Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Office of Science and Technology (OST)


1.   The extent of OST's involvement in the discussion concerning reform of Copus?

  OST has been involved in regular discussions with Copus over its role and workplans.

  Lord Sainsbury has taken a personal interest in the reform of Copus. He attended a Copus Council meeting in November 1998, where he suggested that Copus might give further thought to its future role and that it might be time for it to take a more strategic role in the development of science communication. The Minister and OST officials have also commented on Copus's plans for reform both at Council meetings and directly to the Copus chair, Council members and the Copus manager. (OST, is not a member of Copus Council, but occasionally sends an observer to its meetings by invitation.) Lord Sainsbury also attended a Copus Council meeting in September 2001, where he offered his views on Copus's work.

  More recently, following the resignation of Dame Bridget Ogilvie as Copus chair, OST has discussed the future role of Copus with a range of key stakeholders.

2.   What consideration OST has given to the methods and routes by which Copus is funded, and whether these are likely to change?

  OST will be considering the most appropriate funding routes for Copus in the light of the outcome of the discussions on the future of Copus which are being led by Lord Jenkin.

3.   What input OST has into the distribution of the Royal Society's non-hypothecated grant-in-aid, in particular the £810,000 spent on Science Communication?

  The whole of the Parliamentary Grant in Aid (PGA) from OST to the Royal Society is hypothecated, in the sense that it is given for a group of clearly identified purposes; there is no "unallocated head-room" and no portion of the PGA which is given on, for example, similar terms to a HEFCE block grant.

  There are working level meetings, typically half-yearly, between OST and the Royal Society, where the latter reports on progress in relation to the objectives for which Grant in Aid has been given.

  The annual financial returns made by the Royal Society to OST are required to indicate the actual out-turns against the various activity headings in comparison with the original estimates.

  At each spending review the Royal Society submits a detailed spending plan for each line item. For example the line item "Science Education and Promotion" (which in the question is referred to as Science Communication) details the allocation and spending plans for all the activities which comprise this line item, which are, science education, the Society's own PUS activities, Copus, the Royal Institution and the British Association grant.

  Once the spending plans have been agreed the Society may not vary the spend between the three major blocks without the approval of the OST. The Society may vary the spend within those blocks but must inform OST before it does so.

  The Society provides the OST with audited accounts each year which report on the actual expenditure for each activity. The Society will for the first time this year also provide OST with a report on outputs and outcomes for each activity supported through the Parliamentary grant.

4.   What is the Department's view of the recent developments at Copus and the best way forward?

  OST shares the disappointment expressed by Dame Bridget Ogilvie that she was unable to implement the vision for the "new" Copus. OST welcomes the proposals that Lord Jenkin has tabled for discussion on the future of Copus. We believe that Copus needs independence, a constitution and clear decision-making mechanisms. We see Copus's main role as providing advice to Government and others on science communication matters—as opposed to advice on specific issues of science—both proactively and reactively. It should promote co-ordination and co-operation amongst organisations and individuals active in public engagement with science, engineering and technology issues.

  It should identify gaps and overlaps and encourage the appropriate players to address these. Copus should not undertake activities that other bodies are better placed to do.

June 2002

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