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13 February 2003 Minutes

Board of Scrutiny

Minutes of the Meeting Held at Noon on

Thursday 13 February 2003 at Selwyn College

 

Present: Stephen Cowley, Christopher Forsyth, David Howarth, Elisabeth Leedham-Green, Susan Lintott, Robin Lachmann, Jack MacDonald, Timothy Milner, Oliver Rackham, Jennifer Rigby, John Spencer, Helen Thompson.

 

Apologies: None.

 

1)      Minutes of the meetings of 16 January 2003 and 30 January 2003. These were approved.

 

2)      Matters arising (other than ones covered below). It was reported that the report from the Office of Public Management (OPM) would be discussed at the next Council meeting. The Registrary had asked that the report not be circulated to the Board before that time. Various questions arose such as why the OPM had been asked to write a report, if and when the OPM had visited, and who they had contacted.

 

Action: Discuss the OPM report next time we meet the Registrary.

 

3)      Developments on Governance.

 

a)      The Board’s request for a Discussion. It was reported that the Council had agreed to a Discussion in April. (It was subsequently announced that the Discussion will take place on 11 March 2003)

 

b)      The number of signatories required for an amendment. As a result of the wording of the Grace on ballots, it appears that whereas 25 signatories are required to call a ballot, only 10 are needed for an amendment (so forcing a ballot); a member of Council apparently concurs with this view. The Board was of the view that if a Syndicate is set up to reform Governance, then one of the members should be a constitutional lawyer. The view was also expressed that the Chairman should be external, but with experience of Oxbridge and running a University.

 

c)      Reports in the Press. The Secretary outlined his personal dealings with the press office and the press over the previous two weeks. It was noted that press reports suggested that HMG wanted governance reform before they would approve extra funding. It had been suggested to the Secretary that some of the press reports had arisen from off the record briefings by the University’s Press Office. The Registrary had informed the Secretary that conversations between Ministers and certain members of the Old Schools were confidential, and that he was not in a position to clarify the reports in the press. There was general agreement that some of the press coverage was not in the best interests of the University, and there was concern about the role of the press office. It was agreed to write to the press office stating that there were rumours of off the record briefings, and to ask what had been said if that was true.

 

Action: The Chairman to write to the Press Office.

 

4)      The visit to the Registrary and the Treasurer. The Registrary and Treasurer had explained the stages that were went through when a new building erected. It appeared to the representatives of the Board that the procedure had evolved away from that laid down in the Statutes and Ordinances, e.g. as a result of the establishment of the Planning and Resources Committee, which seems to have taken over roles previously performed by the Finance Committee. There was apparently no clear idea about when there should be a Report to the University, and an argument could be made that this could not be standardised, e.g. as a result of money for projects coming in at irregular intervals. It was not clear to members of the Board whether the central administration had a clear idea why they had to get permission of the Regent House for the erection of buildings, i.e. it was not clear that the central administration viewed the Report stage as a useful aspect of our internal system of checks and balances. The idea was discussed of having a two (or more) stage process, e.g. where there might be two Reports with the first one corresponding to outline planning permission.

 

The Registrary and Treasurer agreed that they had attempted to “hide” the primate centre when initially Reporting to the University. This was done for the best of motives (e.g. to shield members of staff from animal rights protestors). The Board viewed this as a misjudgement, since the nature of the buildings was going to come out when planning permission was sought from the local authorities.

 

Key questions remained as to who knew the true nature of the building. The buildings’ subcommittee?  The Vice-Chancellor? The Council? Was the Council aware of the likely controversy and resulting legal costs? How much has the planning appeal cost so far and who is going to pay for it; or was it originally factored into the cost? It was resolved to write to the Registrary to find out.

 

It was admitted that the Report stage for the English building was late. It appears that the contract was signed between Discussion and Grace. However questions still arise. It was resolved to ask to see the letter of intent so as to ascertain when the University was effectively committed to construction, and for what cost. It was also resolved to ask the Director of Finance, Andrew Reid, about income and expenditure to and from the New Buildings Enabling Fund.

 

Action: The Chairman to write to the Registrary suggesting a two stage Report for the primate centre, with the second stage to come.

Action: The Chairman to ascertain who knew the true nature of the primate centre and when, and to ask about legal costs.

Action: The Chairman to ask to see the letter of intent re the English building, and to ask for information concerning cash flow to/from the New Buildings Enabling Fund.

 

5)      SAWAG. It was not clear the degree of influence SAWAG had on the VC. It may be that it proves helpful to the VC to be seen to be meeting senior academic women in the University. The Board was informed that there is to be a BP seminar where senior women from BP and the University will discuss matters. It was agreed that Jennifer Rigby, Helen Thomson and Elisabeth Leedham-Green would arrange a meeting with SAWAG. The Chairman would forward an email to Jennifer Rigby.

 

Action: Meeting with SAWAG to be arranged. The Chairman to forward an email to Jennifer Rigby.

 

6)      Deputy Directors. The Secretary reported that it was not clear to him that all the Deputy Directors could be paid on the professorial scale since the relevant Ordinaces had not been passed. The question was raised as to whether Deputy Directors were needed. It was reported that this level of management had been eliminated from the City Council.

 

There was a discussion of the accountability, or lack of it, of the central bodies for expenditure. The University needs transparent accounting where the costs of the central bodies are clear; there should certainly be a business plan for the central bodies with costs justified each year. Central support services need to demonstrate that they are providing value for money and that an outside contractor would be more expensive. It was agreed that this should be a theme in our eighth Report. The idea was floated that the individual divisions of the UAS should produce an annual report (cf. the annual report for computing service). One of the problems here is that the current annual reports are not effective at controlling expenditure, and annual reports tend to be backward looking, whereas the University needs forward looking business plans. One of the key points would then be who decides what is in the business plans, and assessing whether the business plans provide value for money. Would this be a job for the Treasurer, or should the Audit Committee already be ensuring that we get value for money? Should we be investigating whether the Audit Committee is doing its job?

 

Action: The Secretary to write to the Registrary about the Deputy Directors’ salaries. Action: At the meeting with Andrew Reid ask about the role of his Deputy Director.

 

7)      Any other business.

 

a)      The subject of University nursery places was discussed. It was observed that there should be an increase in such places in the foreseeable future, but the real issue is childcare rather than nursery places. There is apparently a scheme where staff can be paid in vouchers, and so reduce their National Insurance liability. It is not clear that the University is participating in this scheme that could help the lowly paid. It was resolved to ask the Director of Finance why the University are not involved in this scheme, and if not, why not.

 

Action: Ask the Director of Finance about the NI reduction scheme for childcare.

 

b)      The Board had received an email suggesting that the HERA reassessment of roles was proving time consuming. The question arose as to whether this was the ideal time to be performing a potentially expensive pilot study when we are in deficit. Since job evaluation costs money would an alternative approach be to wait until there was specific external pressure, e.g. the need to defend an equal pay claim, before acting since this might cost less in the long run. There was also a rumour that the job evaluation scheme was being applied to academics, whereas those who visited Peter Deer a year ago had thought that it was only going to be applied to assistant staff initially. Jennifer Rigby will follow this up. It was noted that job evaluation schemes tend to reward those with managerial responsibility, and are less good for professionals, e.g. lawyers, lecturers.

 

Action: Jennifer Rigby to contact Peter Deer re the scope of HERA.

 

c)      It was agreed to seek a meeting with Malcolm Grant on the 5 March. Jennifer Rigby, Stephen Cowley and John Spencer to attend. It was agreed to ask for the FWP Report to be sent to us after the Council Meeting of 24 February 2003.

 

Action: Meeting with Malcolm Grant to be confirmed. Ask for a copy of the FWP Report to be delivered after 24 February 2003.

 

d)      Concerning secretarial help it was agreed that we now needed a person spec.

 

e)      Members of the Board were requested to come up with questions for Andrew Reid.

 

8)      The next meeting will be on Thursday 27 February 2003 at Selwyn College.