NPL: Last words

Follow up on Previous Comments

Previously, I wrote about Serco’s role in facilitating NPL’s decline to its current state, which – as I experienced it – featured a poisonous working environment, abysmal staff morale, and a management detached from reality.

Having been conditioned for several years that ‘the truth’ can never be spoken, it felt frightening to simply say out loud what had happened at NPL. And indeed what is still happening there.

Several people contacted me ‘off-blog’ about that article and I would like to thank everyone who did.

Only one person offered a significantly differing narrative, arguing that in fact NPL’s problems were aggravated by – paraphrasing – a preponderance of old white men – alpha males – amongst the scientific staff. It was their maleness rather than their whiteness which the correspondent saw as being of primary significance. I didn’t really think that this was a key issue – but then I am an old white man. While there are many issues around gender and race to be addressed in engineering and science organisations, I had thought NPL seemed to deal with them reasonably well. I posted their response anyway, but they later requested I delete it.

Another correspondent  who had been closer to management during the 2000’s reminded me of many of the difficulties Serco were having during this time. Particular events involved competing with Qinteq for the NPL ‘franchise’ and being forced to lower their margins by the government. As I reflected on this, I thought that these were areas of strength and competence for the Serco managers. And their focus on these issues probably allowed them to feel they were ‘doing something’, and distracted them even further from the simple fact that they did not have a clue how to run a scientific organisation.

Time to wrap up

Other correspondents have asked me privately.

“Michael, but what do really think about NPL’s management?”

Four months on from my departure, I am happy to report that I think about them very little.

Initially I had meant to write more about my time at NPL – describing the hilarious antics of the nincompoops now in charge.

But in honesty – I just don’t want to. It’s time to move on.


I had been very devoted to the work I did, and many people asked me if – despite my relief at leaving – I would miss work. And I wondered that too. But so far, I have not missed it one iota.

Thinking back – so much of my time there has simply faded into nothingness and my memories of the place feel dreamy.

What I do remember clearly are the camaraderie and kindness of colleagues and friends. These memories are golden.

But I do still have occasional panicky flashbacks where I remember the poisonous bullying and re-experience the sense of helplessness it was designed to induce.

I am confident these flashbacks will diminish as I replace them with positive memories – such as having my house insulated.

Indeed I wonder sometimes if any of my memories really happened?

  • Did NPL Managers really try to sack me three times? Each time for a matter related to my ‘improper’ response to management incompetence?
  • Did NPL Managers really throw away the gas with which we measured the Boltzmann constant? The gas whose bottle-specific isotopic composition was critical for NPL’s only contribution to the 2019 redefinition of the SI units?
    • Did they find the bottle of precious gas which was marked as “NPL Critical” and had my personal phone number on and just bin it without asking me?
    • And did they try to sack me for “raising my voice” attempting to stop them?
    • And did my alleged bad behaviour include “crying aggressively” when I found out they had already thrown it out?
    • And did the people responsible really never apologise?
  • Was I really told they would try to sack me for a fourth time unless I apologised to a senior manager, but not told why I was apologising? Or what for?
  • Was I really told by the Head of Department not to tell them “any bad news”?
    • And did this person later try to sack me because I pointed out their Knowledge Transfer team had “no Knowledge”
    • Did that attempt fail after I was awarded an MBE?
    • Did I really meet the Queen?
  • Did a senior advisor to NPL’s board (Cyril Hilsum CBE FRS FREng HonFInstP ) really write to me personally to tell me why anthropogenic global warming wasn’t real?
    • And when I told him I was shocked at his ignorance did he complain about me immediately to management?
    • And did a director stomp into my office and tell me to “shut up”.?
    • Did no one from management support me in challenging his poisonous delusions?
  • Did NPL managers try to sack me for suggesting positive ways to waste less of scientists time?
  • Did NPL managers really decide to ‘transform’ NPL and then immediately start sacking people before deciding what they were transforming it to?
  • Did NPL managers spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer pounds subsidising multiple contracts to foreign companies and governments?
  • Did NPL managers really get rid of the UK’s leading facility for measuring ultra-low heat transfer in structures, literally cutting it up and putting it in a skip?
  • Did NPL managers really have a top-level digital strategy that advocated we “Create new units that underpin the cyber-physical world.”?

Thinking back it is hard to distinguish what was really real, from my personal nightmare

But if even a small fraction of my hazy memories are correct, then NPL was (and still is) a showcase for management chaos and incompetence.


As I mentioned above, I had initially meant to write more about the surreal and ridiculous specifics of NPL’s ‘transformation’. I researched some details but…

..but it’s just too late. I no longer want to devote any of my time or energy to thinking about NPL.

So farewell to my old colleagues and good luck.

And as Forrest Gump might have said, “…that’s all I have to say about that!”

4 Responses to “NPL: Last words”

  1. Simon Duane Says:

    Have a “like” from me – thanks, Michael

  2. Ross Mason Says:

    Micheal, the box of chocolates has run out….

  3. Adam G Says:

    Hi Michael,

    I don’t come on here very often, but I see you have broken free!

    I’m sad to see NPL is on a similar trajectory in your eyes, at it was when I left. You were a great colleague and really one of a kind. I would have liked to have worked more with you. Happy retirement.


    • protonsforbreakfast Says:


      Yes, free indeed. And thank you for your kind thoughts.

      I trust life is good with you and yours too. And that something in the world is making sense for you.

      Best wishes


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