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8 May 2003 Minutes

Board of Scrutiny

Minutes of the Meeting Held at Noon on

Thursday 8 May 2003 at Selwyn College


Present: Stephen Cowley, Christopher Forsyth, Robin Lachmann, Elisabeth Leedham-Green, Susan Lintott  (for the second half of the meeting), Jack MacDonald, Timothy Milner, Jennifer Rigby, John Spencer, Helen Thompson (for the second half of the meeting).


Apologies: David Howarth, Oliver Rackham.


1)           Minutes of the meeting of 24 April 2003. The notes were accepted.


2)           Matters arising.


a)           Letter to Anne Campbell MP. The letter to Anne Campbell has yet to be written.


Action: the Chairman to write to Anne Campbell MP in advance of the 23 May 2003 meeting.


b)           Requests to the Registrary. The Registrary has yet to reply to the question as to whether the Council knew about the animal experiments in the primate centre at the time when they approved the Report. It was reported that enthusiasm for the primate centre was muted in certain parts of the University, with some senior members regarding it as impolitic to speak out against the centre. There was apparently an issue as to security and policing that had yet to be settled, with the security office expressing concerns as to the possible cost.


The Registrary had also so far declined to provide the annexes to the Finance Working Party Report. He had written indicating that he was not sure that we had the right to ask for the annexes. Having reread the relevant Statutes and Ordinances, the Board was of the opinion that it did have the right to see the annexes. The Chairman offered to write to the Registrary expressing this opinion. The Board agreed. The Chairman asked the Board to notify him of topics that need to be raised with the Registrary at a meeting.


Action: the Chairman to write to the Registrary requesting the annexes to the FWP, and to ascertain whether the Council knew of the nature of the Primate Centre when members signed the Report.


c)           IPR. Developments concerning IPR were reported (e.g. a discussion at Finance Committee, and the rumours that an investment bank may have been approached concerning securitisation rights). Certain members agreed to conduct further investigations.

Action: David Howarth to talk to a colleague.


d)           Visitor Centre. It was reported that the business plan for the visitor centre had apparently not been updated to allow for the expansion to three business units. It was noted that the Press Office had put out a release suggesting that the Colleges had approved of the visitor centre; it was observed that this was not correct.


e)           Press Office. There was a discussion as to the need for a Press Office. The consensus was that the University needed a Press Office, but that the current reporting structure was not ideal.


f)             Finance. It was reported that there were rumours concerning the imposition of a new jobs freeze.


g)           Advertisement for Pro-Vice-Chancellors. It was noted that the advertisement in the Reporter for new Pro-Vice-Chancellors did not specify the job descriptions of the posts. A case could be made that this was another cart-before-the-horse episode.


Action: it was agreed to include a comment in our eighth Report about the lack of a job descriptions the advertisement for Pro-Vice-Chancellors.


3)           Accident to the Vice-Chancellor elect (VCE). The accident to the Vice-Chancellor elect was noted. According to the Press Office she was now well on the way to recovery. The view was expressed that the Press Office had been too cagey, and a concise factual statement issued earlier might have reduced the speculation. It was agreed to write a sympathetic letter to the VCE asking for a meeting at her convenience.


Action: the Chairman to write to the Vice-Chancellor elect.


4)           Board of Scrutiny election. There was a discussion of the forthcoming election and the desirability of there being a full slate. Various candidates were discussed, topics including the needs for gender balance, suitable chairmen, and the filling of the under-35 slot. It was reported that a colleague was not eligible for the under-35 slot, that another colleague was not keen to over-commit himself in his first year in a new role, and that a Bursar was interested in standing. It was also reported that two other colleagues might be interested in standing. Elisabeth Leedham-Green agreed to contact a colleague. The Chairman agreed to contact a colleague, and to float the idea to another colleague if the opportunity arose. Jack MacDonald agreed to contact a colleague.


Action: members of the Board to contact potential candidates.


5)           Planning for the 8th Report. The Chairman tabled an outline plan for the report. It was agreed that it would be helpful if the eighth Report were shorter than the Seventh.


a)           Response to the Previous Report. It was noted that the Council had still not responded to the Board’s seventh Report (one suggested reason for the delay was that Council was finding it difficult to justify the top-slicing the College contribution in the RAM). It was noted that the Board’s sixth Report had not been acted on as the Board might have hoped. It was agreed to start the eighth Report by noting a few examples of where the Board quite correctly warned of problems in advance but was ignored (e.g. the running costs of buildings, CAPSA, and the failure to include CUP and UCLES in the University’s accounts with the result that the auditors have been unable to confirm that the accounts are true and fair).


b)           Finance. It was reported that the financial subcommittee consisting of the Chairman, Jennifer Rigby, Susan Lintott and David Howarth would meet on Friday 9 May at Churchill. It was noted that it might be helpful to see the HEFCE audit letter. The Board agreed to ask for it.


Action: the Chairman to ask the Registrary for the HEFCE audit letter.


c)           RAM. It was reported that the RAM working party were planning meetings over the summer; no member of the Board seemed to be aware as to how far the development of the RAM had progressed. However there was a view that very few in the University really understood the RAM, and that if/when the RAM is implemented then some departments might be in for nasty surprises (e.g. it was suggested that architecture overspends its teaching “budget” by £0.5 million p.a.), while others argue that they are underfunded (e.g. the vet school).  It was decided to note in the Report that the RAM formula has important parameters that can be adjusted to change the outcome significantly, that the RAM contains political decisions, and that to a certain extent it conceals the spending of the central bodies/services. It was agreed to ask for recent papers on the RAM, e.g. what is the revised formula. 


Action: the Chairman/Secretary to ask the Registrary/Director of Finance respectively for new papers on the RAM.

Action: the Secretary to forward questions to Tim Milner for a colleague.


d)           UAS. It was suggested that some comment on the UAS might be appropriate, e.g. on the cost effectiveness of the service (e.g. how is this measured, who sets the criteria, etc?). It was noted that when the Report on the UAS was presented to the University a couple of years ago, there was little discussion of the costs of the reform.


e)           Buildings. There was a discussion concerning new buildings. It was noted that the Registrary and Treasurer had admitted to problems. A question arose as to when the new “project model” had been introduced for building plans. I was agreed to ask the Director of EMBS for clarification. In the Report it was agreed to emphasise that the procedures followed needed to be in conformity with the University’s regulations. If the latter was inappropriate then they should be changed.


Action: the Chairman to contact the Director of the EMBS as to when the “project model” had been introduced.


f)             Governance. It was agreed to ask the Registrary for documents concerning the implementation of the Shattock recommendations regarding the hierarchy of accountability and the clarification of the relationship between the PRC and the Finance Committee. A view was expressed that too many senior administrators spend too much time at committee meetings with the result that sometimes it is unclear which senior officers are responsible for what.


i)          There was a discussion of the OPM report on governance. This has not been published. The Board resolved to ask who had commissioned the report. The Board also wondered why proposals on governance were put to the University before the OPM report had been delivered.


ii)        In its eighth Report it was felt that the Board should comment on the competence of process as regards governance reform.


Action: the Chairman to ask the Registrary as to the progress in drawing up a hierarchy of accountability (especially as regards the PRC and the Finance Committee) and to ask for the OPM report.


g)           Principal Officers. There was a discussion as to developments in the Treasurer and Secretary-General saga. The Board wondered whether there was any succession planning being considered by the central bodies in case the posts became vacant. The Board was of the opinion that it was important the persons appointed to senior posts should have the relevant competencies.


h)           Strategic Plan. The Board noted that there was apparently still no University strategic plan, a point that would need to be emphasised in the Report (e.g. with respect to graduate numbers).


               Action: the Chairman to ask the Registrary as to the progress of the strategic plan.


i)             RSD. It was noted that there was not much the Board could say about the RSD. A visit had not taken place since it was hard to find examples that could be quoted (various sources did not want to be quoted). A view that been heard that the library was not particularly satisfied with the RSD. Members of the Board with quotable examples were again urged to contact the Secretary.


               Action: members to send quotable examples to the Secretary of any problems with the RSD.


j)             Press Office and Communications.


i)          IPR. It was recalled that in his speech during the IPR discussion that Mike Clark had noted that in a press release the Press Office had claimed that the RSD had made a significant sum from spin-offs without making it clear that the research was done, and the contracts signed, well before the formation of the RSD. It was agreed to note this in the eighth Report.


Action: the Secretary to check details of Mike Clark’s claim with him.


ii)        Visitor Centre. As noted above, a press release had been put out suggesting that the Colleges were supporting the visitor centre. This was not in fact the case.


iii)       Governance. The Board were far from clear that the press office’s interventions had been helpful over governance.


k)           Appointment of the new Vice-Chancellor. It was thought appropriate to comment favourably on the process that selected the new Vice-Chancellor. To that end it might be useful to know where her name came from, e.g. the headhunters or a personal recommendation.  However, it was also thought worth pointing out that there had been a leak, the source of which had not been identified. This was the second time in a year that there had been a major leak (the first time being over the CAPSA reports).


l)             Personnel. There was a brief discussion of analytical job description schemes, such as HERA. It was noted that the University was pursuing the HERA option. The Board’s view was that the justification for choosing that scheme should be made clear, and that the process by which the decision was made should be transparent. It was agreed that Jennifer Rigby should contact the Director of Personnel to determine whether such a process will be followed, to ask if the AUT job evaluation scheme had been considered.


               Action: Jennifer Rigby to contact the Director of Personnel re HERA and the AUT scheme.


m)        Council Minutes. In order to hear of developments within the University in a timely manner, the Board resolved to ask for Council Minutes (both reserved and unreserved) to be forwarded to the Chairman automatically.


Action: the Chairman to ask the Registrary for the Board to be put on the distribution list for full Council Minutes.


6)           Any other business.


7)           Date of next meeting. The next meeting will be on 22 May 2003.