skip to primary navigationskip to content

19 February 2004

Board of Scrutiny


Thursday 19 February 2004


Robinson College

Garden Room



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


Apologies: Helen Thompson.


1)           Minutes of the meeting of 12 February 2004

The Board confirmed the minutes.


2)           Matters arising


a)           Administrative support. The Chairman reported that matters were progressing and that he had completed the role description form. This now awaited grading by the Personnel Division and then final approval by the Registrary before advertisement.


b)           The University’s strategy. There was a discussion of the University’s strategy (based on a working paper produced by David Phillipson after Roger Salmon’s earlier draft). Inter alia there was a discussion of graduate students, the affordability of housing near Cambridge for University staff, the means by which Professors are elected, and the “world class” status of the University. It was agreed that David Phillipson would revise the working paper.


3)           Meeting with William Brown, George Reid and Tim Mead.


There followed a meeting with two members of Council and the Registrary. In an earlier letter the Registrary had raised two issues: whether the Board should continue to produce one “blockbuster” annual Report, and precise remit of the Board according to Statutes and Ordinances and the original concept in the Wass Report.


The extract from the Wass Report that recommended the establishment of the Board of Scrutiny was circulated. George Reid noted that if the Board was doing its job then criticism of the central bodies might be anticipated from time to time.  He drew attention to Statute A,VII,1:


1. There shall be in the University a Board of Scrutiny, which shall in each year scrutinize on behalf of the Regent House the Annual Report of the Council, the abstract of the accounts of the University, and any Report of the Council proposing allocations from the Chest. In addition the Board shall perform such other duties, and shall have such powers, as may be specified by Ordinance or Order.”


He also noted that the Wass Report anticipated that the members of the Board would engage in the Discussions of the Reports, and that by delaying its annual Report until the end of the year there was a lack of immediacy.


Members of the Board noted that there was little time between the publication of the Reports and the Discussions for the Board to perform an in-depth analysis. In the past the Board has been careful to investigate its facts before publishing its Reports or making comments in Discussions. Members of the Board were open to the idea that the Board make more substantive remarks on the Reports at the appropriate Discussion, however more time would be needed between the time that the Board saw the Reports and the Discussion. One way forward might be for the Board to see draft the Reports in draft form. 


Members of the Board also drew attention to two of the Board’s Ordinances:


1. It shall be the duty of the Board of Scrutiny to scrutinize on behalf of the Regent House each year the Annual Report of the Council (including the Annual Report of the General Board to the Council), the accounts of the University, and any Report of the Council proposing allocations from the Chest


2. In carrying out their scrutiny of the documents specified in Regulation 1, the Board shall have the right to examine the policies of the University and the arrangements made for the implementation of those policies, and to report thereon to the Regent House.” (emphasis added)


The Board interpreted the second of these to justify, say, its investigation into CAPSA, and the interest it has taken in the RAM. Both these issues are examples where an informed, but delayed, response was appropriate. It was suggested that the appropriate time to make comments on the RAM was at the time of the Allocations Report. A concern was also expressed that unless it was careful the Board might decisions pre-empt Council.  Members of the Board stressed that that was not their intention. The Board’s role was inquisitorial not policy-making.


The Registrary emphasised the need to obey Statutes and Ordinances. Members of the Board agreed.


Professor Brown asked if the Board saw itself playing a similar role to Council as a parliamentary select committee plays to government. Dr Cowley expressed the view that there was a difference between a select committee that monitored a department, and the Public Accounts Committee or the Public Administration Committee. He thought that the latter two might be a good analogy.


There was a discussion about Discussions, and as to whether they could be made more effective. It was agreed that Discussions might be improved if informed members of the Regent House, such as members of the Board, contributed to them. It was suggested that if a member of the Board contributes to a Discussion they should state their membership of the Board at the start of their contribution. Dr Cowley expressed the hope that responses from Council to such contributions would take a positive tone. It was suggested that sometimes it was difficult to understand the points being made in certain contributions.


There was a brief discussion of the Board’s draft paper on the working of Council. A question was raised as to whether it was appropriate for the Board to comment on the workings of Council. Members of the Board observed that the workings of Council were referred to in the Annual Report of Council. Moreover, the review of the working of Council grew out of the Shattock on Finklestein Report. It was reported that there was now more time to discuss policy issues at Council, e.g. this year there had been detailed discussion of fees, the primate centre and the RAM. There was also a brief discussion of the relationship between the Planning and Resources Committee and the Finance Committee. The Board was pleased to learn that proposals would be published in the near future. It was agreed that the Board should meet with the Registrary at a later date to discuss the draft paper in more detail.


It was noted that there might be room for improvement in the organisation of papers for Council, e.g. in focusing attention of members of Council on key points by means of fuller agenda notes (cf. the papers prepared for certain other committees). It was noted that the University needs a more formal business timetable that is actually observed by committees of the University. There was a discussion on the frequency of meetings of Council and whether this might improve the processing of business by Council.


It was agreed that the Board’s aims are the same as those of Council, and that a system of “opposition” would not be good.


There was a discussion of the Council responses to the Board’s earlier Reports. It was observed that the Board had advocated the consolidation of the CUP and ULCES accounts, and the abolition of the chest/non-cheat distinction, for a number of years before Council acted on them (e.g. after pressure from external bodies). Members of the Board thought that a forthright agreement or disagreement might be more helpful than a more bland statement.


There was a discussion of the Council’s response to the Board’s eighth Report, covering its tone and topics such as the primate centre and the assistant staff pension scheme. Dr Holmes, a recently elected member of the Board, noted that the Council had described the Board’s report as “alarmist” on this point. However, the recent agenda of the personnel committee indicated that the managers were now seeking a top-up of £12.6 million, together with an increase in contributions to 22.5% of salary; this was in line with the Board’s Report.


It was noted that there could be great benefit from open government in developing trust. The Registrary noted that since the Press read Reports and contributions to Discussions, there is a need to be careful what is said lest it be misunderstood.  He expressed the view that the balance between Council and the Regent House was not yet right, and noted that Wass has envisaged enhanced authority for Council. It was suggested that there was a need to improve trust between the Regent House and the central bodies.


        In summary:


§       The Board would like to see the draft Annual Reports of the General Board and Council before they are published so that it could make more substantive comments at the time of the Discussion of these Reports.


§       The Board would also like to see improved dialogue between the Council and Scrutiny.


§       The Board would view it as helpful to discuss with the Registrary its working paper on the effectiveness of Council, in particular the rôle of Registrary.


The Board thanked the delegation from Council from attending. The meeting was viewed as having been productive.


4)            Date of the next meeting: 26 February 2004