Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360
WEDNESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2008
Q360 Dr Harris:
So were you aware that was their view when you rejected the option
of doing what they think is inevitable? Was it a shock to hear
Mr Warry: I was aware of their
view. I do not agree with their view because the plans we have
for Daresbury mean we believeand Colin Whitehouse's presentation
last night was referred to earlierwe have a very viable
future for that campus.
Nobody believes that. Nobody on the campus believes that.
Mr Warry: The reason why they
do not believe it at the moment is because we have not physically
got it on the ground. We are moving forward on that. In our delivery
plan we mention one of the things we want to do is to set up a
Hartree Centre for world class computer modelling and simulation,
and we have now got the first leg of that signed off, because
that is now part of the RCUK proposals on capital. It still has
to be signed off by Sir Keith but I am pretty confident he will
tick that. That is one very major tick in the box. The centre
follows on from that. We alsoand we cannot announce this
yet because it is not fully signed offare in very serious
discussions for two world class science based businesses to come
on to the campus.
Q362 Dr Harris:
Science based business, we understand that and we are aware of
that because we were up there. My final approach here is to say
that you cited, in aid of your view you can retain world class
science on this site to make it more than just simply a private
sector or innovation centre, the Cockcroft Centre, but you cannot
force them to stay. It is not in your gift. You can say you disagree
with their view, you clearly do, but it is their view and their
right. Given that the fourth generation light source project has
been put off for two years, we are told the funding for ALICE
is uncertain, which means the prospects of EMMA getting off the
ground are highly questionable, surely it is a logical view, and
indeed that taken by your Science Board whom one expects are logical
people, that this is not going to be viable as a world class science
and innovation centre, and is it not fairer to the staff there
for you to accept that and tell the Government that you cannot
deliver what they want you to deliver, it is inappropriate for
them to ask you to do that and unfair on the staff there?
Mr Warry: No, is my short answer,
I do not agree with that. I do believe we can make it viable and
I do believe the Council has a duty to try and do its best by
the staff there, and that I think is securing as much employment
as we sensibly can on that. That does not mean to say we can avoid
the redundancies which are already in train, we cannot reverse
a decision which was taken long before the STFC came into being.
Professor Mason: On the Daresbury
issue, because I think this is a very important one, I think it
is worth emphasising here that the problems of Daresbury are deep-seated
and long-term and they stem from the decision to close the SRS
and put Diamond at Harwell. That of course pre-dates STFC by many,
many years, so we come into existence and we inherit a situation
where the SRS is closing and we need to understand how to take
Daresbury forward. I think we have been very energetic over the
past ten months in trying to find a new way forward for Daresbury.
One of the things which struck me when I took over as CEO is a
lot of hope is pinned on 4GLS and hopefully that will still come
to pass in a bigger and better form and without much delay, but
the fact of the matter was that 4GLS would not have started construction
until 2012 and therefore however you looked at Daresbury there
was going to be this big hole in terms of facility provision.
So we have been actively working on how to fill that hole with
things like the Hartree Centre, with things like a detector centre,
which as Peter says has now passed the first stages of approval,
and we are really pushing that agenda forward. We do have a commitment
to having science on that campus because we share the vision that
the campuses are a good way forward and they are on behalf of
UK plc and not regional centres. The fact we operate Daresbury
and Harwell as a single unit is a reflection of that and that
comes back to the discussion you were having with Swapan earlier
about site directors. We do not have a director at Daresbury,
we do not have a director at RAL, because we do not want to be
in a situation where Daresbury and RAL are competing with one
another which is what has happened in the past. This is a system
we inherited from CCLRC and it makes sense to take these forward
as a unit. We have marvellous new facilities at Harwell, those
can support the Daresbury campus as well as the rest because they
are supposed to be national, and what we need to ensure is that
we retain the scientific expertise at Daresbury and we are working
the problem, as they say, as to how we can do that.
It is hard to take that seriously though, is it not, when we find
your own advice to the STFC board is to close the Daresbury site?
Professor Mason: That advice was
made at a time when the financial situation, believe it or not,
actually looked worse than it currently is. This was in a situation
immediately after we received our allocations, in the intervening
time what we did was to work with DIUS to essentially change the
profile of that allocation so we can actually deal with what was
originally a big problem in year one, which means we do not have
to take the drastic action we had originally envisaged. To take
another example, that drastic action included a 50% cut in grants,
Chairman: Okay, I will leave that there.
Q364 Ian Stewart:
Keith, you have been well aware, and you too, Peter, that the
Government's intention is to keep a world class science facility
at Daresbury. You have mentioned keeping a science facility at
Daresbury. Why the discrepancy?
Professor Mason: There is no discrepancy,
we are singing from the same hymn sheet.
Q365 Ian Stewart:
If that is the case, the Government
Professor Mason: My point earlier
was that if there is a new facility to be done at Daresbury, it
will not be there for eight, ten years at the soonest. What I
am concerned to ensure is that we bridge that gap. I believe that
Daresbury has an exciting future in other ways and we are exploring
new models in order to ensure that.
Q366 Ian Stewart:
There is a difference between having a science park and having
a world class science facility. Understanding the SRS redundancies
and that there was concern whether there would be enforced redundancies
for those who are working on 4GLA, the Government has put out
a press release that there should be no rush to redundancies and
that it is committed to doing everything in its powers to keeping
Daresbury as a world class facility. Why are you pressing for
the redundancies to take place so fast?
Professor Mason: We are not.
Q367 Ian Stewart:
That is not the impression the staff have.
Professor Mason: It is not correct.
We are pushing forward with the SRS redundancies, and that is
a fact. We have a voluntary redundancy scheme across the whole
of the research council, including Daresbury.
Q368 Ian Stewart:
How do you maintain the skill levels with a voluntary system like
Professor Mason: That is the whole
point of the voluntary system. You do not have to accept the volunteers.
What you do have to have is a level playing field across the whole
of the organisation, you cannot protect one part at the expense
of somewhere else. Every body has to have the same opportunity
to take voluntary redundancy but we do not have to accept those.
Q369 Dr Turner:
Peter and Keith, it seems to me that you have in the form of STFC
inherited an extremely poisoned chalice. Most of these problems
are endemic in the very structure of putting together responsibilities
like the CCLRC's for very large communal facilities essentially
and responsibility for funding universities all in one council,
and then in the Comprehensive Spending Review allocation you end
up with a flat cash increase over the next three years while everybody
else is climbing steadily up, and you of course are servicing
their activities through the large facilities, so the pressure
on your budgets is clearly enormous and there is clearly only
one place where it is going to come out and that is your smaller,
response-moded grants, hence the pain. When did you realise you
would be put in the position of fall guys?
Professor Mason: I think I have
to clarify some of the things you said first of all, just to be
correct. First of all, we are not the only research council in
the position of having to deal with an effective flat cash settlement,
every other research council apart from MRC does.
Q370 Dr Turner:
I have the figures in front of me. It does not look like that,
unless I cannot read a graph.
Professor Mason: I think the figures
there are slightly misleading and include FEC and a lot of other
things. If you take FEC out, every research council is dealing
with a flat cash situation, so we are not unique in that respect.
The other point you make is that the pain has been disproportionately
felt by small grants, that again is not correct. We have a solution
to this problem which essentially spreads the pain. It did not
have to be that way but it turns out it is essentially spread
between the ex-PPARC community and the ex-CCLRC community. Had
we had a similar settlement in PPARC, had it still been in existence,
we would still have been making the same sort of reductions to
our aspirations because flat cash means we are suffering the effects
of inflation and the volume has to go down, and that was a recognised
feature of funding full economic costings, which I think we have
all agreed is a good thing to do and we have done it.
Q371 Dr Turner:
I think my point is still valid because although you are correct
to say that taking out FEC makes everyone else flat cash, they
have been given a bigger allocation in the first instance?
Professor Mason: No, that is not
Q372 Dr Turner:
The MRC have.
Professor Mason: The MRC have,
Q373 Dr Turner:
Professor Mason: Yes, but MRC
is the exception, the others have not.
Q374 Dr Turner:
And you are of course underpinning their activities.
Professor Mason: Yes.
Q375 Dr Turner:
But you have not been given concomitant resources with which to
do that. If you had been given a slightly higher percentage of
the CSR allocation, you would not be in quite such a difficult
situation, would you?
Professor Mason: That is clearly
true and we have been given a hard job to do and we are doing
it. We are not ducking it. It is not an impossible job, I think
we have a way forward which does cause pain, which I regret, Peter
regrets. I would much rather be sitting herewell, not sitting
here in fact!talking about a situation where I can give
everybody exactly what they want. Whenever you have to say no
to somebody, it is painful. It is painful for them, it is painful
for us, and we do not like to be in that situation, but we have
to live within the allocation we have been given, both for the
science vote and for our independent councils. We are in a very
fortunate situation in having aspirations which far exceed what
we can actually fund and it would be terrible if we were in the
opposite situation. I could usefully use twice as much money as
I have without a reduction in quality.
Q376 Dr Turner:
It is not made easier by the split in facilities between Daresbury
and Rutherford Appleton, is there not a casewell, the case
has been madefor unifying the science facilities on one
site which would clearly have great immediate cost savings? How
do you justify trying to maintain Daresbury at a competitive level
in terms of science facilities when in fact there is serious doubt
as to whether you have the resources to do so?
Professor Mason: STFC is a national
organisation. We need to make decisions which benefit UK plc in
the best possible way. Some of the discussion that Evan was reading
out earlier refers to exactly your point, in other words, how
do you reduce the overheads and operate multiple sites to get
the maximum out of them. The discussion did not come across in
the way it should in the sense what we were doing initially in
our discussions was saying, "Does STFC need to have its own
facilities at all at Daresbury", or should we adopt the Cockcroft
model where there is STFC investment directly but we do not own
Cockcroft, the universities do. That is a new model for developing
sites. As I have explained, the accommodations we were able to
reach in terms of the profile of the settlement mean we do not
have to go that far, but there is an element of new model both
at Harwell and at Daresbury and we want to propagate the same
thing to ATC where instead of having national laboratories with
direct vote money going to maintain facilities they become partnerships
with local authorities, with local authorities, with industry,
the net result being you get more science out than you otherwise
would. I think that is an exciting new model to pursue, one we
are pursuing and one where I think, when we come back in five
years' time, you will see Daresbury as a shining success story;
I firmly believe that. There will be thousands of new jobs on
the site, much more science going on.
Chairman: Okay, Keith, we have got that
Q377 Dr Turner:
What is your rationale for the cost savings targets you set for
various sites, Daresbury £6 million-odd, RAL £12 million,
ATC nearly £4 million? What is the rationale behind those?
Has there been a lot of expensive over-administration going on
on those sites?
Professor Mason: Not at all. This
reflects a prioritisation of the programme elements we need to
deliver. The question has been raised, so I will get to it, why
the proportion of cuts is higher at Daresbury than it is at RAL.
The answer is again very simple, we have Diamond and ISIS target
station two and central laser facility and we have a lot of investment
at RAL which we need to support, and clearly it would not make
any sense to not to run ISIS or not to run Diamond. Therefore
you have to maintain a certain cadre of people just to be able
to do that. The structural imbalance between Daresbury and RAL
in terms of facilities is, as I have said, something we inherited
and I cannot re-write history, I have to deal with it as it is.
My focus has been to move forward and clearly we are going to
develop Harwell, it will be an exciting place, but Daresbury also
has an exciting future and we are getting to grips with how to
actually deliver that. As Peter says, we now have commitments
to put the detector centre at Daresbury, and the Hartree computational
centre at Daresbury, and we will continue to invest in Cockcroft.
Those are an exciting scientific nucleus around which we can build.
It is not sufficient but it is a good start.
Mr Warry: Could I just say on
these cut-backs, it is definitely wrong to say that we think there
is a big lump of administration fat in these things. This is simply
that we have to pare back our budget right across the piece and
the facilities have to bear their share of it. So it is painful
everywhere and it is not a statement, "This is good, that
Q378 Dr Iddon:
The message we got when we visited Daresbury a few days ago was
that it was the critical mass of scientists, engineers, the fact
there is a world class library open at Daresbury which we understand
is in danger of closing also, and it was that critical mass which
existed on that site which attracted so many world class scientists,
including the director of the Cockcroft Institute who we heard
earlier, and that in turn has pulled in companies to interact
with that critical mass. I cannot believe that that critical mass
is going to remain from what I have heard from both sides of the
discussion, yourselves and the people on the Daresbury site. What
assurances can you give to the director of the Cockcroft Institute
that there will be enough critical mass left on the site for him
to remain on the site with the Cockcroft Institute?
Professor Mason: In terms of Cockcroft,
I believe it is true that the funding of Cockcroft will continue
at broadly the same level as it has been in the past. We will
not be able to ramp it up as we had hoped with some programmes
but it will continue as we have in the past. I think inevitably,
with the loss of SRS, there will be a period where the mass, whether
it is critical or not, actually goes down. That is inevitable.
What we are focusing on is how to ramp that back up as quickly
as possible in order to make sure that I can say in five years'
time we do have the vision which I have for Daresbury, which is
thousands more jobs, much more excitement, much more activity
going on, both in science and technology and in translational
activities. I think they all go together and we are working towards
that end. As I said, we have already announced the first set of
Yes, you have said that.
Professor Mason: There will be