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Eighth Report of the Board of Scrutiny: Notice

24 November 2003

The Council have considered the recommendations contained in the Eighth Report of the Board of Scrutiny (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 1274) and the remarks made at the Discussion of the Report on 7 October 2003 (Reporter, 2003-04, p. 72).

Introduction

In its Report the Board states that it is the University's official 'watchdog body'. The University has several official watchdogs, including the Audit Committee, and in a sense the Regent House. The Board of Scrutiny is one of several scrutiny bodies and operates under a special Statute (Statute A, VIII). This Statute states in section 1 that the Board 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. The statement also provides that the Board should perform such other duties as may be specified by Ordinance or Order. Section 2 of the same Statute gives the Board of Scrutiny the right of reporting to the University on any matters falling within the scope of section 1.

The Council have agreed to comment on the recommendations in the Board's Report as follows:

FINANCE

Recommendation I. That the RAM should contain, or be implemented together with measures that impose a similar financial discipline on the central administration.

The RAM contains elements which bear on central costs (including those of the central administration itself) because these costs are charged out to Schools and other institutions, on a basis which makes the central authorities accountable. The Council and the General Board have published a Joint Report to inform the University about the RAM (Reporter, p. 182).

Recommendation II. That before the RAM is introduced, there should be an open debate within the University about the future of small Departments and subjects with low HEFCE ratings.

There will be an opportunity to debate such issues at the Discussion of the Joint Report on the RAM on 2 December. The Council note that the RAM contains provision for 'moderation' or cross-subsidy. The general problem before the University in this regard is not so much that of small Departments as such, as of small subjects (or subject specialisms in larger Departments) in terms of student numbers or research volume. The Board refer to 'HEFCE ratings': this is presumably a reference to recent Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) scores. The methodology of the RAE varies from time to time and this makes the RAE by itself a risky measure for making judgements about the future of subjects within the University. The General Board is undertaking a review of the performance of those of our subjects which, by Cambridge standards, have performed relatively less well in the RAE.

Recommendation III. That the Council should prepare a strategic plan for the University.

The Council, through the Planning and Resources Committee, have already initiated a strategic planning process.

Recommendation IV. That the University should press ahead with its plan to introduce consolidated accounts.

The Council and the Finance Committee are preparing consolidated financial statements, and hope to present these for the first time in relation to the financial year 2003-04, with a consolidated budget for the financial year 2004-05 except that the accounts for Cambridge University Press will not be included. The Council have authorized discussions with the Press Syndicate about the possibility of inclusion of the Press's accounts in the University's consolidated financial statements. The Council are pleased that the Board acknowledge and 'warmly welcome the step to present consolidated accounts' (Reporter, p. 73).

Pensions

The Council have noted the comments of the Board about Assistant Staff pension matters (paragraph 40, etc. of the Report) but regret the alarmist tone of the Board's remarks. An actuarial report has been requested and will be considered by the Finance Committee and the Council.

Recommendation V. That the Council ask the Investment Committee to compare its use of a single fund manager for securities against best practice and review this in the light of its risk management strategy.

The Council have been advised by the Finance Committee that they have referred the question of investment advice and fund management to their Investments Sub-committee for comment.

BUILDINGS

Recommendation VI. That, if planning permission for the Primate Research Centre is granted, a further Grace should be put forward before the University so that the Regent House is able to express its view of the proposal.

A Notice has been published to inform the University of the present situation relating to the proposed facility (Reporter, p. 115). In this the Council assured the Regent House that they would be properly informed of developments regarding the facility. If it becomes clear that further authority to proceed is required then a further Grace will be put forward. Planning permission for the research centre has now been given (see p. 230).

Recommendation VII. That the Council, when seeking the approval of the Regent House for the erection of a new building, should normally treat this as a two-stage process.

The Council have already indicated that a procurement strategy of 'two-stage contracting' is increasingly used in building contracts whereby the first contract with the main contractor is for buildability, design, and tendering assistance (typically at a cost of just a few tens of thousands of pounds), with the second contract being for the construction work on site. They have agreed that in future they will usually produce a first-stage Report proposing building work before the first-stage contract has been signed to be followed by a further Report when full costings for the project are available. As recent Reports demonstrate, and as the Chairman of the Board acknowledged in his remarks in the Discussion, this is being implemented where possible.

GOVERNANCE AND CAPSA

Recommendation VIII. That a Governance Reform Syndicate should be established to consider further legislative proposals on governance.

The Council have already indicated that they will consider establishing a body to review governance matters when Professor Richard, as Vice-Chancellor, has had an opportunity to assess the position.

The Lambert Review

The Council note the Board's comments on the interim report of the Lambert Review. They do not agree with the comment, that the Board highlights, that Cambridge's internal organization is 'closed and inward looking'. Were this a correct picture, it would indeed be unfortunate.

Recommendation IX. That consideration should be given to the question whether the present Single Transferable Vote Regulations are the most appropriate voting system for ballots on Graces and amendments to Graces.

The Council intend to initiate a review of these matters, as already indicated (Reporter, 2002-03, p. 920). At least as important as the voting rules is the way in which ballots are worded and amendments handled. All these issues will need to be considered and the Council have agreed to set up a working party.

Recommendation X. That greater urgency should be placed on the implementation of the Shattock and Finkelstein recommendations; an 'action list' should be maintained and published, in which progress in their implementation is recorded.

Action lists on the Shattock and Finkelstein recommendations have regularly been submitted to the Council by Professor Grant, Pro-Vice-Chancellor. An internal audit report on the implementation of CAPSA review recommendations is under consideration by the Audit Committee and has been received by the Council, who have endorsed a Management Response.

Recommendation XI. That the Council should draw up a clearer hierarchy of committees.

This matter will arise in connection with any review of governance. It raises broad questions such as whether a single central body should be established, as at Oxford, and how functional bodies and bodies such as the Councils of the Schools would relate to a central body or central bodies. The Council are currently reviewing the respective work and responsibilities of the Finance Committee and the Planning and Resources Committee.

Recommendation XII. That the University should embark on a complete revision of the Statutes and Ordinances.

Any comprehensive revision of the Statutes and Ordinances would be a major task and in any event must depend on the outcome of any future review of governance.

THE BOARD OF SCRUTINY

Recommendation XIII. The Council should be prepared to engage more positively with the Board of Scrutiny and its recommendations.

The Council are happy to engage in a dialogue with the Board of Scrutiny but in general would find it easier to respond to the Board's recommendations if the Board scrutinized matters that had been completed rather than work in progress which will inevitably have moved on before the Council are able to respond.

In addition to their response to the specific recommendations in the Eighth Report of the Board of Scrutiny the Council wish to respond to the remarks made at the Discussion of the Report by Dr D. R. de Lacey who commented that aspects of CamSIS, the Cambridge Student Information System, looked 'frighteningly close to the uncontrolled freefall of CAPSA'. It is not clear from his remarks what aspects he had in mind but, as a member of its Technical SIG, he will be aware that CamSIS has a committee structure in line with accepted best practice for project management. In line with the Shattock and Finkelstein recommendations, the University has retained control of the Project rather than employing consultants as it did for CAPSA. External peer review has been used (and will continue to be used) at key stages in the Project and the review's conclusions have been that the Project is well set up and managed. The Council will continue to monitor the project by means of the procedures developed by the Director of the Management Information Services Division for the life-cycle management of Management Information Services applications and infrastructure systems, and by audit at key stages.


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Cambridge University Reporter, 26 November 2003
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