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2 October 2003

Board of Scrutiny

Minutes of the Meeting Held at Noon on

Thursday 2 October 2003 at Selwyn College

 

Present: Mantas Adomenas, Stephen Cowley, Christopher Forsyth, Nicholas Holmes, Elisabeth Leedham-Green, Saskia Murk-Jansen, Timothy Milner, David Phillipson, Jennifer Rigby, Roger Salmon, John Spencer.

 

Apologies: David Howarth, Helen Thompson.

 

In Attendance: Susan Lintott, Robin Lachmann, Jack MacDonald, Oliver Rackham.

 

1)      Election of Chairman and Secretary. Christopher Forsyth was elected nem con as Chairman for the year ending 30 September 2004 (proposed by John Spencer and seconded by Elisabeth Leedham-Green). Helen Thompson was elected nem con as Secretary for the year ending 30 September 2004 (proposed by Jennifer Rigby and seconded by Timothy Milner). The outgoing Chairman and Secretary were thanked for service.

 

2)      Minutes of the meetings of 3 July 2003, 10 July 2003 and 17 July 2003. These were approved after minor corrections. A question arose as to the status of confidential notes in 2005 after the implementation of parts of the last Freedom of Information act. The retiring Secretary agreed to follow this up.

 

Action: the former Secretary to ascertain the scope of the Freedom of Information act.

 

3)      Matters arising.  It was noted that as a result of the abolition of University Assistant Lectureships, the University had asked departments to consider promoting all University Assistant Lecturers to University Lecturers. A department had enquired as to what a would happen if the department had theoretically not wished to promote, and had been told that the UAL post would evaporate on 1 October 2003. This advice was incorrect since it was inconsistent with English law. Concern was expressed that the central bodies were issuing incorrect advice, and that despite the provision of an in-house legal service, advice was not apparently being sought from it. It was agreed that the provision of cost-effective and accurate legal advice should be one of the Board’s topics of enquiry for this year.

 

4)      The Vice-Chancellor’s Address. There seemed to be a widespread view around the University that the new Vice-Chancellor had hit the right notes with her address. The Board particularly welcomed her comments on trust.

 

5)      The Eighth Report. The Discussion of the Eighth Report will take place in the Council Room on 7 October 2003. It was noted that, as last year, our Report is the last to be discussed. It was agreed that the Chairman would introduce the Discussion with a brief headline summary of the Report. He would also indicate a hope that Council and the Finance Committee would discuss the Report in a timelier manner than last year, and that there would be a vigorous Discussion. It was also agreed to comment favourably on the new Vice-Chancellor’s address (and also on her presence if she Chairs the Discussion).

 

It was noted that, unlike last year, there had been little press coverage of our Report. Members of the Board reported that colleagues had generally accepted the issues the Board had raised about the primate centre. It was reported that the Council had asked for a business plan for the primate centre to be drawn up.

 

6)      Implementation of New Financial Regulations. On 13 August 2003 the Director of Finance issued a circular relating inter alia to charging overheads on activities funded by donations etc. Three concerns were expressed. First whether the relevant policy papers had been approved by the Council as well as the Finance Committee (which considered the matter on 9 July 2003). Second, whether it was appropriate for the circular of 13 August 2003 to implement changes with effect from 1 August 2003 (since, inter alia, this allowed no time for consideration of the implications of the changes). Thirdly, it was not necessarily clear to which accounts the changed applied, and whether the change applied to accounts containing donations obtained before the matter of overheads was changed.

 

It was noted that the charging of overheads on donation accounts was one of the Finance Working Party proposals. It was not known when the Council had endorsed these proposals. It was noted that some method of improved communication between the central bodies and heads of institutions might be needed. It was agreed to raise this matter next time the Board met with the Director of Finance.

 

Action: The issue of the implementation of the charging of overheads on donation accounts to be raised with the Director of Finance at the next meeting with him.

 

7)      IPR. A brief report on the Cambridge AUT meeting on IPR was given. The meeting had been addressed by Prof. Cornish, the chairman of the committee that had written the most recent Report (to be Discussed on 21 October 2003). It was noted that the 2001 IPR policy for contract research possibly needs changing, and that the Report seems to advocate a unified IPR policy enshrined in ordinance. It was agreed that the Board would follow the IPR debate, but nothing that the Board specifically needed to do.

 

8)      The Treasurer and Secretary General. It was noted that Pro-Vice-Chancellor Minson was now [formally] performing both these jobs.   A long-term policy as to what to do with, or how to reform, these posts had yet to be announced. The Board agreed to follow developments.

 

9)      Programme for the year. There was a discussion of topics that needed to be followed up during the year. These included:

 

a)      The Research Services Division (RSD). A visit to RSD had been deferred from last year. There was now a pressing need for such a visit, together with an assessment of the performance of the division.

 

b)      The Deficit and the RAM.  It was agreed that the Board needs to follow the University’s attempts to eliminate the deficit. A question was raised as to progress on the RAM. It was thought that a Report was due this term. Stephen Cowley was asked to ascertain progress. It was noted that the Finance Committee were now being provided with detailed financial information, but it was not clear how this was being used to better manage the University.

 

c)      Administration. The Board has repeatedly observed that the administration of the University needs improvement. In particular, the committee structure needs to be simplified, there needs to be a clear hierarchy of accountability, and the committees need to be supplied with clear position papers (rather than undigested minutes). There was a discussion as to why some University papers were close to unreadable. It was agreed that developments on the administrative front need to be followed, and that the Board should ensure that the Shattock and Finkelstein recommendations are implemented.

 

d)      Personnel. Problems with the introduction of a single pay spline (at least at national level) were flagged. It was agreed that the Board would follow the progress of HERA and similar initiatives.

 

e)      Legal Advice to the University. It was agreed that the Board should scrutinise the legal advice (both in house and external) that the University was receiving, particularly as regards timeliness and value for money.

 

10)  Any other business.

 

a)      The Vice-Chancellor. It was reported that the Vice-Chancellor intends to chair less committees than her predecessor.

 

b)      Administrative support. It was agreed that we need to recruit support. A person specification is still needed. It was agreed that the Chairman would follow this up.

 

Action: The Chairman to ascertain what funds are available, and to co-ordinate job and person specifications.

 

c)      Governance Course. It was noted that the personnel division were running a training course on the Governance of the University. This start on Tuesday 28 October 2003. It was agreed that the Chairman would enquire as to whether the role of the Board of Scrutiny would be covered.

 

Action: The Chairman to enquire as to whether the role of the Board of Scrutiny would be covered in the Governance of the University course.

 

d)      Reporting to the University. The subject was raised as to whether the Board ought to Report to the University more than once a year. This was not thought necessary, given that interim views can be expressed in the Discussions of the Abstract of Accounts and the Annual Reports of the Council and the General Board.

 

e)      The Visitor Centre. It was reported that the plans for a Visitor Centre had been put on hold.

 

f)        Thanks to retiring members. The Board thanked the retiring members of the Board for all their efforts over the years. In particular Susan Lintott was thanked for her 6 years of service.

 

11)  Dates of future meetings. In the Michaelmas term it was agreed to meet fortnightly starting from 16 October 2003. In the Lent term it was agreed to meet fortnightly starting from 15 January 2004. The venue of the meetings is to be advised by the Chairman.