Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280
WEDNESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2008
And the International Linear Collider, do you feel that there
was adequate peer review before that decision was taken?
Professor Chattopadhyay: I have
very fundamental concerns about the whole business of so-called
peer reviews conducted by STFC to the point that I would think
that the position of the Government, in holding its principle
of allowing research councils to make their own judgments, might
be compromised once the integrity of the process is not kept preserved.
In the case of International Linear Collider, as far as I know
there has been no consultation or review with the community about
their decisions and no consultation with the international community
that we know of. It came out of the blue. In the case of the light
source review, the committee members were chosen entirely by STFC's
management. In my letter of 30 April I pointed out the inadequacy
of that review, with committee members not having much expertise
in the field of light that, for example, the GLS was trying to
promote. In the case of accelerator science and technology, none
of the members that are being contemplated has been put in based
on input fed back from the community. That struggle is going on.
If the review process is not inclusive and if the community and
the agency do not take ownership of it together it is going to
be flawed and biased. This is something I feel very strongly about.
Q281 Dr Gibson:
How many peers were there?
Professor Chattopadhyay: In the
case of accelerator science and technology there are four and
many of them do not even stand up to the standards of UK scientists
who are being reviewed, they are inferior.
Q282 Dr Gibson:
Be careful with the libel laws!
Professor Chattopadhyay: In the
case of the light source review, they picked community members
who had interests in a field totally orthogonal to what they were
Q283 Dr Gibson:
Richard, how many peers did you have?
Professor Chattopadhyay: Four.
Q284 Dr Gibson:
Four in both?
Professor Holdaway: Correct.
Professor Chattopadhyay: There
was no detailed consultation. Let us say the community gives 25
names, they pick four out of these 25 and that is okay. That process
was not there.
Q285 Dr Gibson:
Was it a unanimous decision of the peers? Did it split two:two
and the chairman decided? How did it work?
Professor Chattopadhyay: No. As
an outsider I complained that the committee was flawed to start
with. I had warned the Director of Strategy it was flawed in a
letter. The committee went ahead and did the review anyway and
I think you got a flawed recommendation.
Q286 Ian Stewart:
Could you outline how the Delivery Plan will affect the Daresbury
site in general?
Professor Chattopadhyay: I am
going to address Daresbury only as an example of a troubled syndrome
that could very well apply to the Rutherford Lab as well as other
institutions. I am really addressing a very generic syndrome that
troubles me. The Delivery Plan calls for a significant reduction
in staffing at both the Daresbury Lab and Rutherford Lab. It is
a bit more at Daresbury Lab because of the closure of SRS. People
have been anticipating that for quite some time. Right now the
practical consequences of the Delivery Plan are such that with
a planned reduction of about 90 or so due to the closure of SRS
300 letters have been sent alerting scientists and engineers to
the fact that their positions are at risk. About 50 employees
in STFC belong to the Cockcroft Institute. Most of them have been
able to put the United Kingdom in the front row in molecular science
internationally. Most of them would probably survive. Although
they are at risk, it is probably due to legal reasons that STFC
is giving out these letters to these employees. However, as you
know, fast track molecules disappear fast. These people can write
their own cheques, they can get jobs at multiple places. There
will be multiple offers from the United States, Germany and France.
Twelve people out of Cockcroft's 90 staff have volunteered out
of this call and none of those 12 is intended to be separated
from the lab. We really are being threatened by a loss of talent
that the United Kingdom would need at Cockcroft, Daresbury Lab
and Rutherford Lab and at the other universities in the future.
Q287 Ian Stewart:
We understand the redundancy exercise is a voluntary exercise
for some. Is that why you are saying that there is a question
mark about whether people with the high level skills that we need
to retain may choose to go?
Professor Chattopadhyay: Yes.
The voluntary reduction is only a first step towards if we have
to impose a compulsory redundancy. I have gone through five of
those in the United States and the hope is that if you get the
sufficient number of the right type of people volunteering to
go you probably will not have to impose compulsory redundancies.
However, the nature of that consultation had been deficient in
discussions with stakeholders. I will give you one example. In
the Human Genome Centre at the University of California there
are three stakeholders, government, Genentech (the industry) and
the university. When there was significant instability in one
of the stakeholders, the Department of Energy, that agency sat
down around the table with the Director of the Human Genome Centre
and discussed how they could mitigate the loss of skills for genetic
science and engineering. The Director happened to be a professor
from the University of California. That process never took place.
In the case of STFC, there were only inward looking and secretive
discussions within STFC without bringing in the university and
Chairman: We are going to probe a little
bit here. Can I bring in Brian?
Q288 Dr Iddon:
Professor Chattopadhyay, could you tell us what brought you all
the way back from America, along with some colleagues of course,
which you told us about last Monday week? What was it about the
Cockcroft Institute which excited you to come back to Britain?
Professor Chattopadhyay: Thank
you for asking the question. As I said, I was serving in a major
executive capacity in a major national lab in the United States
and most of that time we would expect such persons to be coaxed
into other positions for 10, 15 years and then retire. What I
saw in the UK's pre-eminence in this fieldand they have
been able to attract back many of the people to the UK, and I
have lured back in my 20 years here about 12 of themis
this vision, which is I guess a DIUS vision, which I admire of
integrating universities, academia, national research facilities
and industry under one umbrella to generate wealth for science,
which is scientific knowledge, at the same time as generating
wealth for the common man on the street. That attracted me. They
have described that in the past in the United States but they
did not quite succeed. I thought maybe the UK as one of the members
of the G7 nations could be put in the front row with the top nations
surpassing the United States and could maybe make it work. That,
coupled with private interest from the Cockcroft family and the
fact that we see a tremendous investment in the UK in this field,
that the whole world looks at the UK as the premier place to be,
dislodged me. The United States is following suit to create a
couple of institutes like Cockcroft.
Q289 Dr Iddon:
Could you tell us what you actually need on that site to retain
the Cockcroft Institute on that site and what you object to losing
most from the site which would interfere with the concept you
came to promote?
Professor Chattopadhyay: Again
I am going to use Cockcroft as an example, I just want to make
sure that you understand I am really representing all my colleagues,
Cockcroft is just an iconic symbol but it applies to the Daresbury
Lab, scientists at Rutherford and John Adams. I think the site
in an institute like Cockcroft, the academic side, is keeping
its part stable and strongwe are recruiting professors
and lecturers at the three universitiesthe development
of an agency with a local economy which is strong and giving us
infrastructure and the industrial connection that we need. Given
the nature of STFC, we should expect operational scientific facilities
on site and expert labour so that Cockcroft could be complete.
What I see as the fundamental flaw in the vision of the Daresbury
site is, as I heard the chief executive particularly say, the
fact all operational facilities are supposed to be concentrated
in one site and Daresbury would be comprised of major technological
development centres, and the way it is evolving it is going to
be a business park with a call centre for technologists to solve
a particular problem. If you look at major scientific break-throughs
in countries like the United States, all those science parks have
evolved around some core scientific unit either university-driven
or a lab-driven, like Stanford or Berkeley. Cockcroft by itself,
having experts there without any operational scientific facility
around and technical expertise around from STFC, is not going
to be attractive to stay on the site.
Q290 Ian Stewart:
What would the Daresbury science campus be for without a new facility?
Professor Chattopadhyay: Daresbury
had a facility, which was the synchrotron radiation one, before
that there was a synchrotron for nuclear physics, there has always
been a facility which is the engine which drives science. Even
if you have technology centres, you need scientific facilities
on which to develop the technology.
Q291 Ian Stewart:
So what happens if they do not have the new facility at Daresbury?
Professor Chattopadhyay: Then
it will cease to be a scientific campus.
Q292 Dr Iddon:
If I could follow that up a bit more bluntly, if we lose ALICE
(there is some doubt about ALICE), 4GLS has been postponed, there
is some doubt about EMMA, and we heard that the Daresbury Library
is closing, my blunt question is, can basic science survive on
the Daresbury site if all those things come to happen?
Professor Chattopadhyay: If such
a thing happened to Daresbury or the Rutherford Lab, no lab can
survive with that kind of diminution of capacity. It is a very
flawed vision for a site.
Q293 Dr Iddon:
What is the minimum which would keep you at Daresbury?
Professor Chattopadhyay: Scientists
would not survive there and it is kind of moot whether I hang
on physically or not. I came here for the right reasons but I
ask these questions myself every day and I think I invite you
to draw your own conclusions. But I am a fighter and I did not
come here to lose.
Sat in your seat last week was the Minister who gave a commitment
that there would be world class science on the Daresbury site.
Do you have any indication from where you are sitting, as the
Director of the Cockcroft Institute, that following the closure
of the major facilities there will be any world class science
available on that site?
Professor Chattopadhyay: Given
this plan, if it is true, I doubt it. However, I must record for
your sake that I think Her Majesty's Government did not probably
intend such a consequence for any laboratory, not just Daresbury
or Rutherford. I think there is a mixed message coming to me from
the highest level of Government, that there is a commitment to
the Daresbury site for science and operational facilities but
that stands in stark contradiction to what I have been hearing
from STFC in the strongest possible terms. Under those conditions
there has to be a very critical review of the managerial capacity
and vision of STFC and one must not hide behind the Haldane principle.
Q295 Dr Turner:
Richard, you are at the centre of things as far as STFC is concerned
at Rutherford Appleton, what is your view of the impact of the
delivery plan on institutions such as your own and the activity
across the piece?
Professor Holdaway: I am the centre
of the activity certainly in terms of the delivery of science
and the technology, but as I said earlier on not at the centre
of the decision making process. Can I come back to something Swapan
said, which is that I absolutely agree it is essential there is
a strong science component in each of the STFC laboratories. I
should add as well however I do not think a strong science component
means necessarily having facilities. On space, we do not have
any space facilities at the Rutherford Appleton Lab, we build
them and then we throw them 500 miles up in the air, or we have
them in remote fields in some far flung part of the world, but
the science component part of that is absolutely essential; you
cannot develop the technology if you do not have the science background
and sufficient numbers of people doing the science. So that is
the really key issue. In terms of the effect of the cuts at RAL,
cuts are nothing new, over the last ten years I have probably
seen 30 programmes cut or stopped, but then I have seen 40 new
programmes set up. It is a fact of life, things come to an end,
either because they come to their natural end or the priorities
change and so we stop things, but then we start new things up,
and the really key issue then is what are the new things starting
up, are they exciting, are they front line science and technology,
is the decision which leads to which programme will be funded
made openly and transparently? I think there transparency is really
key. Communication is the key to everything. Every organisation
lives or falls by its communications and it is a contact sport,
so you have to do the communications face-to-face with people,
not just in emails and things like that. So we have to get the
communications right between and amongst the community as well
as between DIUS and STFC and STFC and each community including
the part I represent. In terms of hard numbers, the delivery plan
calls for cuts of around 150 people at RAL, that process has begun.
It has begun on the knowledge of the programmes we know so far,
but if there are additional cuts coming we will find out about
that, as I said, next week.
Q296 Dr Turner:
Given the cries of pain from the community that we have been hearing,
it strongly suggests these cuts are of a different order from
the kind of cuts you are used to seeing.
Professor Holdaway: They are bigger
cuts than we have seen for some time, that is for sure. As I said
earlier, it does affect particular parts of the community and
for them it is a 100% cut. But there are ways of managing that
and I think what is missing at the moment is the way of managing
it in a practical sense which enables people to shift their careers
in a planned way rather than saying, "Your funding will stop
the week after next, go and do something else."
Q297 Dr Turner:
I am trying to tease out what makes this round different from
previous experiences. You have told us already that you were not
surprised that there were cuts but you clearly have been surprised
in some way, so is it the manner or the impact of these cuts which
has been a surprise to you?
Professor Holdaway: Looking at
the size of the settlement from DIUS, it was clear there had to
be cuts. That was the first indication. Then you have the issue
of what you cut and how you make those cuts. I think part of the
community's concern, and I am integrated inside that community,
is that there is clearly a very large cut falling on physics,
particularly that represented by the pure sciences, so astronomy,
space science and particle physics. I think the community perception,
amongst many other things, is it is somewhat odd to be doing that
at a time when Government, when the Institute of Physics, when
the Royal Society, when the Royal Academy, are trying actively
to encourage children to take an interest in science and for those
children to go on and do science and technology and engineering
in universities because we have a great shortage in those areas.
So the two are not quite compatible. So the question there is,
is the way in which the cuts have fallen the right way to meet
the Government's strategy of encouraging science and technology.
Whether we like it or not, despite the fact that the science and
technology in neutrons, synchrotron radiation and so on is all
very exciting, it is particle physicals and space which motivates
kids, far more than anything else. So we have to be very careful,
the Government has to be careful, DIUS has to be careful, STFC
has to be careful, that it does not throw the baby out with the
bath water and cut the wrong areas of science.
Q298 Dr Turner:
We have already heard about the implications for Daresbury and
the Cockcroft Institute and so on, is your operation going to
continue to be viable as a major player in the light of these
Professor Holdaway: If by mine
you mean space science and technology, the answer is yes. We are
in the process now of cutting staff, it looks like in the first
instance it will be of the order of 10 people out of a department
of 200, so we are talking about 5% already. I have no idea what
that is going to be after next week's announcement on the programme
cuts. We will manage it in some form, we will certainly be involved
I am sure in some of the future programmes, we are also looking
very, very carefully at external sources of funding through direct
funding from NASA and ESA, where they provide money rather than
us providing instruments for their programmes, and looking at
other sources of funding from industry and other government agencies.
There are a lot of sources out there. We have that flexibility,
we just need to make sure it happens in a way we can manage. I
do not want to fire 20 people next week and find I need those
same 20 people in six months for new programmes which are coming
up. What I want to be able to do is have the flexibility to be
able to keep the really good people for the new programmes and
manage that. It is not rocket scienceif you will pardon
the punto actually do that.
Q299 Dr Turner:
It has given you a big headache?
Professor Holdaway: Life is full
of headaches, is it not? It is not unmanageable.