U.K. CEOs Optimistic About SIGT Space Review

By | July 23, 2009 | Europe, Feature, Government

[Satellite News 07-23-09] The U.K. government has no clear future plans for space, facilitating the need for an outside expert group to come up with a viable developmental strategy, Andy Green, CEO of U.K.-based information technology service provider Logica, told Satellite News. Green said the recently formed Space Innovation Growth Team (SIGT) may be the group that can deliver solutions to the United Kingdom.
    SIGT has been formed from among the country’s leading companies, institutions and government departments involved in the space sector to conduct a six-month review and craft a 20-year strategy for the future. Its task must be completed by the end of 2009 with an initial report to the U.K. government.
     “I think the whole industry felt that this review was much needed,” Green said. “We needed to have this so that we could try and coordinate what is really a very complex area. Some parts of our industrial landscape are pretty straightforward. This one does get its requirements from a vast range of end users, so integrating that and bringing some clarity on what the United Kingdom should aim to be great at is what everyone felt was really needed right now.”
    EADS Astrium U.K. CEO Colin Paynter believes such a long-term plan is vital. “For the next 20 years it is essential we have a plan. With competitors such as China and India joining the race as major space players, the U.K. needs to map its future options to remain at the forefront of space’s cutting edge technology,” he said. 
    Paynter regards the U.K.’s space efforts as an enormous success, but acknowledges that these programs are hidden gems. “We launched the Case4Space initiative in 2006, which gave us hard evidence of how important the space industry is to the United Kingdom. For example, we’ve supported 70,000 jobs and brought 7 billion pounds ($11.4 billion) to the U.K. economy. The GDP contribution per worker is a massive 135,000 pounds ($220,587) — one of the highest in the country and four times the national average. Space has a higher profile than it used to, but the SIGT is designed to take the debate to the next level,” he said.
    In trying to determine why the United Kingdom’s space program has lost steam, Green said it is not because the sector itself has underperformed. “What people feel is that there is currently not enough cohesion on what needs to be done across academia, government and industry. That is my sense why this has come about. There are lots of very good things surrounding the U.K. space industry in terms of the downstream business. Some of it is in foreign ownership,” he said.
    Paynter agreed with Green, asserting that the country is not underperforming, rather, the United Kingdom has established itself as a center of expertise in space engineering and science throughout the world. “However, our closest neighbors in continental Europe fund space to a much higher level than the United Kingdom, especially if looked at per head of the population. This has led to U.K. industry being at a competitive disadvantage, especially where governments fund national programs to develop key technologies, which assist in ultimately winning contracts for new programs,” said Paynter.
    The two CEOs have several suggestions to move the space program forward. Green believes the United Kingdom needs to move quickly to create an environment where it is a favored location for people to work on some of these advanced areas around space. “I think it is one of those areas which we are pretty sure will continue to grow faster than double-digit growth on a global basis,” he said. “I think the United Kingdom needs to take a real role in that. If you take upstream and downstream, it is a 6 billion pound ($9.9 billion) industry, about 70,000 jobs. Space will be a really important part of the future growth for the U.K. economy.”
    Green said the recent announcement of a British astronaut selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) will help boost interest. “It will be a tough challenge. While the United Kingdom is punching above its weight, I believe the way the industry is structured in this country can make things difficult for U.K. space companies. We struggle compared to our European colleagues to get together a clear direction when we go and work with them in the ESA and get the U.K.’s point of view across clearly. The U.K. space industry is spread across so many parts. I think it has to be spread across departments. But I think we have to look carefully at governance and how we make ourselves much clearer and crisper in our voice. We are not going to outspend the Americans or the Indians in this area. What we have to do is spend our money extremely wisely and use the strong integration and commercial capabilities we have here in the United Kingdom,” he said.
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