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30 January 2003 Minutes

Board of Scrutiny

Minutes of the Meeting Held at Noon on

Thursday 30 January 2003 at Selwyn College


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


Apologies: Jack MacDonald.


1)      Minutes of the meetings of 5 December 2002 and 16 January 2003. It was agreed that the Chairman would circulate edited minutes for approval in the next few days.


2)      Matters arising. The Secretary apologised for not having sent the letter on harassment, and would do so in the near future.


3)      The Discussion of Reports held on 28 January 2003. It was reported that the Board’s three speeches had been delivered. The Secretary had replied to some points raised by the Treasurer, who had announced that there was to be a committee to investigate the inter-relationship between the accounts of the University, the Press and the Local Examination Syndicate (a matter which the Board has raised a number of times in the past). It was noted that Professor G.R. Evans had raised the issue of “risk” and the risk committee.


The statutory position of the Secretary-General and the Treasurer. The Board hoped that, following the loss of the vote on the Grace, Council would act. The Board was of the opinion that the new Vice-Chancellor should have an input as regards the long-term solution of this matter.


4)      The visit to BoGS. It was reported that the problems last summer had been acknowledged, but that Prof. Brown and Laurie Friday were now of the opinion that matters were much better. The origin of last summer’s problems lay in the fact that there was an ever-increasing workload as a result of more and more applications, combined with the loss of key staff. Computerisation was being implemented which should help, but it had been stressed that there seemed to be no real strategy within the University that linked, for instance, the increase in the number of programmes/degrees run by the University and the extra places that are consequently needed in Colleges. There is no guarantee that in view of the increasing difficulties in placing students in Colleges that some of last year's problems will not reoccur. Further, this difficulty in placing students might increase if a RAM is introduced with the wrong incentives. It was agreed that the lack of a strategy for student expansion should be mentioned in our next Report. The question was also raised as to what had happened to the University’s strategy document.


5)      The visit to EMBS. It was agreed that the presentation to the Board had been well prepared. It was reported that there was a new procedure for major building projects, however EMBS are not responsible for including the income flow, and it is not clear that all the expenditure is accounted for. The Director had agreed to forward an example of such a plan to the Board. The buildings committee seems to be working more effectively, inter alia, because of the presence of external members. There are now formal procedures for appointing architects and builders, and the University jointly chooses subcontractors now (as opposed to leaving that task to the primary contractor).


The method of tendering had been described in detail to the Board’s representatives. Some expenditure is necessary at an early stage before a Report is laid before the Regent House, e.g. to produce the primary tenders (tendering being a two-stage process). It is apparently usual practice to sign the formal contract after the building has been started, and hence the key-stage as far as the University is concerned is when a letter of intent is sent out (there may be more than one letter of intent if the building is phased).


The Director of EMBS had been asked about progress as regards the ground water pollution on the Downing site. There is apparently a recent paper on the University’s environmental liabilities.


6)      Preparations for the visit to Registrary and Treasurer on February 11 to discuss Graces on buildings. The Board noted that as regards the primate building for experimental psychology, the Report and Grace did not indicate the likely use of the building. The Board agreed to make it clear that the Board holds a neutral position on the use of the experimental psychology building.


As regards the English building, the Board would like to know the chronology of what happened when, and how the contractual processes tie in with the necessary statutory processes.


7)      RSD: the Secretary’s correspondence with the Director. The Secretary reported on his correspondence with the Director of RSD concerning what was said at their meeting in Lent 2002. The Secretary was in the process of agreeing a date for a meeting with the Director of RSD.  


8)      Possible meeting with the Director of Finance. A meeting with the Director of Finance had been agreed provisionally for 27 February. However, that might be a better date for Malcolm Grant to come and talk to the Board about the outcomes from the Financial Working Party.


It was agreed to raise the matter of risk and the risk committee when the Board meets the Director of Finance. It was also agreed to question the Director of Finance on the exact position of the assistant staff pension fund.


9)      The White Paper. The publication of the White Paper was noted. Attention was drawn to the facts (a) that 6* research departments are proposed, (b) the HMG accepts that taking the University sector as a whole, students from different social classes but with the same A-level grades have an equal chance of being accepted into higher education, (c) that there is a proposal that changes to statutes may no longer have to be approved the Privy Council.


10)  Any other business. It was noted that a Sunday Times article alleged that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was concerned as to how efficiently and effectively the CMI money had been spent, however there was also an official denial of this allegation.


It was also noted that a student newspaper had alleged that two members of the University had acted corruptly. It was thought that this was a matter for the audit Committee and not the Board.


It was noted that there was a governance report by an external body that had been commissioned by the University.


11)  Date of the next meeting. The next meeting will be on Thursday 13 February 2003.