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Fifth Report of the Board of Scrutiny: Notice

29 January 2001

The Council have considered the recommendations contained in the Fifth Report of the Board of Scrutiny (p. 30) and the remarks made at the Discussion of the Report on 24 October (p. 146).

The Council have published a preliminary response (see p. 258), in which they responded to certain procedural matters and to two specific issues. In their Notice the Council stated that they would respond to the Board's detailed comments as they affect UCLES and the Press in a further Notice. In the ninth paragraph of their Report the Board adduce a number of apparent concerns about these two bodies. If these are put forward in furtherance of the argument of consolidation of both enterprises, the Council observe that consolidation per se would do nothing to address these matters. On the specific points raised, the Council note that the University's auditors annually confirm, after examination of the latest audited balance sheets of both bodies and after consultation with them, that their total assets are 'considerably in excess of their total liabilities', and that 'the possibility of the University's liability crystallizing is therefore regarded as extremely remote' (Reporter, 1999-2000, Special Number 9, Abstract of Accounts, p. 18, note 22). The Council also observe that operational policies to control foreign exchange risk by both organizations are in place and are effective; that the Press reported an overall surplus in 1998 of £2.9m and in 1999 one of £10.2m; that both UCLES and the Press have for a considerable number of years provided substantial financial assistance to the University from the surpluses generated by their activities; and that the role of a successful University Press specifically encompasses a scale and kind of scholarly publishing which would not be undertaken for commercial motives. On the general question of the volume and nature of information provided by the Press, the Council observe that the Press publishes a very full and detailed Annual Report, that its accounts conform fully with all accounting requirements, including the SORP, and that there inevitably has to be some practical limit to the amount of additional information about its operations which the Press might reasonably be expected to provide or which members of the Regent House as a whole might wish to absorb.

The Council have consulted the General Board and sought advice from the Finance Committee. In the light of that further information the Council comment on the Board's specific recommendations in their Report as follows:

Recommendations

I. The Board recommend that the Council and the General Board present to the Regent House, by the Easter Term 2001, a Report on their policies regarding the overall balance of support as between the University's various Schools.

An account of the underlying principles for, and the development of, a resource allocation methodology, to support the allocation process across University institutions is given in the Council's Annual Report for 1999-2000 (p. 243). The General Board and the Council recognize the need to make further progress, in a way that is consistent with the underlying principles, in particular that the process should be seen to be fair and transparent in its operation. The central bodies, through a new Resource Management Sub-Committee, will be giving a high priority to this particular matter in the Lent Term and will undertake further consultation with the Councils of the Schools and other authorities. It would not be appropriate, because of the complexity of the issues involved and the limited resources available, to make a commitment to publishing a Report on the time scale indicated by the Board of Scrutiny. The central bodies will, however, ensure that the University is kept informed.

II. The Board recommend that the income on investments be shown in the Accounts in a manner which accords with the SORP.

The Finance Committee have advised the Council that, under Statute F, III, any income received on Amalgamated Fund investments, which is not directly distributed to unit holders as a dividend, is retained in an income reserve. The income reserve is used to smooth the distribution of dividends thereby avoiding large fluctuations in income to unit holders. The income reserve is included in the capital value of the Fund as shown in the University's balance sheet rather than in the income and expenditure account, and the University's auditors are satisfied that this complies with the SORP.

III. The Board recommend that the Council give consideration to ways in which the benefits of College Fellowships could be used more positively to aid recruitment of the University's academic staff.

In their Report on Reserved Fellowships at Wolfson College (p. 213) the Council expressed their concern at the number of University officers (in particular teaching officers) without College Fellowships, and they have drawn their concern to the attention of the Colleges' Committee in the hope that the problem will be addressed by the Colleges collectively. The Council have agreed to provide the Colleges' Committee with administrative support to facilitate a more sharply focused approach to this problem.

IV. The Board recommend that the accounts of all University Companies be consolidated with those of the University.

The Treasurer reported to the Finance Committee that the accounts of the University companies listed in the Abstract of Accounts had been consolidated with those of the University in respect of the 1999-2000 accounts (see Note 26 to the Consolidated Abstract of Accounts, Special No. 8, published on 20 December 2000).

V. The Board recommend that the Council report, by the Lent Term 2001, on issues relating to the conformity of its Accounts, and those of related institutions, to the relevant SORPs.

The Finance Committee have advised the Council that the University's auditors were satisfied that the University's accounts conform to the relevant SORP. The accounts of CUP and of UCLES were also SORP compliant. The form of College accounts is currently under discussion by the Bursars' Committee.

VI. The Board recommend that the Council arrange for a register of significant fixed assets to be compiled within the next financial year.

The Finance Committee were unclear as to the basis for the comment made in paragraph 21 of the Board's Report, which indicated their concern about the University's lack of a proper record of what it owns. The University's Financial Regulations state that Heads of Department are responsible for keeping proper records and for the custody of stores and stock and that Departments also have the responsibility to maintain a record of equipment. Lists of buildings were already maintained centrally.

VII. The Board recommend that the agreement between the Colleges and the University be published in the Reporter.

The Council agreed with the Board that it would be appropriate for the agreement to be published; after consultation with the Standing Committee of the Colleges it was set out in full as an Annex to the Council's preliminary response (p. 259).

VIII. The Board recommend that the Council make an interim Report on the CAPSA project during the Michaelmas Term 2000.

During the Michaelmas Term the Council published several Notices concerning the CAPSA Project (see pp. 4, 202, 300, and the Registrary's statement at the Discussion on 10 October 2000, p. 86). A review of the project will be undertaken and published on completion (see the Council's Notice, p. 403).

IX. The Board recommend that the Council bring forward a Report proposing Graces to establish those of the recently created Directorships which it considers to be permanent posts.

The Council are considering a draft Report on unestablished Directorships and other matters and expect to publish the Report in due course.

X. The Board recommend that the General Board take steps to ensure that marking conventions and classing guidelines for all undergraduate examinations are posted on the web.

The General Board intend to take the necessary steps (through Faculty Boards) to arrange that the details of marking bands and classing guidelines for undergraduate examinations are made available on the web.

XI. The Board recommend publication on suitable websites, for access from all cam.ac.uk web addresses, of the agenda and minutes of unreserved business at the Council, the General Board, and Faculty Boards, and committees of these bodies.

The Council and the General Board have previously agreed with the principle of making unreserved items on their agendas and minutes more widely available. It will be implemented as soon as practicable in the light of available resources.


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Cambridge University Reporter, 31 January 2001
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