difference in all of that.

I don't know if Lewis wants to come in before I come back with another question.

I just wanted to—. I'd made a quick note here of 'planned serendipity', and I think that feeds into Roger and Amanda's point. You don't necessarily see relationships between business and academia all happening through the same route, all taking the same course. The work on REF case studies illustrated that. There are multiple pathways to impact. Where we can ensure that there are those opportunities for businesses and researchers to interact in multiple different ways, I think we get the most strength, and we do see that, as Roger was pointing out, through the science parks, through incubator space. There are examples where universities will—. So, universities will offer, for example, continuing professional development training that provides a service to business as well. And then I think there will always be those serendipitous and strong relationships that form in particular areas. So, for example, the work that the University of Wales Trinity Saint David does with Belron on windscreen technology is a very specific example where a strong relationship has built up over many years. So, I think universities across Wales are doing multiple different things to ensure that that planned serendipity happens. 

11:05

I can see the time, Chair, so I'm happy for my other questions to be written questions. So, I'll hand back to you. 

Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Good morning, panel; thanks very much for joining us this morning. I'm going to focus around collaboration between higher education and industry, if that's okay. For whoever wants to pick this question up first, how would you describe the overall current level of collaboration between the higher education sector and industry, and where is there scope for improvement and how could this be taken forward?

Other colleagues can perhaps make this real. I think there is extensive collaboration between HE and industry. As we've previously said, Wales is strong on impact, but that doesn't mean that we don't need to keep extending. We do need to keep extending this; it's vitally important for our economic future that we do do that and that we're able to do that. Some other colleagues here might be able to talk about some things we're seeing, for example, in England around the connecting capability fund, for example, and some ways in which that could be pump-primed. 

I think I—. We need to be innovative in terms of the way we engage, if that makes sense. And I do think that the new commission allows us the opportunity to do some of this differently—so, how do we work with FE, how do we work with some of their business contacts, how do we do the sorts of things I've just described in relation to tying up R&I and skills. So, I do think we've got great examples of where we've done this on a spot basis, but I think that it could be more systemised. 

I would say that, on this front, I think, there's real buoyancy and energy behind this, with lots of evidence from place-based impact acceleration, which needs business and HE to come together. I would look also to Media Cymru, CSconnected, new models and approaches. The cyber innovation hub is a case in point. It's not just down in the south-east corner. AberInnovation is, arguably, one of the leaders in the UK around agri-tech, and has a real reach there, and then up to Bangor with M-SParc as well, and all the work going on in Swansea, particularly around energy systems, around ASTUTE, manufacturing work. So, actually, I feel it's part of Welsh DNA to co-create, and it's something we need to build on.

Yes, building on what Amanda and Roger have said, I think there are really innovative partnerships and ways of working in Wales already, as recognised by our success in, say, the Strength in Places fund, and the EPSRC place-based IAAs. Where we—. In England, there has been connecting capabilities funding awarded by Research England, which allows innovation to take place in this space, has allowed learning to be generated in that space above and beyond the work that is done funded by higher education innovation funding. There's some interesting lessons from there. I think we have learnt a great deal, but it is the scope and capacity to fund those. As Amanda pointed out, a number of these interactions and collaborations were funded from structural funds and are no longer funded there. 

11:10

Okay. Thank you. I asked the previous panel—and it's an extension of this question, really—around the commercialisation and the day-to-day benefits that people feel from R&D, and how we can link the two together more so that the public know of the ownership that they have involved with R&D and they know why R&D is necessary. The previous panel said with agreement that more needs to be done around communicating the benefits of R&D. I'd just like to know your thoughts on that. Lewis, I'll start with yourself. 

Sure, yes. I think this is a key challenge for us. Public models of engagement with R&D show a real range. There are a stubborn 15 per cent to 20 per cent of public audiences who are simply not interested, and I think we need to be realistic about what can be accomplished, but I think there's real opportunity for us as a sector, working with industry, working with Government as well, to really show what can be done when we all work together. But I think we need to think—. Again, drawing on best practice, we need to think creatively about how that can be done. A simple kind of deficit model in which you go and tell people how good it is doesn't necessarily work; we need to really think about how we can do that creatively, and really think about what messages resonate with people. They don't necessarily just need to be told it; let's think about how we can show that. And part of that is through the impact that Welsh university R&I has. We've got some really great case studies there.

Just to add, on the case study front, I think we've got an enormous array of really interesting ways that people might not—. They might be surprised, actually, to learn of the way in which science connects to innovation and it follows through to things that happen. And also—

Sorry to cut across there. If we have those case studies, then, how do we better engage the public as to the benefits of R&D, R&I? How do we better tell the story so that academia and investment in R&D isn't seen in isolation as to the day-to-day tangible benefits that people may feel in their day-to-day lives?

I think we need to do a piece of work around that and have some resources as well to take that forward, because, as Lewis has said, the trap we might fall into is telling people, rather than having them engaged and participate.

I was just going to say 'schools'. So, we can come back and give you—. I'm aware of time, but we can come back and perhaps just talk to you about what the universities are doing at schools level. I think it starts there in terms of developing that wider understanding of what research means for lives.

Okay. Thank you very much. And then just my final question around the research Wales innovation fund provided to universities to support knowledge exchange activities between universities and industry, I was just wondering, panel, your thoughts on the impact this fund has had on collaboration to date and is the funding level sufficient to deliver the scale of change needed. I'm not sure who wants to kick off there. Roger, in the middle.

Happy to. The funding's highly successful. It's providing direct interventions to support a multitude of different ways in which we can really deliver. My fear is the scale of the fund, untapped potential, and also our parity with England, for example, in that space, in terms of funding.

Yes. So, we can see from the HEBCI data that's collected from the Higher Education Statistics Agency that improvements in those community business interactions have taken place in Wales since the reintroduction of RWIF. We need to be cautious about that because it is stochastic; things do change within that. But, I think, yes, we are seeing some great work that's going on across the range of knowledge exchange activity in universities, thinking about commercialisation, but also entrepreneurship and enterprise and public and community engagement through that as well. Yes, I would back Roger's point that, obviously, in the Reid review, it was recommended that it would be at £25 million annually, and we're not seeing even that level yet.

11:15

Thank you, Sam. I'm afraid time has beaten us, so our session has come to an end. Thank you very much indeed for being with us this morning. Your evidence is very useful for our inquiry. A copy of today's transcript will be sent to you in due course, so if there are any issues with that, then please let us know, but once again, thank you very much indeed for being with us. We'll now take a short break to prepare for the next session.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:15 ac 11:19.

The meeting adjourned between 11:15 and 11:19.

5. Ymchwiliad: Ymchwil a Datblygu: Busnes
5. Inquiry: Research and Development: Business

Wel, croeso nôl i gyfarfod Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig. Fe symudwn ni ymlaen nawr i eitem 5 ar ein hagenda, a dyma'r drydedd sesiwn a'r olaf yn yr ymchwiliad heddiw i ymchwil a datblygu. Rydym ni'n clywed tystiolaeth gan gynrychiolwyr o wahanol sectorau busnes: Media Cymru, Canolfan Ymchwil Gweithgynhyrchu Uwch Cymru, a'r Hyb Arloesedd Seiber. Gaf i felly groesawu'r tystion i'r sesiwn yma? Cyn ein bod ni yn symud yn syth i gwestiynau, gaf i ofyn iddyn nhw i gyflwyno eu hunain i'r record, ac efallai gallaf ddechrau gyda Justin Lewis?

Welcome back to this meeting of the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee. We'll move on now to item 5 on our agenda, and this is the third and final session of today's inquiry into research and development. We're taking evidence from representatives from different business sectors: Media Cymru, the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre Cymru, and the Cyber Innovation Hub. Could I therefore welcome the witnesses to this session? Before we move to questions, could I ask them to introduce themselves for the record, and maybe I'll start with Justin Lewis?

Hi, everybody. I'm Justin Lewis. I'm the director of Media Cymru.

Hi. I'm Pete Burnap. I'm director of the Wales Cyber Innovation Hub.

11:20

Andy Silcox. I'm the research director, Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre Cymru. 

Thank you very much indeed for those introductions. Perhaps I can just kick off this session with a few questions. We're interested, of course, in how universities and businesses actually work together in terms of research and development here in Wales. Can you explain what, if any, engagement you've had with the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, UKRI and Innovate UK? Justin.

Well, we are funded by UKRI through Media Cymru. We were fortunate enough to win a £22 million investment from UKRI. We also get investment from industry, Cardiff capital region and a little bit from Welsh Government as well. So, we engage with them very regularly. We engage with UK research councils very regularly. We previously have got funding from other research councils as well, and continue to get funding from those. So, we have a lot of engagement with them. We're very familiar with how they work, what their requirements are, the way they think about the world. 

So, similar to Justin, lots of different funding mechanisms through there. On an individual level as well, I sit on a top-level strategic advisory team with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, specifically around digital security and resilience, which was set up in the last year or two. I'm also a regular member of funding and review panels as well, so, well aware of the intricacies of how funding decisions are made and how those panels are run. And actually, during the last research excellence framework, we found out that Cardiff University's computer science and informatics department had received more Economic and Social Research Council funding than any other computer science department in the UK, which was quite an interesting thing to find out. So, yes, as I say, other than that, significant funds from various funders, from UKRI, and HEFCW have actually put a significant amount of infrastructure funding into our cyber defence laboratory.

So, we're part of the high-value manufacturing catapult, so we have a funding model of a third, third, third. So, one third of our funding comes directly from UK Government through the catapult. The other third is direct commercial work with industry, and then the final third is through collaborative R&D. So, our main source for that is Innovate UK. We do an awful lot of Innovate UK programmes, but also a lot of Welsh Government funding for that through that third.

Okay. Justin, you mentioned earlier that you've successfully won £22 million of funding from UKRI. How did that come about, and can you perhaps outline your experience of applying for funding and the interaction you had with UKRI?

Well, it was extremely hard work—that probably goes without saying. It's very competitive funding, and we were also aware that no special favours would be given to where you were coming from. Indeed, because compound semiconductors had been successful in the previous year, if anything, that probably worked against us. So, we knew we'd have to work extremely hard, and we also knew we'd need to put together—. Because we were a creative industries bid, that's quite unusual, I think, for this funding pot. Most of the funding from this particular funding pot has gone to more traditional areas of tech, manufacturing, the healthcare sector, and so forth. So, we knew we'd be a bit unusual.

That meant we had to put together a large consortium. The consortium was a 23-partner consortium. We did that at speed as well, but the other thing we knew was that we'd have to get significant commitments in match funding from our industry partners. And, for us, that was a massive challenge. I think we went in with the goal of getting £10 million in match funding from industry partners. We actually got £20 million in match funding from them, but that was absolutely essential to be competitive. It was actually at that moment, when we reached that figure, that I knew we had a very serious bid that would be competitive.

But that was where I think the really hard work lay, in making sure we got that commitment, because from UKRI's point of view, they want to see that their money is being multiplied in various ways. So, being able to show that was absolutely vital. It also helps, I think, that there's increasing recognition now of the importance of the creative industries to the UK economy. It produces more gross value added than automotive, aerospace, oil and gas, and life sciences combined. Sixteen per cent of businesses in Cardiff are creative industry businesses. It's a huge part of our economy now, and I think that growing realisation helped.

What was gratifying, I think, is that this is the first successful, really large R&D funding for the creative industries in the UK, and it's fantastic that we were able to bring it to Wales. So, that was gratifying. But all of those factors, I think, were part of that: the need to bring up good partnerships, a consortium. There are probably some other things I would say also about the university involvement too, but I’ll leave that for later.

11:25

I think they have very particular rules of the game. You have to kind of get inside the way they think about the world, I think, very clearly, and I think that’s been fine. I think interactions with all the UK research councils are not without their challenges. There are complexities to the process, and I suppose one of the advantages we have within universities is that we are used to that. We are used to complex application processes. UKRI is no less complex than any others. But I guess we kind of knew that came with the territory, and we were asking for a lot of money, so you expect to be put through complex procedures.

Yes, sure. Okay, thanks for that. Do you have any concerns that, in terms of public research and development funding, the needs of industry are actually overshadowed by the needs of higher education institutions?

Shall I just quickly answer, and then I'll leave the floor to my colleagues? I think in our case, that's absolutely not the case, because Media Cymru is an entirely industry-focused project. All of our work is working with industry; it's not squirreled away into obscure bits of research at the university. It's very, very industry focused. And I'd go further, really, and say that it would have been too difficult, really, for any of the companies in the creative sector—. I mean, our creative sector is made up of small businesses, fundamentally small businesses—at best SMEs, but mostly small SMEs. And none of them would have the capacity to put something like this together, which we were able to do. But we were also able to create a kind of ecosystem of support for industry. That's very much what Media Cymru is, it's an ecosystem to help companies do R&D, to develop new ideas, and to innovate. And a lot of the money that we get goes straight back out to them, either directly in the form of grants, or indirectly in the form of support we give them. The universities, I think, have begun to realise that they can play a really important role as conveners, collaborators of bringing industry together in Wales, particularly in an economy that is based on mostly small companies. So, it has played a really important role.

I guess my substantive post is within a university, but I've also spent six years leading AI for cyber innovation at Airbus, so I've worked in a large corporate setting, and I'm also co-founder of a spin-out company, so I'm also working at the SME end. So, I've got multiple different perspectives. I think, from my perspective, as Justin's alluded to, it's about delivery. So, in terms of having access to funding in a way that can deliver value, it is a challenge to get that into the hands of smaller companies, in my experience, particularly due to capacity. Small companies tend to be at the cutting edge, running, getting things in place to pay the bills. However, there's a critical mass of expertise across Welsh universities, so it does logically make sense to put the money into those hands, of people who can help deliver it.

When I was at Airbus, really the interest was in, 'What's the value to Airbus of engaging with that R&D process?' So, that's the key challenge, I think, to ensure that industry and academia and the funding that goes into that collaboration is aligned to the needs of academia, of course, in terms of their goals and objectives, but the key is the alignment to industry need. So, what is industry going to get out of this? And then I'd go broader: what's Wales plc, UK plc, going to get out of this? How is this going to drive commercial ventures? And I think things like Innovate UK are very much set up to support that. It is really, 'Here's some funding to take you to the next level.'

The main challenge, I suppose, that I experienced at Airbus and also as a co-founder of an SME is the capacity at the SME level to draw down that funding. But either at SME or at large industry level it requires match funding to be put into it. So, public funding is available to universities to draw down with no cash investment, although universities do put significant costs aside to cover overheads—they only get 80 per cent of the total costs—but for industry to draw it down, there needs to be a cash match, and that, at the moment, is particularly difficult, I guess. So, that priority to enable them to have access is slightly different.

11:30

From a manufacturing point of view, I would say that the opposite is true, really. Everything we do is a pull from industry. As Pete's alluded to, that's very good for the larger companies; for SMEs, that's more difficult, then, to access. So, there's an imbalance, perhaps, between larger companies and smaller companies being funded. But, in terms of being overshadowed by the needs of academia, I would say that the opposite is true in the manufacturing sector, for sure.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. In Wales, we've got the four-region model, as I'm sure you're aware. Is there an appropriate balance of public research and development funding across the regions of Wales, obviously adjusted for population? 

Well I suspect that if you look at UKRI funds, probably not. But I suppose they would say that that, perhaps, isn't their job; their job, I suppose, is to fund excellence where they find it. So, inevitably, I think there probably are going to be disparities there. When you're competing for very, very competitive funding awards, nobody's going to give it to you because of where you are, necessarily. You need to show that you can provide very, very good value for that investment and you need to show appropriate levels of expertise. So, where you get concentrations of expertise, particularly within certain sectors within Wales, inevitably, that's going to be an advantage for them in bidding for those funds at that level. So, I think that's probably built into the way our current system operates. For better or worse, that's the way the system works.

I guess, to go back to my previous point about ability and capacity to deliver, naturally, I think research funding needs to go to the places where it can be delivered. And I guess, if you look at Wales, there will be a natural distribution of funds into areas where there is a critical mass in academia or large industry to deliver. I think there are possibly opportunities to look across the regions in terms of smaller scale industry support. For example, I believe that there is generally a push to get more knowledge transfer partnerships, KTPs, into the hands of smaller companies that could benefit from them. So, there are always opportunities, I think, to look at how the support to access those kinds of things could be distributed.

Thank you. Just going back 40 years ago when I was an undergraduate, Swansea University was a leading developer of finite element analysis in use in civil engineering, and what's now become the University of Wales Trinity St David is a world leader in stained glass. So, you do have areas of advanced development outside Cardiff. I don't expect you to comment on that, but I just wanted to make that point.

Higher education institutions often act as anchors for research and development. How do we ensure that the whole of an area benefits from it, rather than a small area around a university?

Basically, it's having the accessibility to funding. It's the institutions going out and working with companies all over the regions and not just being stuck within their own 30-mile radius. Since we set up in north Wales, it's easy to slip into just delivering on your doorstep. You get plenty of activity, people coming through your door and it's easy to go straight to that and help those companies closest to you. So, it takes a lot of effort on behalf of the universities to go out and widen that reach across the whole of Wales in the more remote regions.

I think that, in Media Cymru, we are really strongly committed to making sure that, if you like, the benefits and the prosperity don't—. And here, proximity to the university isn't really the issue; it's more where most of the industry is and most of the industry is concentrated in Cardiff, but we are very keen that the benefits from our R&D investment spread beyond that. So, we have programmes that are specifically designed to guarantee that we do not focus our efforts necessarily there, but that it goes beyond, throughout the Cardiff capital region and throughout the rest of Wales. So, we set up workshops, we set up training centres and we distribute our funding to make sure that it is distributed across Wales.

But that's something that I should say that we are committed to, because we think that's the right thing to do, but that's not necessarily something our funder is committed to. So, UKRI, I think, are less concerned about that. It's something that we happen to be concerned about because that's part of our way of thinking, but it's not necessarily built into the funding mechanism.

11:35

I guess, just to touch on cyber and digital in particular, these are not bounded by physical premises. So, actually, some of the work that we're doing in the sector is looking at innovative short skills programmes and development of new commercial ventures that can help cyber security and digital efficiency across sectors. Agri-tech, in manufacturing, offshore energy, et cetera, which spans the breadth of Wales, can be supported through the activity that we're doing.

One thing that has changed the picture slightly in the last 12-18 months has been the flow of funding through the shared prosperity fund. So, when we had Welsh Government funding to go out to SMEs, you could take a whole-Wales approach, but now that funding has been regionalised and if it's not a certain local authority's priority, then you don't do anything in Powys, for example, and yet you'll do lots in Flintshire. So, that access for manufacturers across Wales to the funding that's available at the moment has been quite skewed by the shared prosperity fund.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Just thinking about the research agenda for a moment, what is the main driver of research agendas when it comes to universities dealing with businesses and industries? So, for example, is it driven by the business needs around current products, or is it driven more by the desire to find new products? What is that key driver?

I think, for us, it's very much driven around industry needs now and ahead of time. Obviously, we live in an era of acute digital disruption, particularly in my section of the creative sector. Sectors' business models are being completely changed. We need to be ahead of that.

I guess I'm also aware that, in the creative sector, you need to create to keep prosperity going, and we've been very successful in Wales, as I say, in the film and tv sector—all sorts of productions are now made here, but there's a danger that we become a show-and-go economy, where we make fantastic productions for Hollywood studios or for the public service broadcasters but none of the wealth stays here. So, we're very committed to investing in innovation that allows intellectual property to stay with our companies here, whether it's a new format, whether it's a new bit of technology, whatever it is. For us, it's about thinking ahead and about thinking about what will sustain the economy in our sector in the future. That's very much our goal, and I think most of our research, I guess, is around that goal.

In cyber and in digital, there's a bit of a mix. So, just to give an example, a recent programme was the data innovation accelerator that was helping SMEs based in south-east and north Wales to understand better the data assets that they had, and whether they are suitable and ready to do innovation with those data. So, that was on existing products in iterating those to drive them forward into the digital transformation era.

And then, the other side is future looking. So, for example, Cardiff University has set up recently a set of research institutes, one of which is digital transformation, which is trying to draw together the critical mass of expertise across the university, which is no mean feat, into things, for example, in health tech and med-tech and transportation sustainability so that it can be outward facing and looking at cross-sector industry needs, in terms of digital transformation, and then, bringing expertise on AI and cyber security, for example, together with academic expertise in clinical applications, business operations and organisational change, et cetera, to try and create the next generation of solutions, as well. So, it's very much a mix.

For us, our work is, I would say, 10 per cent product focused and 90 per cent process focused. And the driver, in terms of process innovation, is still around productivity. That is the be-all and end-all. We just happened to have hit a sweet spot at the moment. With the energy costs now going through the roof, that's now focused people's minds more on the sustainability element and how to change a process to be more energy efficient. So, that's become more of a driver for us, but still companies are coming to us for productivity solutions—that's why.

11:40

So, I suppose that's why I'm trying to suss out the areas. Is there sometimes a bit of a conflict or gaps—maybe 'conflict' is too strong a word, but these gaps where perhaps universities and higher education institutions might want to put investment and where businesses themselves might want to invest?

There may be instances where that's true. For us, it's absolutely not the case, because I suppose that all of our R&D activity is done in partnership with businesses, so we're not going to go in any direction that they don't want to go in. And it's very much guided by their agendas, and I think it had to be really. When we got our first big tranche of R&D funding, we probably had about 100 one-to-one conversations with people in the industry to ask them what they needed in terms of R&D and R&D support, and that formed the basis of what we did. So, I think, in terms of what we do, and probably this applies across the board, we are very, very industry focused; we're not doing blue-skies, maybe-this-could-happen-type research that may not have any application. There's always going to be a bit of that in R&D, even if you're a business, but it is very, very focused on what is going to create sustainable growth for our sector over the next years.

I agree. I think there are examples where there'll be that tension and perhaps there'll be a focus on fundamental research for blue-sky reasons, but I guess, in terms of cyber and the areas that you've got here in manufacturing and creative, I think the sectors are very driven by what the industry needs, and, therefore, the academic institutions that are heavily engaged in this are there for that reason—they're mindful of the fact that they want to do applied research that is going to have an impact. So, these are examples, I suppose, where you've got that. There are, inevitably, other examples where they're not quite there yet or there are different drivers in academia to what there are in industry, aren't there?

Absolutely, yes. Certainly speaking from the cyber perspective, it's very tight, very driven; you've got multiple institutions, academic and industry, working together—large and small. But, again, that takes time as well. This has been developed over a number of years to get that tight; it didn't start that way.

So, I imagine there's a framework in place for where that collaboration might not be as good as it is in cyber or in media that can be learnt from. So, where does public funding factor into a lot of this innovation work at the moment?

I think public funding is really important in the sense that if you're investing in R&D and innovation, you're investing in your future economy. All successful economies around the world are successful where they invest in R&D. If there's one generally agreed way to guarantee economic growth, it's to invest in that kind of area. So, I think it's tried and tested. The capacity of the private sector to invest in that is limited, and there are whole areas, particularly with certain kinds of economies, and in the creative economy that's especially so—. Most of the companies we work with don't have R&D budgets—they don't have innovation budgets. They're not going to be able to do this unless we are able to give them support to do that. So, I think public money is crucial from that point of view, but I think it comes back in the form of economic growth. I think that's the key; that's, if you like, the path that we're all following.

So, one final question from me, then, and it's open to everybody, on public finances. Are there any changes that you would like to see in terms of how businesses are able to access public finances for research and development, or of how we can make it easier, essentially, for businesses as well as then raise awareness that some of this is available?

Yes, there is this issue of, particularly for small business, if you want to access public funding for subsidy reasons historically, you need to add a cash match into it. So, typically, if you're a small company, you need to put 30 per cent, or around that, into it. So, speaking with my co-founder hat on now of a spin-out company, accessing that with very little money in the bank is a massive challenge.

On the question as to how you solve that, I don't know, because we don't want to be dependent on grants again, we don't want to be going down that road of giving grants to get public R&D that doesn't lead anywhere. However, there is a question of is that necessary. Are there ways in which we can look at reducing the amount of actual cash matched that a start-up company needs to put in to draw down, for example, an Innovate UK grant or anything else? Could that be looked at in terms of reducing it, or being kicked down the road a little bit, for example, give them easier access to funding initially that they can pay back later? So, I think there are a variety of things to look at, but the big barrier I would see is smaller companies, and bigger companies, to come to Justin's point about the shortage of cash at the moment to invest in R&D, and the amount of money that needs to be put in to draw down public funds. 

11:45

You're right, there are multiple models that you could look at in terms of supporting R&D in businesses. One option has just come into my head now. How would you feel if the Government maybe took a stake or, I don't know, the development bank took a stake in the business it has invested in to be able to recoup some of those funds?

That's a model that could be looked at as well. You've already got the Development Bank of Wales that will invest in companies, but again that needs private equity match to come in with it, which is a barrier for start-ups, smaller companies, again. So, it comes back to that point of how can there be a use of public funds that puts less of a burden on smaller companies finding cash match to put into it.

And just to echo that, I think the real issue, and this is across the board, is that an awful lot of our support mechanisms are really designed for larger companies, they're not designed for small companies, and I think we need to find a way of shifting that. That's not easy, because it's complicated, but right now if you're a smaller company, it's just very, very difficult to do what you need to do to get access to that. 

The only other thing, just to pick up on what Pete was saying, is that the new subsidy control legislation that replaced the state aid regulation has not been especially helpful in this respect. It is just as, if not more, bureaucratic than the legislation it replaced, and that is not helpful in terms of small companies gaining access—particularly SMEs, actually, where match funding is now actually probably more of a requirement than it was before.

I'd echo both of those points. The bids process for funding is also a barrier. It's a lot of time and money that you sink into preparing those bids. The other thing, and this is an anecdotal observation, is that, effectively, when a bid goes in, the bid is judged on the innovation, it's judged on the deliverability, and it's judged on the impact. I feel there's an overemphasis on that impact and, for a small company, that's a very difficult statement to make. When you start a programme, saying how many jobs this will create and how many jobs it will safeguard is a finger in the air, and yet a bid is assessed more on that, and it's a pass or fail on that more than the innovation. That balance, for me, is wrong. It's also a factor that is never audited afterwards. We never go back and look at, 'Did it create those five jobs we said in the bid?' And so I think that's skewed slightly. 

Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Thank you very much, panel, for joining us this morning. A question that I've asked previous panels is about the link between R&D, R&I and the tangible real-world benefits that the customer, the consumer, we as lay people, will find. The very first panel agreed that the communication element of that needs to be improved in a way that's saying why we need to have R&D so that we feel those tangible benefits in real life. I just wonder if I could pick your brains on your thoughts around that and whether that is an agreement that you make with the initial panel, or if you have different views on it. I'll start with you, Justin.

I absolutely get your point. I think that the whole world of innovation and R&D is not an obvious one to make the headlines, if you like, unless you get some very, very dramatic breakthrough. The day-to-day world of it is not sexy in communication terms. So, it is a challenge. But, equally, I suppose the key is—and I think most people do get this—that if you are going to have a successful economy, you have to invest in it, and I think people do get that. The other thing is that I think we need to be comfortable with failure. R&D as a process is going to involve things that don't end up working. Otherwise, it wouldn't be R&D, it wouldn't be experimental. So, again, I think we have to find a way of communicating that and being comfortable with it. But I take your point; it is a challenge. In our sector, we think a lot about communication, obviously, and we try and find ways to do that that are successful. But you're right, I think it is a challenge, because unless you get a very, very dramatic, big innovation that has immediate impact, these things take time. The time it takes to go from the innovation to a successful business model to employing more people and all those things—that takes a while, it's not an immediate process. And slow processes are less dramatic and easier to communicate than quick processes.

11:50

I agree, and I think case studies are the thing there. We don't do particularly well at going back to the origins—you know, Justin's story there—of where stuff started. For example, everyone loves Facebook, everyone loves Netflix—well, they didn't just appear; that was a mix of entrepreneurship and significant investment in that right from the offset, not just the platforms themselves, but the technologies that sit behind them, the fact that it's delivered over Wi-Fi. All of this came from early-stage R&D investment. So, I just think it's something about how can you tell a story that engages the public around other successful R&D outcomes, but also the other stuff. There's lots of stuff going on in the world now around missions into space and flying planes across the world on cooking oil; that happened because of a tonne of failed experiments, but the future is what it is because of that. So, I think just telling the right stories that the everyday person on the street can engage with is absolutely necessary.

I'd echo those points. We don't do enough of a retrospective on the R&D that we do and tell those stories, like Grand Designs Revisited—every three, five years, this is where we are. We don't do that. We do the programme, close the book and move on to the next one, and that's probably a failing of us as researchers. We do have a little bit of a contradiction in that we want to tell the world about it and many of the programmes are covered with heavy intellectual property agreements and non-disclosure agreements and we simply can't. The ability to share that learning widely isn't as free as it could be.

Thank you. I'm content with the other questions being answered in writing. Thank you, panel.

Thank you, Chair, and good morning to our panel. I have some questions on the Welsh Government's strategies. I'd like to begin by asking to what extent you think the innovation strategy and delivery plan provide a sufficient framework for universities and industry choosing where to conduct their research and innovation. 

For me, the Welsh Government is a shining beacon. I did this job, effectively, for 10 years back in England. The support the Welsh Government gives and the progressive support it gives to companies, I think, is excellent. The innovation team across Wales really do create a supportive structure for companies wanting to bid into Welsh Government funding. So, yes, I personally think it's a shining beacon. I do far more work with SMEs here than I did back with the catapult centres in England.

I think the thing I took from it most was the real focus on applied research with outcomes, and I think that's really, really important. In terms of accessing public funds, I think there is a gap there. Just to bring that to life a little bit, if you look at UKRI, a lot of the funding that comes from there is very much low technology readiness levels—so, experimental, trying to prove and demonstrate concepts. Obviously, under the same banner of UKRI, you have Innovate UK, which is an accelerator, but actually, you need to demonstrate you're at a certain point before you can draw down that funding. There is a gap, then, in being able to do applied experimental research. I thought the focus of the innovation plan—I think the No. 1 thing in there was around that applied research element—was really, really good. The other element was around experiential learning for the next generation. That's going to be massively important. Things like cyber, things like manufacturing are not that easy to see. So, actually, experiential learning and being in a workplace and seeing all that and inspiring people is really, really important as well, and, I think, to use that beacon term, that's going to be a massively important thing for Wales going forward.

11:55

The only thing I'd add is the need for us to think about translating strategy into processes that work—I don't want to labour the point—for small companies that don't actually have R&D innovation capacity. That's not an easy thing to do, because it means you can't necessarily have a direct funding model. Just giving a company money and saying, 'Off you go, go away and do something amazing' isn't necessarily the best route, and similarly with skills. So, I think we need to find a way—and this is not easy—of giving both skills support and R&D support to small companies. That probably involves intermediaries. The universities are one—there could be others—that will create, if you like, support mechanisms that allow them to do that.

I do think there's a piece there of quite a complex puzzle, just to acknowledge the fact that we live in an economy where most companies are small companies, because often there's an attraction towards the big company, where we get an immediate big hit, where you get 1,000 jobs or whatever it is, but, actually, that's not the way that most of our economy works. So, we need to find mechanisms, both in skills support and in R&D, that work for that. 

If I could just add another point to that in terms of processes. It's not necessarily directly related to innovation plans, but on the point of processes, procurement, at the moment, is a nightmare for smaller businesses being able to easily access R&D funds for small, innovation-based projects. There are large research pots that sit there, and it's really, really difficult to be able to very quickly say, 'That's an innovative company, we want to engage them'. And that limits both the ability to deliver on that public value quickly, and the company being able to quickly get business. It feels to me like public funds are coming in shorter bursts at the moment, with the shared prosperity fund being a good example. You've got to spend these things quickly, and you've got to deliver quickly, and procurement is getting in the way of that at the moment. So, anything we can do to alleviate that and make procurement a bit easier would be awesome for innovation, particularly in the small industry sector. 

The second question, if I may. Innovate UK has just been mentioned there. The Welsh Government has set targets for 3 per cent of Innovate UK's budget to be invested in Wales by 2026, and for that to rise to 5 per cent by 2030. I'd like to ask the panel, firstly, if they're aware of those targets, and then, secondly and most importantly, what needs to be done to meet these targets, or more generally to increase UK-level public sector investment in Wales.

Obviously, there's a whole political question around this, which is not for me to really talk about, which is to do with negotiations between Governments. But in terms of winning competitive funding, if we want to win more competitive R&D funding from the UK Government to Wales, we have to back people in a position to win it. I think that's just a reality. Not all parts of all universities will be in that position, so to some extent we have to look at what we're good at, and then we have to think about how we develop that, and invest a little bit to make sure that things that we're good at attract investment to Wales from the UK, as many of us have done.  

Just two points from me. I mentioned earlier, but I can't stress it enough, that in order to draw down Innovate UK funding, smaller companies are going to have to put a cash match in. That's got to come from somewhere. There isn't really an easy answer at the moment, and that isn't going to change. You're not going to boost applications very quickly if that can't change. 

The other thing I think Andy alluded to earlier is bid developments and actually writing applications. I became aware, actually, the other day, with my spin-out hat on again, that you can get pretty good bid development support for around £3,000. That will get you to being able to write an Innovate UK smart grant. It's not a lot of money, actually, but for a smaller company it is. So, it's whether there's anything that can be done there to help Welsh SMEs to have access to that sort of tried-and-tested Innovate UK-style grant writing.

Also, in the same discussion, I found out that once small companies have got one Innovate UK project, they're actually quite successful at getting a second and a third. So, it's almost like a snowball effect then. So, anything that we can do to help with bid development and access to that direct cash necessity, to add or alleviate that somehow, would make a big step forward, I think, in terms of Innovate UK funding coming to Wales, given the size of small industry in the nation and the composition that it makes up of the overall industry.

12:00

So, in terms of awareness, yes. So, the AMRC Cymru was set up to address this problem. The amount of Innovate UK money that's gone into manufacturing in Wales is very, very small by comparison to the UK. One of the big issues is the fact that the Innovate UK funding is weighted to larger companies, and, as we've said, Wales isn't full of large companies. So, small companies access Innovate UK funding on the coat-tails of big companies like Airbus and their programmes have been part of those bigger programmes. If you're not in that circle, you'll never get access to it. So, how do we bring it down to a level that smaller companies can access that money? I don't know the answer to that. The blue zone initiative at the moment is very promising; we're putting a couple of things through that at the moment that failed at an Innovate UK bid level, but are now being funded through that blue zone Welsh Government funding. They're great projects, they scored really highly, but it's a super competitive world, Innovate UK bidding, so 83 per cent, 84 per cent, 85 per cent projects still don't get through. So, yes, hopefully that's starting to redress the balance.

Thank you. I can see the time, Chair, so I'll conclude my questions there.

Thank you very much indeed, Vikki, and yes, our session therefore has come to an end, but can I just take this opportunity to thank you for being with us today? Your evidence will be very useful for us as far as the inquiry is concerned. A copy of today's transcript will be sent to you in due course, so, if there are any issues with that, then please let us know, but, once again, thank you for being with us today.

We'll now take a break to prepare for the next session.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 12:02 ac 12:52.

The meeting adjourned between 12:02 and 12:52.

12:50
6. Dyfodol Dur yng Nghymru: Undebau Llafur
6. The Future of Welsh Steel: Trade Unions

Croeso nôl i gyfarfod Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig. Fe symudwn ni ymlaen nawr i eitem 6 ar ein hagenda, sef dyfodol dur yng Nghymru. Mae'r sesiwn heddiw yn dilyn y cyhoeddiad ynghylch cytundeb Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig ar becyn cymorth gyda Tata Steel a thrafodaethau'r pwyllgor gydag Ysgrifennydd Gwladol Cymru a Gweinidog yr Economi. Rŷn ni'n clywed tystiolaeth gan gynrychiolwyr o'r undebau llafur Unite, undeb Community a'r GMB heddiw. A gaf i croesawu'r tystion i'r sesiwn yma? Cyn ein bod ni yn symud yn syth i gwestiynau, gaf i ofyn iddyn nhw gyflwyno eu hunain i'r record, ac efallai gallaf ddechrau gyda Charlotte Brumpton-Childs?

Welcome back to this meeting of the Senedd's Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee. We'll move on to item 6 on the agenda, namely the future of Welsh steel. Today's session follows on from the announcement of the UK Government support package agreement with Tata Steel and the discussions held by the committee with the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister for Economy. We are taking evidence from representatives from the trade unions Unite, Community and the GMB. Could I welcome the witnesses to this session today? Before we move on to questions, could I ask the witnesses to introduce themselves for the record, and maybe I can start with Charlotte Brumpton-Childs?

Do I need to press it or is it—?

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for inviting me. I'm Charlotte Brumpton-Childs, and I'm the GMB national officer responsible for steel.

Yes. I'm Peter Hughes, I'm the regional secretary for Unite here in Wales.

Alasdair McDiarmid, I'm the assistant general secretary of Community trade union.

Thank you very much indeed for those introductions, and perhaps I can just kick off this session with a few questions. Can you first of all outline what you understand to be Tata's plans to implement its agreement with the UK Government, and its timescales for actually implementing them? Alasdair.

Yes, absolutely. So, Tata and the Government announced their deal on 15 September. I think all of the unions are completely united in condemning that deal. We think it's completely unacceptable. The deal itself is acceptable, the way the discussions between Tata and the Government were conducted was unacceptable, with absolutely no trade union involvement at all. We had assurances from the very highest levels of Tata that no decisions would be made prior to full consultations with the unions around the technology choices, but, of course, the 3 million tonne electric arc furnace was central to the deal that was announced. The way that the announcement came out—leaked into the media—was hugely distressing for our members and very problematic, and the whole thing, really, was a complete shambles. So, that's what happened.

We expected them to announce their 45-day consultation on their devastating proposals, with 3,000 job losses included, on 1 November. Thankfully, they held off, under serious pressure from us, to allow the process with our expert consultants around reviewing their plans and looking at alternatives to run its course. We've now had that report. The unions have taken a position, we've presented our plan. We're now in consultations with Tata Steel—constructive consultations, I would say—and there is no timeline, at this stage, for implementing any proposals at all. Obviously, in our view, the discussions should take as long as they take. If they're going to be meaningful, that's what has to happen. We do believe we have a really credible alternative proposal. Tata have indicated they want to talk to us about it, and ultimately what we want to happen is to have a serious conversation and a negotiated solution, because we do want to find an agreement and we do believe there is an agreement to be had, and a just transition that can be achieved with the right will on all sides.  

12:55

Can I just add to what Alasdair said? 

I think the disappointing thing from the three unions was the lack of consultation during the talks between the UK Government and the company. The company have always said to us—and correct me if I'm wrong here—that they will always engage with us when we're talking about future developments. The lack of consultation during that time then, all of a sudden, 'This is a done deal—we're going to be looking to close the heavy end, we're looking to be closing the blast furnaces, we're looking to be closing downstream activities in Llanwern', potentially having threats at Trostre, supply chain, and bringing coil in from all over the world when we're looking to go green, was a big massive shock to us, to be honest with you. 

When you're looking to drive forward, we always want to be in consultations with companies. We always want to talk about companies. Everyone's got a plan. We might be slightly different on what we believe is a plan, but, ultimately, everyone wants to protect Port Talbot for as long as possible. We believe that Port Talbot can be the green capital of Europe with the right investment and the right technologies, but, ultimately, Tata need to talk to us and, unfortunately, at the start of all this, they didn't. 

Yes. I think just in terms of the Tata plan as was announced—and the details have been drip fed through the media, so we've had to piece it together before we had a proper meeting with the business—it lacks ambition. It doesn't secure steel making for south Wales or the wider UK market. It really narrows the grade and quality of steel that we can produce and the range of steel products that we can produce.

I think one of the key concerns for the trade unions is that there's not a plan for sustainability within the business or a plan for ambition or growth. You'll have seen the announcements from Nissan in the last few days about the commitment to build some electric cars up in Sunderland. Tata Steel currently supply the automotive industry. We're not sure if, under the Government and Tata plan, that would still be able to be the case, because of the quality and grade of steel needed for those applications.  

So, the key thing that the trade unions have been talking about over the last couple of weeks since the announcement is how do we turn a need for transition into an ambitious plan, moving forward, for south Wales and for the wider steel industry, because that's what it needs. 

And Alasdair, just to confirm, I think you mentioned earlier on that you are now engaging with Tata Steel. What does that actually mean, from your perspective? 

Well, so, we've been through a process with our experts. After the announcement was made of the deal, we requested the support of our independent experts, Syndex, which the company granted. We reaffirmed our red lines with our experts, which have been the same red lines since we first started the decarbonisation discussions with Tata in 2020, which are that we must protect the future of steel making at Port Talbot in any decarbonisation strategy, the future of all the downstream operations must be protected and there must be no compulsory redundancies. And they did a huge amount of work for us, picking apart the company's plans and developing alternatives along with the unions.

We then met as a multi-union body, all of the unions on this panel. We had a discussion about all of the different options that our experts had presented. We agreed a plan, which is the plan that has now been published and you can see on the Community and GMB websites if you'd like to look, and we can talk about it more today; I'm sure we will. And then we presented that plan on behalf of all the unions to Tata Steel to a very high-powered delegation from India, led by Koushik Chatterjee and T.V. Narendran. We presented the plan. They received the plan well, I think it's fair to say—we had a good debate—and we agreed with them to enter into a process of constructive dialogue, and that's what's been happening ever since that time. 

Our experts have been engaging with their technical team, digging into the finances, the assumptions, the capital expenditure requirements presented within our plan. That work is ongoing. We have more meetings this week. We have a European Works Council meeting today and tomorrow with Tata Steel. We have a steel committee meeting tomorrow, and that process is ongoing. It is something that we think the company is taking very seriously. They are looking very carefully at our plans, and they’ve always said—and the Government’s also said as well, to be fair—that this is a meaningful consultation. There is a provisional agreement between Tata and the Government, but it’s not set in stone. Both parties have always said to us that, if credible proposals come out of the consultation process, then it is possible to amend that deal, and that’s obviously what we’re looking to achieve, because the current proposal on the table, as reported in the media, is completely unacceptable. 

13:00

And do you have any indication of when a formal announcement might be made?

I think, where Tata are at the moment, we don't know, unless my colleagues know any differently. I think it's the uncertainty for the workforce that's the biggest strain on everyone in Port Talbot and the surrounding areas, and Llanwern. How long is a piece of string? It was sort of drip fed to us early in September, drip fed to us on 1 November, and then, ultimately, there's the total uncertainty of the whole workforce, which is unfair on them. 

I think, following the meeting that we had with the people from Tata on 17 November, where we presented the Syndex plan and that dialogue started, we're not trying to rush this process, because quick decisions can often be bad decisions. So, while it's absolutely correct, as to what Peter's saying in terms of the uncertainty of the workforce, I think that it can be viewed with a certain level of comfort that we're not rushing into the formal consultation, because I think that's an indication that the business are taking really seriously the credible alternative that the trade union's put forward.

Just very briefly, you asked when will a formal announcement be made; I don't think there is a date, and I'd be very disappointed if there was a date, because, as we see it, we're in a meaningful consultation. This is a dialogue—we're looking very seriously at our alternative plan with the company, and the commitment we always have from the company is that consultation lasts as long as it takes. As long as there's something to look at, as long as there are meaningful, credible proposals that need to be investigated, then that consultation will continue. So, it lasts as long as it takes. There shouldn't be any date, and we do not believe there is any date, when announcements will be made.

And just one more question from me, for Alasdair, actually: a spokesperson for Community has been quoted in the media saying that most of Tata's management team oppose its current proposals, and that industry experts believe they are doomed to fail. Can you perhaps expand on those comments?

I can't recall the exact quote, but, to be quite honest, that is absolutely right. As you'd expect in a situation like this, lots of people talk to us, at local level, at national level, and I think you'd be hard pressed to find any manager in Tata Steel, or many managers in Tata Steel, that think the right thing to do is to close down our heavy end, make thousands of people redundant, cut our order book, cut our capacity and make us completely reliant—technology reliant—on a scrap supply chain that doesn't exist yet. So, that is absolutely true, and I'd stand by that.

I would say as well on the industry experts' front, again, we have lots and lots of experts, industry voices, experienced people who want to talk to us and share their views about what's happening because everyone's concerned that this is not the best approach for Port Talbot or Tata Steel. It's the cheapest and easiest approach. We're putting all of our eggs into the electric arc furnace basket. We've never operated EAF before. There isn't an EAF in Tata's empire. Nowhere in the world is there an EAF of that size that they want to put the level of metallics in that they do to supply the order book for Tata Steel UK. So, it's an extremely risky approach, and the general consensus across the industry is that it's the wrong one, and that's why we need an alternative, and we do believe we have a very credible alternative, a deliverable alternative, a fully costed alternative, actually, that is ready to go, and that's what we're discussing with Tata.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I'm just thinking in terms of the Syndex report. It seems, at least from the outside, that Tata listened in that respect, when you put it forward. From you guys' perspective, how well do you think Tata are actually listening to some of the arguments you guys are putting forward? Also, how are the UK Government reacting? Are they also listening to some of the arguments that you guys are putting forward?

We've not engaged with the UK Government and they've not tried to engage with us, as far as I'm aware.

13:05

Not at all, no. So, the way it has been presented to us is that the Government have said, 'This is the pot of money', and then the company are free to decide what their transition plan is. I'm not sure if that reflects the details of the conversation that was had, but that's how it has been explained to me so far. There's been no Minister from the Government reaching out to talk to any of the trade unions about this decarbonisation plan or to discuss our alternative. 

In terms of, 'How well are Tata listening?', just to be really explicit about where we are in the process, the trade unions had the Syndex plan presented to us on 8 November and decided to support that as the plan, moving forward. On 17 November, we met with the people from Tata who were representing both Tata Steel Global and Tata Steel UK, and they listened really intently. They asked questions that, I think, indicated that they were taking it seriously, what we'd put in front of them, and they've now taken that away to have conversations with Syndex. We understand that they're talking to them on nearly a daily basis about the different parts of the plan that we've put forward to really understand the detail, and the level of detail, that we've put into that. So, they haven't overtly said anything positive or negative about the plan, but they are discussing it at length and in detail, which we think is a good sign.

Yes, I think that's right. We have had no engagement from the UK Government, which is very disappointing, but, perhaps, not surprising. As Charlotte said, and I said earlier, I think Tata are taking it very seriously. I think there is a level of trust and respect when it comes to our expert consultants, Syndex. They are widely respected right across the industry. We've worked with them since 2014 in Tata on a whole host of restructurings, divestments and so on. In any major strategic development in Tata in the UK or in the Netherlands, it's always Syndex that we've used to advise us. They've had full access, Syndex, into the company's plans, their finances, their order book, their commercial strategy portfolio, investment strategy and so on, so they have all of the details. There are many of them working on this project as well, and they've put together a really serious, really credible plan, which stacks up and can be delivered. I think the company accepts that. There might be disagreements within that, but they do know it's a credible plan and they do need to take it very seriously, and I think that's what they're doing and that's why we want everyone to get behind it.

I think, for the UK Government part of it, my two colleagues are correc—in terms of the Government, they haven't spoken to us and they're not speaking to us, nationally, about their plan. I think the UK Labour Party might be slightly different, because, obviously, we know where we are in the cycle and everything. Procurement is key to all of this. Where are we going to drive forward? How are we going to invest in the UK? Is steel demand going to go up in the next five years? Everyone knows it's going to go up in the next five years. Why, then, do we not drive this forward? We need proper procurement legislation to go through that protects jobs in Port Talbot. That could be the green capital of Europe. That'll be supplying the rest of the UK for years to come if the investment is right.

If the UK Government just want to invest a small of amount, which the plan originally was—. I've never known any government give £500 million to potentially make, originally, 3,000 people redundant. I've never heard of anyone—no-one—that has ever given £500 million to make 3,000 Welsh workers redundant. I'm from the steel industry; I worked in Shotton in north Wales for the best part of 15 years. Even when they made redundancies in 2001, we went to the Government and there was funding there, and, on the back of that, there were jobs guaranteed. In this plan, there are no jobs guaranteed. So, when you're talking to a UK Government that are quite happy to give £500 million to make 3,000 people redundant, what we're seriously saying is, 'Think again'. There's a procurement plan in place and there are future developments in place. Steel is going to go up by 25 per cent in the next 10 years. We want to be able to make it here in the UK—here in Wales. This needs to be the capital of steel, like it always was and like it always should be.

I think that's particularly why it's disappointing that the UK Government haven't engaged at all. So, in terms of the deal that has been struck, then, I take it—

There's not a deal that has been struck, just to be clear.

The proposal, sorry, yes; fair point, we've got to correct the terminology there. But, in terms of the proposal that's on the table, are you confident that there's enough flexibility in that proposal to make the changes that you might want to see from the Syndex report, or other changes around actually producing steel here?

13:10

I think, long term, £500 million, believe it or not, might sound like a lot of money, but it's only a drop in the ocean when you talk about what we need to be investing in the steel industry. There's a long-term plan to invest in the steel industry. There should be a bigger plan to grow our steel industry, and a part of that is making sure that the right investment goes into Port Talbot. I don't believe that £500 million is enough. What we want to make sure of is that there is a long-term sustainable future, and that's not just electric arc; it might be direct reduced iron. I think the key to all this is making sure that the blast furnaces remain open until the end of life and that we're still producing steel until at least 2034, until that's in place in 2034, so that we can make steel here in the UK so that we can supply the likes of Trostre and Llanwern and Shotton up in north Wales to make sure that we have the correct supply chain and not rely, like Alasdair quite rightly said, on third-world imports, coming either from the Netherlands or from India and being dumped on the docks in Port Talbot. Now it's a free port—and rightly so, and that's great for investment there—what are the tax implications of dumping steel into their area?

On Llanwern and Trostre, I think all three unions, as well as industry experts, have raised concerns around the impact that this proposal will have on those two sites. Could you just explain a bit more for the committee what that impact will be?

Yes, no problem. We've got lots and lots of concerns about the proposal. A lot of it is based around the 3 million tonne electric arc furnace proposal. We think that's the wrong proposal; that will lock the UK into an output of nearly a million tonnes less of finished steel than we currently produce—down to about 2.5 million tonnes. That is a no-return, no-regret situation, because we've got a hot strip mill—that's the bottleneck at Port Talbot—that can roll about 3.5 million tonnes. If you've got a 3 million tonne EAF, regardless of whether you keep a blast furnace going up to the point that the EAF is built, it's very unlikely that that would continue, because you've got the 3 million tonne EAF, which, more or less, fills your hot strip mill.

So, the problem we've got is that it will reduce the steel output that we currently have in Port Talbot and that puts pressure on a lot of the downstream operations—Llanwern in particular, as that threatens the cold mill. The closure of the cold mill is one of the aspects of Tata's proposal that is extremely difficult, and that threatens the future of Llanwern works in general. But, on top of that, having an EAF in itself is a massive problem, because you cannot make all of the substrate for all of the grades of steel that we currently make by recycling steel in electric arc furnaces—you just can't do it. Maybe the technology will catch up in a few years' time, but it's not there today. You currently cannot make the substrate that we currently need to make all of the grades of packaging steel that we currently make in Trostre, and it puts a massive, massive question mark on the future of Trostre works, and there are 700 jobs there. Whether or not you feed Trostre with coil from abroad, that still puts a massive question mark over Trostre, because we don't believe that that's sustainable in the long term. Similarly, you cannot make all of the high-spec grades of automotive steels, particularly the exterior panelling for the automotive industry, through electric arc furnaces.

So, again, these are some of the highest value products that we currently make in Tata Steel. So, you're not just reducing the output and the order book and giving up market share to imports, we're also giving up some of the most profitable parts of the order book and giving them to someone else. So, it really is exporting jobs and exporting emissions, and perhaps we'll come back to that. But a big electric arc furnace is a massive, massive problem; it's hugely risky, it's completely putting us at the mercy of a UK scrap steel supply chain that doesn't exist. We don't have it. You always hear, you know, that we have 11 million tonnes of scrap in the UK and we export 8 million tonnes of it and we can just stop exporting that and stick it into electric arc furnaces. That's just not the case at all. We currently do not have anywhere near enough scrap at quality to feed a huge electric arc furnace in Port Talbot, and even if we did, we'd still need to invest in scrap-processing facilities, probably something like £100 million in a steel scrap-shredding machine to supply the finely shredded scrap that we're going to need for Port Talbot to supply the full range of steel. So, a 3 million tonne electric arc furnace, it's a massive problem, and it locks us into that technology for the future.

We want to be able to continue making at least steel at the levels that we currently make, but not put all our eggs into the electric arc furnace basket; we want to keep the door open for other technologies in the future, be that open slag blast furnace or direct reduced iron, and to do that, we have to keep a blast furnace going in combination with a smaller electric arc furnace in the short term, which is what the proposal is that we presented on behalf of the multi-unions. So, that's the proposal. A transition period, a small 1.5 million tonne electric arc furnace around 2028, blast furnace No. 4, in combination with that smaller electric arc furnace, that's sufficient steel to feed the hot mill, and then, up to 2032, blast furnace No. 4 continues in that configuration, alongside the small EAF, and then in 2032, blast furnace No. 4 goes at the end of its natural life and is replaced by either a second 2 million tonne electric arc furnace or OSBF and DRI technology. We believe that is an ambitious and robust strategy, managing risk, the risks around the scrap supply chain, and not being able to supply the full range of steels, and it also gives us the possibility to fully decarbonise steel making and deliver a just transition for the workforce, protecting an additional 2,300 jobs above the number in Tata's proposal. So, that's the proposal that the multi-unions are advocating and presented to Tata.

13:15

Before I hand back to the Chair, did anyone else want to come back in? Charlotte.

Yes. Alasdair's absolutely right in that the plan, as read from the Government and Tata, offshores our jobs, and it offshores our carbon responsibilities. It does not green the steel that will be rolled through our mills, it just means that the raw materials and the carbon-rich processes that go into creating that steel will be done elsewhere. The globe is not in a net better position because we've offshored those jobs and offshored those carbon emissions, but Port Talbot will face a huge loss if we allow those jobs to disappear from our communities and from that area. There are some that may say that keeping the blast furnace open will mean that we're not cutting our carbon emissions, and so I just wanted to make that point really clear: it's not going to cut emissions ferrying steel halfway around the world to land in the free port, be rolled through our mills and be called British steel when it won't be. The slower and more meaningful transition that is being proposed through the Syndex report will ensure that we safeguard our jobs, we avoid any compulsory redundancies, we can continue to hold the market share that we have, and allow a just and fair transition for the workforce and for the communities that rely on the steel industry.

When you're talking about downstream activities, you're talking Trostre, Llanwern, Corby, Hartlepool and Shotton in north Wales, it's imperative that main blast furnace No. 4 is kept open, because that supplies the high-finish high-quality steel for those plants. But, likewise, there shouldn't be any redundancies whatsoever, compulsory or voluntary. That should be our starting point. Whether we like it or not, these are well-paid jobs, and you look at the area that those jobs are coming from in Port Talbot, we had Ford closing fewer than 18 months ago, 1,800 well-paid jobs; Biomet's closing at the start of next year, 600 very well-paid manufacturing jobs. There should be something coming in to replace those jobs on a manufacturing park, especially because it's a free port, and they should be looking to—whether that's offshore wind or offshore whatever, that park should be making sure that it's manufacturing using steel that is actually made in Port Talbot, procured in Port Talbot, and not, like Charlotte says, from around the world coming in and just re-rolled.