Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 34

Submission from Professor Swapan Chattopadhyay, Inaugural Director, Cockcroft Institute of Accelerator Science and Technology



  I would like to put on record the following statements:

    (i)  Everything you hear from me are observations and comments from the perspective of a newly inducted scientist/scientific leader in the UK, barely ten months on the job, after a successful and matured career spanning 33 years working in various leadership and executive capacities with the Department of Energy-supported major US national labs (e.g. Lawrence Berkeley and Thomas Jefferson National Labs) and at top-rank US universities (e.g. University of California at Berkeley and most recently Harvard U.).

    (ii)  When I speak of the Cockcroft Institute, I am using it as an "iconic" symbol for what appears to the rest of the world as the rising UK pre-eminence for accelerator science and technology, representing not only the Cockcroft Institute but also our sister institutions elsewhere such as the John Adams Institute at Oxford University and Royal Holloway as well as accelerator scientists and particle physicists at Imperial college and universities throughout UK.

  1.  On the issue of "Due Process" in communication, consultation, transparency and peer review: HM Government vs. STFC.

  There appears to be a fundamental inconsistency between HIM Govt. /DIUS and STFC/RCUK/DIUS which brings into question STFC's comprehension of its own business. I do not believe that the STFC Delivery Plan in its current form and its consequences—were intended by design by the HIM Government. I believe that the "Haldane Principle" of allowing the Research Councils determine their own priorities should hold unless there are reasons to question the integrity of the "due process" employed by the Research Councils in its decision making which might point to abuse of such privilege. I believe that it is this lack of demonstrable implementation of the "due process" in communication, consultation, transparency, and peer review that is under question at the moment, leading to the total lack of confidence in STFC's management capacity and competence. I was glad however to note the DG RCUK, Sir Keith O'Nions, state at the end of the evidence session on Feb. 21, 2008, " . . . and the STFC CEO is quickly getting a good grip of the situation as evidenced by the recent re-structuring of STFC, etc . . . .", an admission that the necessary grip and understanding of the business needs were probably missing, at the formation of STFC, from its CEO and his management team. Note that the community got a hint of the impending Delivery Plan only in November, 2007, without any prior engagement.

  2.  On the question of "Much Ado about Nothing!"—Crisis or not?

  I want the committee to know that the community is simply "re-acting" to the "actions" by "actors", which is STFC. Sir Keith's surprise at the out-of-proportion response to a "claimed" modest reduction in Physics support and the damage it has done to the agency's reputation, and his admission of "hearing some reasonable and sensible voices amongst all the shrill . . . " as he put it, is a mere acknowledgement and reflection of the lack of appreciation on STFC's part of the intricate global network of the physics whose organic understanding must be fundamental to the STFC management. The shrill voices came from no others than IoP, Royal Society, RAS, VC's of the Russell Group of Universities, RAS, the international community...etc.

  Despite the Minister of Science, Ian Pearson's statement of "No Crisis", no real short-fall of £80 million and no reduction in support for the universities, and despite Sir Keith O'Nions statement, "..,this is a problem that other nations would rather have than a crisis", STFC has, through Town Meetings and All-hands Meetings at RAL and DL, admitted to the situation calling it a "crisis" and admitted to an £80 million short-fall. Despite assurances of commitment to the science and staff at Daresbury and Rutherford sites, universities, including Cockcroft Institute, John Adams Institute and elsewhere, we are seriously looking into employment rules, regulations and policies about the actual redundancies and "terminations to contract" to be implemented on a scale of a few hundreds. This is not a potential or exaggerated situation, but is happening in real time.

  Is it a CRISIS? No ILC, no GEMINI, 25% reduction in Particle Physics and Astronomy Grants, possible claw-back on existing grants, planning for 100's of staff redundancies, call it by whatever name one wants, but STFC management made it look like we cannot do anything about it to recover from this grave situation.

  If STFC management is correct, then they are contradicting Sir Keith and Ian Pearson. If they are wrong, then they did bring about the damage themselves.

  3.  On the issue of Peer Review/Consultation before PPAN and PALS considerations

  It is my observation that the STFC decisions were not based upon intelligence-based, informed "reviews". See my letter to PM Gordon Brown (Annex 1). Sir Keith O'Nions in his evidence to the committee on February 21, 2008 said: "From where I sit, it appears that proper peer reviews have taken place, based on which PPAN, PALS, etc. make their highest recommendations to the DG, RCUK. But probably there is reason to look into it further the rest of the question, of course, should be directed at STFC itself".

In this regard, one should look critically at the review process or the lack thereof, at levels below the PPAN and PALS. There have been three so-called programmatic peer reviews in STFC that I have personally witnessed: Future Light Sources Review, Particle Physics Review and Accelerator Science R&D Review. It has been my experience in the past three plus decades on all such reviews that:

    (i)  Reviewed community knows that the review is taking place;

    (b)  There is inclusive discussion and feedback on the selection of the members of the review committee team;

    (c)  There are opportunities given to the community to comment upon an initial "draft" of any review for courtesy, ensuring factual accuracy and eliminating technical or parochial biases.

  In all of the above STFC reviews, there were no consultations with the community, for the sake of full ownership, about the nature and selection of the reviewers and no sharing of the resulting deliberations before the review recommendations were declared final. In many cases there were fundamental scientific conflicts between the reviewers and the reviewed, thus compromising the integrity of the review. The qualifications and stature of the reviewers often did not match the qualification and stature of the reviewed, with visible gaps in expertise. These were pointed out at least in connection with two reviews: the Light Source Review (see my letter to the review organisers in STFC dated 30 April, 2007 with regards to the Selection of Review Panel members exposing gaps in expertise critical to the review (Annex 2)) and the accelerator science and technology review body, ASTAB, on which we have forced a dialogue with the director of strategy more recently. Conclusion: all this surely will lead to "flawed" recommendations.

  4.  On the issue of "redundancies", diminished capacity and erosion of national core competency in accelerator science:

    —  Unilateral STFC redundancies, and decision on grants without consultancy with the community and global partners ahead of time, erode severely the unique skills base as a resource to the entire nation.

    —  No Technical "core competency" leads to no skills, no innovation, no "knowledge exchange" (a DIUS Deliverable),

    —  Accelerator science and technology is a resource to the entire nation. The redundancies", if needed, must be aimed at preserving national "core competencies" and be system-wide in consultation with all stakeholders. The Universities and local economic sectors maintain strong support for accelerator science in their respective territories of education, research and industrial development. STFC, supposed to bring operational scientific facilities and technical experts as labour via grants, is an unstable stakeholder. ASTeC is already losing skills base of the very best via volunteers!

  Nation's ability to attract top global recruitment compromised by the Delivery Plan.

  5.  On the issue of Communication and Management:

  Judging by the way the current situation developed, the lateness in staff communication of the impending crisis, the secrecy behind any communication efforts, decisions taken without intelligent communication to the community and eventually the manner of communication to staff leave us with the following conclusions:

    (i)  The management of the newly merged STFC (CCLRC+PPARC), which still does not exist as an integrated organisation but as a set of independent units, had either an inadequate understanding of its Business needs or a pre-determined set of priorities to start with, not shared with the community,'

    (ii)  STFC management did not believe in communication with its staff and community in developing, in partnership, an appropriate and credible plan in response to the challenge faced by the CSR allocations. Decisions were taken without appropriate inclusiveness, peer review and consultation within UK and abroad; severe consequences of the DP for the nation are highly incommensurate with the alleged funding shortfall;

    (iii)  The STFC management has lost the trust of the community in having the wisdom in (and respect for) the field they serve and in their intellectual and managerial capacity to administer the portfolio under their remit,'

    (iv)  All this points to severe mismanagement of science at the highest levels of STFC and possibly DIUS. The Select Committee is requested to scrutinise the STFC and DIUS "competency" at the highest levels of its management in managing its scientific portfolio.

Major Concern for Cockcroft Institute at DSIC

  Is the DIUS commitment to make Daresbury a Science and Innovation Campus viable in the light of inconsistency with the STFC vision of Daresbury site?

  We fear the answer is "NO"—Lack of support of the STFC leadership for scientific "flagship" facilities on the DL campus by design coupled with the planned reduction-in-force following the Delivery Plan, will render such a plan lacking credibility!! The Cockcroft Institute, by itself, without a thriving Daresbury Laboratory, will have no reason to be on site and will retreat to the universities, failing the lofty DIUS goals.


  Ambivalent messages on future support for ERLP/ALICE, a flag-ship accelerator test facility not yet properly exploited following its £1 SM investment This is crucial resource for future accelerator science and technology, both to STFC and the CI.

February 2008

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