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6 March 2003 Minutes

Board of Scrutiny

Minutes of the Extra Meeting Held at Noon on

Thursday 6 March 2003 at Selwyn College


1)           The Governance Discussion. This was a special meeting called to prepare for the Discussion on Governance that had been called for by the Board.


It was agreed that the Chairman would seek to speak first on behalf of the Board. He would then speak on his own behalf.


In his opening statement it was agreed that the Chairman would indicate why the Discussion has been called, and note that the Board was not proposing how the University should be reformed, but suggesting mechanisms by which any reform might be taken forward. A repeat of the recent procedures was thought not to be in the best interests of the University.


There was a discussion of Malcolm Grant’s lecture on the GM commission (that he chair). It was noted that over GM there was a lack of trust between the public and HMG. It was thought that some in the University might learn from the transparent procedures and consultation processes being followed by the commission


It was agreed that we would refer in favourable terms to the seminar roadshows and some of the other aspects of consultation over governance. However there was a feeling on the Board that the central bodies had simply noted that there was a range of opinion expressed in the consultations, and then proceeded to do what they would have done anyway.


It was noted that the attempt to steamroller the reforms through had lead to a series of ballots that were unduly complicated. It was thought that the options could have been presented in a far clearer manner. Moreover, the drafting of the Graces had been inadequate (possibly as a result of the undue haste), with the result that there was a need for a number of them to be resubmitted.


There was a view that the governance proposals had not really addressed many of the key problems facing the University, e.g. such as the need for a clear hierarchy of accountability as identified by Shattock and Finkelstein. It was recalled that at one of the CAPSA road-shows Malcolm Grant had admitted that the governance reforms would not in themselves have prevented another CAPSA.


It was agreed that the Board should emphasise that it believes in accountability (cf. some of Anne Campbell’s remarks), but that it thought that the proposals for an executive Vice-Chancellor did not address this issue adequately; one person cannot run the whole university.


There was a discussion of what the Board believed to be wrong, or not working, within the University. It was thought that the need to pass Graces does not significantly delay procedures. The real delay is in the plethora of subcommittees; there is an urgent need to clarify (and simplify) the committee structure. Further, as remarked by Debbie Lowther in the CAPSA Discussion, the papers for committees are not conducive to effective governance and/or administration. There is a need for the UAS to act as an effective Civil Service. The Officers should think about problems and then present options in a coherent manner so that academics can make a decision (as happens at the Library Syndicate). A view was expressed that were not enough good senior civil servants able to prepare position papers so that business could be processed more efficiently; this contributed to the lack of strategy.


It was also noted that the same people are on very many committees, that some senior officers seem to spend almost their whole time attending committees, and that many of the committees are too large.


It was agreed that we should indicate that the Statutes and Ordinances have their merits. For instance, there is a requirement that, to all intents and purposes, a business plan is prepared for a new building. Hence if Statutes and Ordinances had been followed the University might not be running such a large deficit. 


It was observed that the Governance Committee had been somewhat secretive, and that its membership had not initially been published. In this context there was a discussion of the type of person that the Board might like to see on any Syndicate that might be established. Those appointed would need to have both the necessary time available and the experience to do a serious job, Moreover they should command the confidence of the Regent House. It was thought that there was a need to re-establish trust between the central bodies and the Regent House in general, but especially over governance. There was a general view that the Chairman should be external. As to timing, the Board felt that no major initiatives should be undertaken before the new Vice-Chancellor was installed.


It was observed that the RAM and governance were intertwined. It had been suggested that a strategic process would come out the RAM; however, the view of the Board was that governance and strategic issues should have been settled before the RAM. Unfortunately, because of time constraints, that might not now be possible.


It was agreed that the positions of Secretary-General and Treasurer ought to be resolved before the new Vice-Chancellor arrives. It was thought that the next Treasurer (if there is to be one) needs to be a financial strategist.


The view was [again] expressed that the Press Office ought to be more like the BBC than Millbank (or wherever the Labour Party’s spin unit has now decamped to).


There was a brief discussion of the interventions of politicians (e.g. Gordon Brown and Margaret Hodge), explicit or otherwise, in the debate over governance.