Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300
WEDNESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2008
Q300 Mr Boswell:
Can I turn to Gemini for a moment. It is a seven-country collaboration,
as it were the potential for a natural break at 2012 when it can
be renegotiated, it is not clear to me at the moment whether we
are in or out, so I would like your comments on that. Secondly,
whether, quite apart from the HR issues here of the things you
have been talking about, the international reputation of the UK
is being helped or damaged by this process?
Professor Holdaway: In a sense
two separate issues. Are we in or not? The answer is, we are in.
We were in and out and in and out and now we are back in again.
We are in to the extent there is an agreement between STFC, the
strategic part and the Gemini Board, that we are back in the programme,
have access to data and science in both Gemini North and Gemini
South. That is the situation as it currently exists I believe
and again Keith Mason will confirm later on no doubt that position
will be reviewed over the coming weeks and months. I think there
is a longer term issue of how long we stay within the programme
and also whether we provide instrumentation for future programmes,
which is also a key part of the future of ground-based astronomy.
For the moment, we are certainly back in the programme for both
telescopes and have access to data from both telescopes. That
is really important I think for the community. In terms of reputation,
it is a really important issue right across the whole patch of
science and technology. The UK has a pretty good reputation internationally
because it has been a good partner andwe throw out this
phrase regularly but I think it is truewe punch above our
weight. However, we do that with a background of integrity on
what we do and we need to maintain that integrity and make sure
that when we have obligations we fulfil them and at the moment
STFC is continuing to do that. My concern parochially at RAL is
that with the development of the campusand there are some
incredibly exciting opportunities there, as they are indeed at
Daresbury Laboratorypart of the remit there is to bring
in not just national organisations but international organisations
and we have to make sure they do not see us pulling out of international
agreements and say, "What the hell do we want to move on
to the site at Harwell or Daresbury if the UK is going to renege
on international agreements"? I do not think that is happening
but I think there is a danger of that and we have to make sure
we get that communication right.
Chairman: I am even more confused about
Gemini than where we are but we will pick that up with Keith Mason
later. Evan, can you be as brief as possible?
Q301 Dr Harris:
Have you seen the letter we have received from van Eyken, the
director of EISCAT?
Professor Holdaway: Yes I have,
Tony van Eyken.
Q302 Dr Harris:
What did you make of what he said about the impact on the UK's
reputation in terms of not just Gemini but going wider and the
commitment they now think the UK has to this area of physics?
Professor Holdaway: I believe
the situation is that approximately two years ago the UK agreed
to continue subscription for another five years; five years from
two years ago. However, I think it is actually a five-year rolling
programme so if you want to withdraw you have to give five years'
notice. So we are still in the EISCAT project from that point
of view. The issue for the community of course is then access
to data information and the support for the EISCAT programme as
well as for other parts of ground-based solar-terrestrial physics.
STP is in a very different position from EISCAT. STP is a truly
cross-disciplinary programme and the system, whatever the system
maybe, does not really know how to handle yet cross-disciplinary
programmes. So part of the STP programme is relevant to STP's
core programme including the planetary programme, the potential
new planetary programme coming up, but STP is also relevant and
increasingly relevant for space weather and climate change, to
the NERC Agenda, and it is relevant in some ways even more importantly
for operational reasons to the Ministry of Defence and for industry
which operates sat nav systems, telecoms satellites. So there
is that whole programme there that is truly cross-disciplinary.
At the moment, STFC is, to be frank, lumbered with paying the
whole cost of that.
Q303 Dr Harris:
But it is going to stop all investment in ground-based solar-terrestrial
physics, is it not?
Professor Holdaway: That is the
Q304 Dr Harris:
That is right. We have had lots of letters from people both within
your vicinity, your department, and outside saying that is a bad
idea in terms of what the policy aims should be of UK scienceas
you mentioned yourself, climate change, satellites and communications,
space weather which relates to both of those. Do you share that
Professor Holdaway: I certainly
share the view that it does not make sense for UK plc and the
national capability to stop the whole of that programme. There
are parts of that programme actually which it would not be unreasonable
for STFC to continue to fund but it certainly should not be funding
the majority of the programme, it needs to find other people to
do that and maybe act as a co-ordinating point.
Q305 Dr Harris:
But they have not done that, have they? So there are two questions.
Should they be funded? Yes. Need they be funded by STFC? You are
saying no. The STFC said, before it said it was going to withdraw
funding, people were going to start leavingI put it to
you that we have heard people will start leaving because they
will grab what they can getare you aware of STFC seeking
other funding or giving a lead time to enable these programmes,
undamaged, to be taken over by relevant funders?
Professor Holdaway: I think one
or two dialogues have taken place. I know Phil has talked to Alan
Q306 Dr Harris:
That was not my question. Sorry, I am clearly not being clear
and I will try a third time. Are you aware whether STFC has instigated
any dialogues with alternative funders early enough to prevent
people leaving whether it had planned to or not?
Professor Holdaway: And I have
just started saying, the answer to your question is yes. Whether
it is early enough, I suspect it is just about in time. There
is just time to put together a package and a solution which will
satisfy the majority of the needs of the community.
Q307 Dr Harris:
Right, but that is happening now, not when they originally announced
Professor Holdaway: That is correct.
Dr Harris: Thank you.
Q308 Graham Stringer:
Swapan, you said earlier there was a possibility that Daresbury
would end up being a business park. Do you believe that is the
policy of the STFC to move everything out of Daresbury and leave
it as a science business park?
Professor Chattopadhyay: I can
tell you what the perception is both within the Laboratory and
in the international community, and I tend to agree with that
perception, it is that STFC still does not really know exactly
what it wants to do in terms of the future portfolio. The two
organisations, the CCLRC and PPARC, which came into being are
still not integrated in one. The primary function of the senior
management will be to make STFC first of all an organisation,
a functional unit, and then to determine the future, and that
has not taken place. They do not have an adequate understanding
of their business needs, and the vision espoused for the two campuses
and international science is considered to be incomplete and a
reflection of the fact they are coming to grips with the future.
Sir Keith actually admitted that STFC management is coming to
grips with it, which is reflected in the restructuring of STFC
management and staff. Given what I have heard, that it is going
to be three centres of technologycomputational science,
further detector science and technology and possibly science instrumentationand
nothing else, I would think that if that is by design by STFC
then there is a flawed vision there. It is not for me to tell
you whether that is really intended by STFC or not, but since
I am getting mixed messages from the Government which expects
me to deliver on science and knowledge exchange I think there
should be scrutiny of the vision put forward by STFC for the two
Q309 Graham Stringer:
So you are really saying it is a sin of omission rather than commission;
it is ignorance rather than a direct objective of turning it into
a science park?
Professor Chattopadhyay: I think
it is a flawed vision. I came into this situation as the two agencies
were merging. I had a meeting with the most recently appointed
CEO in the first week of my appointment and I had a hint of this
vision coming from him. I was dismayed by that and I registered
my concern with him at the end of April last year.
Q310 Graham Stringer:
I have just read back through the evidence of the predecessor
committee of this Committee, the Science & Technology Committee,
about the original decision to move the radiation source from
Daresbury. Although it is confusing, one of the complaints of
Wellcome, which was one of the funders, was that the management
of the park at Daresbury overall was poor. Is that your view at
the moment? What are your views of the current management of the
Professor Chattopadhyay: I do
not think the STFC has a proper understanding of its managerial
role and flow of control of its people and line management at
the two sites. Daresbury Laboratory is not a laboratory, it does
not have a leader of its own, it does not have a director, by
choice by STFC which wants to look at the two sites. The person
who claims to be the chief of the Daresbury site also is supposed
to develop the Harwell campus, so there are internal conflicts
of interest in that position and he cannot be the champion of
one site or the other. The vision put forward by the local chief
of Daresbury Laboratory clearly is put forward without consultancy
with the scientific constituency of the entire region. I have
not been party to that vision, the Cockcroft Institute Director,
despite my repeated requests to be at the table to at least outline
a vision of what Cockcroft could bring for the nation through
being on that site, and I think that is a flawed process. It is
a flawed process which has been employed, not the outcome necessarily
but the process is flawed.
Q311 Graham Stringer:
You have obviously made a personal commitment to Daresbury but
do you think it is important that there are national facilities
at Daresbury? Would it make any difference to science as a whole
if they were amalgamated on the Appleton site?
Professor Chattopadhyay: I did
not make a personal commitment to Daresbury, I made a personal
commitment to the Cockcroft Institute as an iconic symbol of the
delivery of science and technology to the nation which is for
the UK's benefit. It happens to be at the gates of Daresbury National
Lab but Cockcroft is not the Daresbury Lab. Cockcroft happens
to be on the north west but we have people working at the Rutherford
Lab, people working at Oxford and I am not telling you that it
should be in one place or another. I think it should be consulted
upon, there should be wisdom sought in the process, the stakeholders
should be consulted, and whatever comes out of such consultation
and transparency and proper review should be the goal of UK science
and technology. If it is decided it should be at Rutherford, it
should be at Rutherford.
Q312 Graham Stringer:
Thank you. If I can just ask Professor Holdaway, this refers really
to the evidence you gave at the beginning about peer review. The
Government has a policy they want centres of national excellence
outside the south east, they have national policies that they
are in favour of space research and particle physics research
and inspiring young people into physics and science. Is there
a point at which peer review undermines or conflicts with those
policies, because peer review if it is done in isolation can actually
come to quite different decisions than that national policy indicates
it should do?
Professor Holdaway: I think that
is a very good point. There can be a clash because it may be that,
based purely on the quality of the science, programmes could be
approved and funded that do not necessarily meet with some other
strategic target, whether it is science leading on to technology
leading on to wealth creation or quality of life. But I think
the way round that, and I think it happens reasonably successfully
now, is that the peer review panels have the overall strategic
remit and work within that framework. So it is not a framework
which should not be able to work.
Professor Chattopadhyay: I am
used to presidential initiatives which come down from high up,
from the US President, and the fact of the matter is you have
to let that initiative be known to the people and then you can
move on. You cannot just have an initiative which is coming down.
That is why I think if it is the policy of the Government of the
UK, people should know urgently that is the case, that strategic
decisions are always taken and you do not need peer review for
Q313 Graham Stringer:
So there is a point where the Government has to say that the Haldane
principle might indicate we should not interfere, but this is
of such national importance that we should on these priorities?
Professor Chattopadhyay: Yes.
Professor Holdaway: Yes.
Dr Iddon: Just as recently as last evening
at a meeting of the Parliamentary Scientific Committee in the
House, Colin Whitehouse gave a very glowing picture of the future
of Daresbury with its bipolar structure, interrelationship between
RAL and Daresbury, scientists moving backwards and forwards, the
attraction of very large companies on to the Daresbury site because
there was basic science on that site; he painted a glowing picture
of the future of Daresbury. Why are we getting both that kind
of picture from an important person like Professor Whitehouse
and the picture you have been painting this morning? It is very
confusing for us politicians; we do not know where to stand in
Ian Stewart: Yes.
It was usually the Liberals who were bipolar!
Professor Chattopadhyay: The bipolar
model is not my model. You should ask Colin Whitehouse and his
role in this. I can simply report that as a scientist and a scientific
director of an institute whether I have contributed to that model,
and I have not. The evolution has been historical and in the last
ten months I have not had a daily input from Cockcroft into that
vision. From my perspective, I consider the vision and the scientific
leadership to be flawed and I have brought it to the attention
of the CEO. If you talk to the scientists on the site at Daresbury
you can witness their reaction yourselves.
Q315 Ian Stewart:
In your representations earlier, Professor Chattopadhyay, you
gave a negative indication for Daresbury with the lack of a new
facility, but you also mentioned the staff and I think both of
you implied the staff felt as though they had not been fully consulted
on this. Would the setting up of a site director for each of the
sites have assisted the flow of concerns from the staff to the
STFC? Would that have been helpful?
Professor Chattopadhyay: I must
say that the management of STFC as an agency distributed over
two sites, the way it is managed and administered and the information
flow which happens, even the senior management at STFC do not
appreciate. I am not used to such management, I am used to national
laboratories with their own facilities and with their own directors
who all work together to deliver the product for the Government.
I personally would feel that Daresbury and the Rutherford Lab
would have benefited tremendously from having a local scientific
director championing their cases together working hand in hand.
Q316 Ian Stewart:
The last point I would like to ask you about is redundancies.
They appear to be happening in a very short period of time.
Professor Chattopadhyay: Yes.
Q317 Ian Stewart:
The impression I have personally got from discussions, open and
private, with the Minister for Science and the Secretary of State
is that the redundancies should not be happening as fast. There
are certain reviews going on and the Government is committed to
bringing new innovative facilities to Daresbury. Have you got
the same impression or is there such a pressure to have the redundancies
Professor Chattopadhyay: First
of all, I question that urgency, basically because I do not understand
the need for it just to save pounds in Daresbury's budget over
a short period of time. I have written to the Council and I have
written to STFC that if you do not do it properly you throw out
the baby with the bath water; those same skills you will need
for future facilities in the UK you will find you do not have.
Right now I would say there are less than 100 bodies of trained
skills in this area, in this site, not only in Cockcroft but in
John Adams, in the universities, the Rutherford Lab and Daresbury
Lab, and they are so good and internationally placed that the
UK has a front row seat in this field, and we really run the risk
of losing a valuable bunch of people from this small group of
people in the nation. It is not just redundancies from the two
labs, you also have the grants being reduced, the ILC has been
stopped, and we are looking into employment laws and regulations
in real time for people. This is not just a fiction. We are looking
at losing a few dozen people from this field and that will leave
us with a very weak workforce to work with.
Richard, you did not get a chance to answer Ian's question about
a scientific director at RAL. Would you support that principle?
Professor Holdaway: It as a solution.
I think there are other solutions. It comes back to communications
all the time. Remember there are four sites within STFCRAL,
Daresbury, ATC in Edinburgh and there is Chilbolton. ATC has a
director and communications there I think work very, very well.
If there was a director at RAL and a director at Daresbury I think
communications would improve but there are other ways of doing
it. Having a director is just one of those ways. But whatever
the organisation does, it has to improve its communications and
it has to do it by having somebody on each side who actually knows
how to operate and run operational departments and facilities
with the right sort of experience. That is the key, rather than
whether it is specifically a director.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank you
very much indeed, Professor Richard Holdaway and Professor Chattopadhyay,
for being so frank with us this morning.