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22 April 2004

Board of Scrutiny


Thursday 22April 2004


Robinson College

Garden Room



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


Apologies: Helen Thompson (on leave).


1)           Welcome to the Vice-Chancellor (VC). The VC made some introductory remarks, inter alia touching on the practical and political difficulties associated with animal experiments. She indicated that she would be providing an annual report to Council relating to the goals that she herself set at the beginning of the year. She noted that she would withdraw from Council for the discussion of her report.


The VC also observed that since the establishment of the Board, there had been a significant increase in the amount of time that the Central Bodies were required to spend on accountability issues, e.g. there were very many more requests from HEFCE and other external institutions than before. In addition the Audit Committee had a revised membership, the University now had a committee on risk management, and of course there were still Reports and Discussions. An argument could be made that there was too much time spent being seen to be accountable (i.e. too much scrutiny with a little ‘s’), and too little time spent moving forward.


Members of the Board agreed that there was a danger of too much scrutiny (especially given the apparent accountability mania spreading across Europe), were keen to work together with the central bodies, and agreed that the Board should focus on major issues rather than minutiae. It was noted that members of the Board should, on the whole, be better informed than average members of the Regent House given the access the Board has to documents. Several members of the Board also observed that the Board had a good track record of identifying problems, and it might be of benefit to the University if the Board’s Reports were given greater consideration. The VC noted that there was a difference between identifying difficulties and correcting them, e.g. the consolidation of accounts was proving to be time consuming; the Board agreed.  However, she hoped that future Reports of the Board would be dealt with constructively by the central bodies.


The Board noted that its recent Reports had apparently been successful in being the instrument in explaining the financial position, etc. of the University to the Regent House; the point was made that the central bodies ought to be able explain itself. Given the pressure of business on Council, it was suggested that Scrutiny might find it easier to see the wood for the trees; the point was made the as a result of the Council’s retreat, etc., matters might be improving on that front. The VC emphasised that the central bodies were developing a strategic plan for the future, but this was very much work in progress and was not covered by a single document similar to Oxford’s recent draft plan. The VC emphasised that planning documents had gone out from the central bodies for consultation, and issues were bubbling up from the compilation of the risk register. A strategic roadmap for the University was being developed that the University should hear more about in the next year. Several members of the Board had not been aware of these discussions of broader issues, and wondered whether it might be helpful the Regent House might also be informed of them.


There was a discussion of the need to control the University’s resources, especially its finances. It was emphasised that while money is a trigger, and that an integrated financial plan should help with strategic thinking, it was important not to lose sight of the aims of the University, and for the need for the University to continually evolve. There was still a large amount to be done, and the University and Colleges needed to ensure that they were not doing more than they could afford. A combination of revenue increases, efficiency savings, and a change in the mix of what the University and Colleges do, were all likely to be ingredients in getting the University and Colleges on an even keel.  It was going to be difficult to keep everyone happy.


It was emphasised that the Board needs to be careful in its Reports, so that the press cannot twist phrases out of context.


The VC left after about 90 minutes. The Board thanked her for a positive and fruitful meeting.


2)           Minutes of the Meeting of 11 March 2004. The Board agreed that corrections to the agreed that corrections to the minutes of the meeting of 11 March 2004 should be emailed to the Acting Secretary.


3)           Matter Arising.


a)           Administrative Support. The Chairman reported that three applications had now been received for the position of support officer. It was agreed that the Chairman, Acting Secretary and Jennifer Rigby would form the selection committee. It was agreed that a task would be set for the applicants.


4)           Discussion on the Consultative Report of the Council on the Finance Committee and the PRC. There was a discussion of the draft speech. It was noted that the VC was not to be a member of the PRC, that the proposed PRC was possibly too large to make effective decisions, that the Chairmen of the Schools would sit on the RMC, PRC and GB, that it had taken nearly two and a half years (since the CAPSA reports) to come up with these proposals, and that the Board was firmly of the opinion that the committee structure should be in Ordinances but not in Statutes. It was agreed that the Board would not make a recommendation as to the restructuring of the committees, but it would point out that there were at least two alternative models. For instance, a case could be made that the Chairmen of the Schools should not be on PRC, but should make their cases for funding to the PRC. It was agreed that we should observe that just because you are not in the room, does not mean that you are not consulted. It was agreed to move the paragraphs on buildings towards the end of the speech.


5)           Preparation of the Annual Report. Because of a lack of time, most of the remaining items of the Agenda were deferred until the next meeting.


a)           Blue Books. The Chairman noted that he now had three copies of the blue book. Jennifer Rigby asked for one of them to be sent to her.


b)          Press Office. It was agreed to mention the Press Office in the forthcoming report, and in particular whether it should be more fully integrated into the UAS.


c)           Planning. It was agreed to ask for the consultation documents that have been circulated by the central bodies.


d)          Comments. It was requested that comments on the draft sections of the Report be circulated by Tuesday 27 April 2004.


6)           Date of the Next Meeting. Thursday 6 May 2004 at noon in the Linnett Room (not the Garden Room), Robinson College.