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6 May 2004

Board of Scrutiny


Noon, Thursday 6 May 2004


Robinson College

Linnett 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.


1.       Apologies. Helen Thompson (on leave).


2.       Minutes of the Meetings of 11 March 2004 and 22 April 2004. These were approved subject to minor corrections to be approved by circulation.


3.       Matters Arising.


3.1.   Discussion with the VC. The national press reports of 5 May 2004 concerning University developments in NW Cambridge were discussed. There had been surprise in parts of the University when these stories had appeared. Then consensus was that the press had picked up old news as a result of the Council’s publication of the local plan. There was nothing here of particular concern to the Board.


3.2.   Administrative Support: Appointment of the Board of Scrutiny Support Officer. Three applications have been received. The applicants have been set a task and will be interviewed on 10 May 2004.


3.3.   Discussion on the Consultative Report of the Council on the Finance Committee and the PRC. The speech made by the Chairman was noted.


3.4.   Assistant Staff Pension Scheme (ASPS). There was a discussion over the recent rise in contributions to the ASPS, both by the University and by the assistant staff. The Board was of the view that the rises were justified, but that the University should have picked up on the problem earlier, and that the change does not seem to have been introduced in an optimal manner, e.g. the assistant staff should have been warned about the likely increase earlier (such as in the summer of 2003, at the time of the Board’s eighth Report). The Board was concerned that this problem had not been identified before, say, the Finance Working Party reported. The Board agreed to ask for details of the last two actuarial valuations of the ASPS.


Action: The Chairman to ask for the last two actuarial valuations of the ASPS.


3.5.   Strategic Issues. The Board had received consultation papers referred to at the previous meeting by the VC; the Chairman was pleased to report that the papers had been received promptly. There was a brief discussion of the papers, which covered, inter alia, future finances (including consolidation of chest and non-chest expenditure) and student numbers (although it was noted that a statement on the cost of accommodation looked optimistic for building in Cambridge). The papers were more detailed than similar papers circulated widely at Oxford and UCL, but possibly lacked some of the overall vision and aims.  The Board thought that given the difficult decisions that probably lie ahead, there might be value in wider consultation (on the lines of Oxford and UCL). The Board debated as to whether the first iteration should have been a discussion of overall strategy before proceeding to more detailed papers, although it was agreed that an understanding of the University’s financial position must inform strategy.


3.6.   Acting Secretary. It was agreed to inform the Registrary that Dr Cowley was Acting Secretary.


Action: The Chairman to write to the Registrary to inform him that Dr Cowley is the Acting Secretary.


4.       Preparation of the Annual Report. There was a discussion of the overall shape of the forthcoming Report. It was agreed to follow previous Reports with a short introduction (and list of acronyms) at the start, followed by a discussion of the University’s finances (including the forthcoming Allocations Report). It was agreed that the fact that the RAM is a political means of distributing the deficit, and does not allocate income as earned, should again be emphasised (since the RAM might not therefore necessarily send sensible price signals). It was suggested that there should be discussion of the consequences of the RAM, e.g. noting that the cutting of academic posts might be counter-productive as a result of the loss of RAE QR income. The fact that the RAM might help instil good practice, e.g. over the use of space and in achieving value for money, should also be mentioned. The Board was unclear about the financial model of the University currently being developed:  the relationship of the RAM to the financial model, who will use the model, and how it will be used. It was agreed that the Acting Secretary would write to Andrew Reid on the matter. It was also agreed to ask for the draft risk register, with a view to commending it. It was also agreed to ask for the legal advice the University has received concerning the distribution of trust capital as income.


       Action: The Secretary to ask Andrew Reid for the draft risk register, and for a statement of the relationship between the RAM and the financial model.


             Action: The Chairman to ask for the legal advice the University has received concerning the distribution of trust capital as income.


Subsequent sections of the Report will cover buildings, personnel matters (including staff morale) and governance. It was noted that on HERA, etc., we do not have recent information, and it was agreed to contact Peter Deer. On governance issues it was agreed to cover the extension of K9 to allow delegation to an individual, the updating of Ordinances following the passage of Graces, and a mechanism by which the Board might have more time to study the Annual Reports of the Council and the General Board before the Discussions on them. It was also agreed to include a section of the possibility of the University appointing a general council to provide legal advice to the University (since it might be argued that the present system possibly involves a conflict of interest). It was also agreed to comment on the outcome of the Lambert report.


It was agreed that if possible the Report should be shorter than previous years and written in self-contained sections. The Chairman agreed to produce a cut-and-paste draft for the next meeting.


Action: The Chairman to ask Peter Deer whether there are any further papers available on HERA and related matters, and to produce a cut-and-paste draft of the Report for the next meeting.


5.       Visit to Management Information Services Division (MISD). This will take place on the morning of 14th May 2004. The Chairman, Secretary, Elisabeth Leedham-Green and Timothy Milner will attend. Topics of discussion might include: CUFS (e.g. status report, lessons learnt), CamSIS, the Shattock proposals for a merger with the UCS, the bulk purchase of computer equipment, future developments (e.g. payroll).


Action: Chairman to forewarn MISD of topics.


6.       Visit to the Director of the EMBS. The notes of the meeting were circulated.


7.       Any other business.


7.1.   Stipends. There was a discussion of stipends. It was agreed that the system for determining stipends and benefits should be fair and known, including the range of benefits available to different positions If there was to be a change to remuneration levels then this should be after an open policy decision.


7.2.   HEFCE letters, Finance Committee papers and other papers on the consolidation of accounts. It was agreed to ask for HEFCE letters referred to in recent Audit minutes, and to ask for Finance Committee papers and any other papers on consolidation of accounts.


Action: The Chairman to ask for the aforementioned papers.


7.3.   Investments. It was agreed that Roger Salmon would write to Andrew Reid including his investment paper and asking for the necessary figures.


Action: Roger Salmon to contact Andrew Reid.


7.4.   IPR. It was reported that the Board had been approached concerning the IPR debate. It was agreed that the Board would make no comment.


8.       Date of next meeting. This will be on 20 May 2004 at noon in the Garden Room, Robinson College.