Board of Scrutiny
Minutes of the Meeting Held at Noon on
Thursday 3 July 2003 at Selwyn College
Present: Stephen Cowley, Christopher Forsyth, Elisabeth Leedham-Green, Susan Lintott, Timothy Milner, Oliver Rackham, Jennifer Rigby, John Spencer, Helen Thompson
Apologies: David Howarth, Jack MacDonald, Robin Lachmann.
1) Minutes of the meeting of 19 June 2003. These were approved.
2) Plan for the Eighth Report. It was noted that the Report should go to Council for the 21 July meeting. This would mean that a draft copy should go to the Registrary on Friday 11 July. In the light of this it was agreed to meet on 10 July 2003. There was then a discussion of the draft report.
a) It was agreed that we need to get to the meat of the report quickly. It was therefore agreed to move paras 3-6 to a new section towards the end and to incorporate para 7 into the financial section. Susan Lintott was writing a section on the accounts (e.g. commenting on the fact that they were not true and fair).
b) It was agreed that the Board needed to make clear that its work had been hampered by not receiving the full reports of the Finance Working Party, but that this point should be made towards the end of the Report (although flagged earlier).
c) It was agreed that we should observe that the University still did not have joined-up budgeting. It was agreed to ask the Director of Finance about progress on this point, and to ask how this compared with earlier goals.
d) The Chairman and Secretary had received an email noting that SRIF funding was for equipment as well as new buildings, and that Cambridge was seemingly concentrating on buildings (possibly at the expense of departments that needed equipment). There was a discussion as to whether this was wise given the past cost of overruns and extra running expenses of new buildings. It was agreed to check facts with colleagues, e.g. as to what extent EPSRC equipment funds have been rolled into SRIF.
e) There was a discussion as to exactly how large the projected deficit was predicted to be. It was agreed that there was an urgent need for a meeting with Andrew Reid.
Action: Secretary to arrange a meeting between the Chairman, Secretary and Susan Lintott with the Director of Finance.
f) Regarding the RAM it was agreed that there was still a need for a debate on small departments. It was noted that although departments, etc. has done very well in the RAE, etc., it was those departments, rather than the central administration that were being asked to bear the burden of the cuts. The administration needs to be under the same financial disciple as the academic departments and cannot excuse itself from economies.
g) It was agreed that we need to ask the Director of Finance and the Registrary about the progress on Shattock and Finkelstein’s recommendations, and to then comment on them in the Report.
h) It was agreed to emphasise the need for a sensitivity analysis of the RAM before it is introduced. The need for a strategic plan also needs to be emphasised, e.g. there is a need to identify proper funding of core activities and not to waste money on opportunistic activities that are not central to the key aims of the University.
i) It was suggested that one of the main problems at present is not with governance per se, but with the bit between governance and administration. It was agreed to make a favourable reference to Oxford’s North Commission of Inquiry as a considered means of reforming governance (rather than looking for quick fixes).
j) There was a discussion of the Press Office, and in particular of Mike Clark’s comments on the Press Office during the IPR Discussion in October 2002. The Chairman agreed to follow up this matter with David Secher and the Press Office.
It was noted that the Press Office had recently circulated a media guide recommending that in dealing with the Press members of the University not say anything off the record. A discussion of the way that the governance proposals were explained to the Press ensured. It was agreed to again emphasise in our Report of the need for the University to present its case honestly and transparently. There was a discussion of the leaks at the time of the election of the new Vice-Chancellor. It was agreed that although what happened was deplorable, there was little to be gained by raising the issue again.
k) There was a discussion of the proposed visitor centre, and in particular the chronology of events. It was thought that the idea was first proposed in March 2001, that the College Bursars had not initially been enthusiastic, that some form of business plan had been drawn up towards the end of 2002 (after the involvement of consultants and a visit to the USA), but that after revisions to the proposal, the business plan had not been updated (possibly when it went to the PRC in March 2003). It was thought that the proposal had been put forward as self-financing, but if so there was a question as to why the Colleges had been asked for £5000 each (it was not known if this would be recurrent). It was noted that if we were to comment on the Visitor Centre then we would need to be sure of our facts. However, it did seem that the proposal had not evolved in a coherent manner and that the aims of the project were not clear (e.g. would a visitor centre in the middle of Cambridge really improve the access of students from the East End of London, or from the North East, etc.). It was not clear that the messages from CAPSA had been learnt.
3) Any Other Business.
a) A meeting has been arranged with the Vice-Chancellor elect on 17 July 2003. It was agreed to send her the draft report.
b) It was noted that Dr Branson was retiring. Arrangements for his successor do not seem to have been finalised.
c) I was noted that while the University has serious financial problems, Imperial is apparently in the black.
d) The financial difficulties of University Assistant Lecturers (UALs) were commented on. It was noted that UALs were to be abolished, but that it was still very difficult for newly arriving staff at almost all levels to be able to afford housing.
4) Date of next meeting. The next meeting will be held at noon on 10 July 2003.