House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
INNOVATION, UNIVERSITIES AND SKILLS COMMITTEE
Wednesday 27 February 2008
PROFESSOR SWAPAN CHATTOPADHYAY and PROFESSOR RICHARD HOLDAWAY
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee
on Wednesday 27 February 2008
Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair
Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods
Mr Tim Boswell
Mr Ian Cawsey
Dr Ian Gibson
Dr Evan Harris
Dr Brian Iddon
Mr Gordon Marsden
Dr Desmond Turner
Witnesses: Professor Swapan Chattopadhyay, Inaugural Director of the Cockcroft Institute, and Professor Richard Holdaway, Director of Space Science & Technology, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, gave evidence.
Q259 Chairman: Good morning, everyone. May I welcome our witnesses to our final session on investigating the science budget allocations for the next comprehensive spending review. We have two panels this morning. We need to be very quick because we know that Swapan has to be on a flight to warm parts very shortly and we are very grateful for your time. I wonder if I could ask you both to introduce yourselves and to say where you are from this morning, starting with you, Professor Holdaway.
Professor Holdaway: Good morning, Chairman. I am Richard Holdaway. I am Director of Space Science and Technology at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and here wearing the hat of Head of the Department. I chair the British National Space Centre Advisory Council. I have an overview of parts of the community and their involvement in the CSR outcome.
Professor Chattopadhyay: Good morning. I am Swapan Chattopadhyay. I am the Director of the Cockcroft Institute and a Professor at the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Lancaster.
Q260 Chairman: The STFC Delivery Plan was written over a period of time in consultation with the advisory committees which were set up by STFC and DIUS. How were you consulted?
Professor Holdaway: Perhaps it would help if I explained the general setup within STFC first of all. There are effectively two distinct parts: there is the strategy part which deals with strategy and the peer review process, the budgets, the allocations, the decision on cuts and the interface with DIUS; and then there is a Chinese Wall effectively to the operational part of STFC which is where the bulk of the 1,500 scientists and technologists sit. Those are the gentlemen and ladies who build instruments, operate facilities and interface on a day-to-day basis with the community within those three groups. Within that part there are seven operational departments, so particle physics is one department, space science and technology is another department, and we lead those departments. In that sense we are pretty much in the same position as the heads of university departments where we are given an allocation by the strategic part of STFC and we operate within that allocation. We are part of the community in that sense and so there is an exchange of information on the types of programmes that may be funded or may not be funded, but we are not part of the decision-making process.
Q261 Chairman: How did you find out about the cuts?
Professor Holdaway: Through the first sighting of the Delivery Plan at pretty much the same time as the rest of the community.
Q262 Chairman: As the Director of Cockcroft, were you involved at all in the decision-making in terms of the strategic plan?
Professor Chattopadhyay: No, I was not. I should probably give you a preamble about where I stand. Everything I say today is from the perspective of somebody who is new to the United Kingdom. This is my tenth month in the job after about 30 years of a successful career serving in the Department of Energy, at two national labs, the Lawrence Berkeley Lab and Jefferson Lab, and two major universities, the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard. When I speak about my Institute today, the Cockcroft Institute, I am really using it as an iconic symbol that really represents an entire community of excellent scientists and technologists throughout the UK, including our sister institute, John Adams at Oxford and Royal Holloway, Imperial College and particle physicists and natural scientists throughout the UK. The Cockcroft Institute has five stakeholders, the three universities, Liverpool, Manchester and Lancaster, STFC, which is a strong stakeholder, and the North West Development Agency. I happen to be employed by the university and for reasons of proprietary I have been kept entirely out of the process of the STFC Delivery Plan.
Q263 Chairman: As the Director of Cockcroft and as the Director of the Space Science and Technology at Rutherford Appleton, you were kept out of the decision-making process, were you not?
Professor Holdaway: Kept out of the decision-making process and, quite rightly, that is how it was before STFC was formed. In our case the decision-making process on which programmes to fund was made by PPARC, it was not made by CCLRC and we are still in exactly the same position now and quite rightly so.
Q264 Dr Gibson: Did you try to give them information about what you thought should happen?
Professor Holdaway: We were able to provide our views on that as members of the community in exactly the same way as the heads of university departments, yes.
Q265 Chairman: So it was no surprise to you then when these cuts came about?
Professor Holdaway: It was certainly no surprise that there were some cuts. When the whole community, including ourselves, heard that there was a funding problem because of the size of the allocation from DIUS it was clear that cuts would have to be made. That in itself was no surprise. In terms of which programmes were cut initially - and we will know on Monday of next week what the next round of cuts are in terms of specific programmes - we have no direct involvement in that and, as I said, quite rightly so. You need that Chinese Wall between the operational part of the operation and the strategic part of the organisation.
Q266 Chairman: Let us talk about the actual cuts themselves and the decisions about them. If we accept that there was going to be a reduction in budget and therefore some reduction in programmes had to take place, what do you understand as the process of actually deciding which bits get dropped?
Professor Holdaway: The process is undertaken by the peer review panels. So there is a science board and there are two peer review panels that sit below that and those are the bodies that always have and still do make those decisions. They take advice from the community in different ways. There is a difference between the current system and the previous system which is that there are, to all intents and purposes, no advisory panels under STFC whereas there were under PPARC. So it is slightly more difficult for the community to get its input into that process. There are ways of doing it but it is not quite as regulated.
Q267 Chairman: Swapan, there is a peer review system which looks at funding the best science. The peer review system says we need to make particular cuts because this is not the best science. What on earth is wrong with that? This is how science should operate.
Professor Chattopadhyay: I have two observations to make. There has been an active request made to the STFC stakeholder representation in the Cockcroft Institute not to share any information about the decision-making process of the STFC Delivery Plan. There was some level of secrecy until the very end of November when it all came out despite my requests to get information out. I am not an STFC employee. First of all, on this whole business of communication, transparency and the review process, I have brought it to the attention of STFC senior management multiple times through electronic messages and discussions with people directly, but I regret to say that there has not been the inclusion of Cockcroft's concerns in this regard in terms of protecting the skills base in accelerator science and technology for the UK. Secondly, as for the so-called peer review process that people talk about here, which I am taking to be below the level of PPAN and PALS, for the last 35 years I have been used to a very inclusive process where the community that is being reviewed knows they are being reviewed and the people that you choose as the committee members of the review committee are chosen with input from the community about the most respected scientists that could judge the field. Eventually, when the report comes out, you share the report with the community for factual accuracies and courtesy and to ensure there are no political, parochial and scientific conflicts. There have been three reviews that I have partially participated in or been asked to give input to: one was the light source review, one is an ongoing accelerator science and technology review and one is a particle physics review. I think the committee members were handpicked by STFC despite my pointing out to them that at some point --- In the case of the light source review, I even wrote a letter to the committee that chose that so-called peer review committee which was judging on the light source about the incompleteness of that committee.
Q268 Chairman: The Chief Executive has said to this Committee that he is very proud of STFC's peer review system. Obviously you do not share that view.
Professor Chattopadhyay: From where I sit the due process has not been followed, the process has been flawed and hence you cannot expect anything but flawed recommendations from such peer reviews.
Q269 Chairman: Do you share that view?
Professor Holdaway: Peer review panels have a very difficult thing to do.
Q270 Chairman: Do you share that view?
Professor Holdaway: My concern is not about the nature and the make up of the peer review panels themselves. They had a very difficult job to do and I think they have done it perfectly adequately. The concern of the community, which I share to a certain extent, is how hey get their advice. I think the communications and the advice there has not been what it should be and I am confident that that will be rectified for the future, but it has not been that way in the past.
Q271 Mr Boswell: Coming back to your concept of Chinese Walls, I can see why that might happen, not least because of people who might wish to compete with you in certain respect, for example, in the university sector. It is an attempt to produce an all for situation. I do not think we would object to that in principle. As for the argument about Chinese Walls and the disclosure of strategic decisions only at the last moment and as a result of a process which is closed to you, is it your feeling that that is in a sense being used either as an excuse by STFC or that it is somehow just reducing the quality of the review process through inhibiting dialogue?
Professor Holdaway: No, I do not think so. The community that I work with within the laboratory and outside is a very close community and of course from time to time we compete with the university groups. Most of the time we are competing alongside university groups. I think we all have pretty much the same view. The community understands fully the need for cuts and that certain projects need to be cut. The problem for individuals is like unemployment, ie unemployment may only be a few per cent but if you are unemployed it is 100 per cent. The same is true of the small areas of the community where the cuts have fallen, they feel aggrieved, rightly or wrongly. In this country we concentrate on the bad news rather than the good news. Yes, there are some cuts that are affecting some people very, very radically. On the other hand, 80 or 90 per cent of the programme is continuing. There are some exciting new programmes coming up and the community recognises that as well. It just wants to be sure that the decision-making process has the proper governance.
Q272 Dr Gibson: I think that is a general problem in science and the peer review system. Did you know who the peers were going to be? Who chose them?
Professor Holdaway: They were chosen, as far as I know, by the Chief Executive. You can check that in the next session.
Q273 Dr Gibson: And you saw the report?
Professor Holdaway: And I saw the report.
Q274 Dr Gibson: Do you think the peers would be chosen in different circumstances? Strategically there are going to be cuts so you pick the peers who know what to do, but if they are suddenly going to double your budget presumably you would pick other peers. Is that true?
Professor Holdaway: I can conjecture. That may have been the process. I think I am the wrong person to ask. Keith Mason will be able to answer that very, very clearly for you. I have seen no evidence that the panel was picked to come up with a particular decision. I think an interesting issue is whether there was any direction from DIUS in terms of the outcome of the review. I have no evidence from where I sit to know that there was but there may have been and that might then dictate the members of the panel.
Q275 Dr Gibson: Where would that influence come from within the Department, Permanent Secretary level or somewhere else?
Professor Holdaway: I would not have thought so. If you look at specific cuts in my own area on STP and on Gemini, I cannot imagine for a moment that decisions of that nature would be made within DIUS.
Q276 Dr Gibson: Do you think it goes beyond the Department to the Treasury?
Professor Holdaway: Only at a high level. The Treasury may have a view on whether it believes particle physics and space are worthy areas of pure science. In the case of space, I think there has been a big change in the attitudes both of Government in general and the Treasury in particular as a result of the space strategy and the various audits of space science and technology. The oft quoted number by the last three ministers was £200 million investment in space and £7 billion downstream manual turnover. That is a story that speaks for itself.
Q277 Dr Gibson: What would you say if I said everybody moans about peer review when they do not get their grant?
Professor Holdaway: Of course. That is a problem with peer review and it has always been the case.
Q278 Dr Gibson: Is there another system you would accommodate in your work?
Professor Holdaway: The only alternative is one slightly closer to the American system. The problem with peer review, as I am sure everybody in this room knows, is that when you come to the decision-making process you throw out of the room anybody that knows anything about the subject because if they are any good at their subject they are almost certainly involved in the consortium that is bidding for the grants to get input into the programmes. So that is always a problem. This is why it is very important for those peer review panels to have the right advice before they make their decision and you need the right structure to do that. I think that is part of the community's concern as to how the decisions are made and whether there is transparency in those institutions.
Q279 Chairman: In terms of the International Linear Collider and Gemini projects, in your opinion was there adequate peer review prior to the stopping of those two projects?
Professor Holdaway: I cannot comment on the Linear Collider. In terms of Gemini, there was consultation with the community. Gemini has been going 14 years, which is quite a long time for a programme. I know that within parts of that community the feeling was that with things that are coming up, like the VISTA programme which is just about to go online, the exciting new programmes with the extremely large telescope and so on, there are big opportunities for that same community. Those directly involved in the Gemini programme, however, have a problem, which is that if it is cut very quickly they are out of a job tomorrow and that is not really the right way to manage things. That is why I think there has been a change in the situation with Gemini which no doubt Keith Mason will talk about in the next session.
Q280 Chairman: 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 reserved. 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 old 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 the field totally autonomous to what they were reviewing.
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 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 about 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, Genotech and 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 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 other stakeholders.
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 positions to be coaxed into other positions for 10, 15 years and then retire. What I saw in the UK's pre-eminence in this field - and 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 them - is 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 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 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 strong - we are recruiting professors and lecturers at the three universities - the 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 parts 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.
Q294 Chairman: 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 foreign principles.
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 per cent 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 cuts?
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 ten people out of a department of 200, so we are talking about 5 per cent 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 science - if you will pardon the pun - to 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.
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 and - we throw out this phrase regularly but I think it is true - we 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 campus - and there are some incredibly exciting opportunities there, as they are indeed at Daresbury Laboratory - part 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 current plan ---
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 science - as you mentioned yourself, climate change, satellites and communications, space weather which relates to both of those. Do you share that view?
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 leaving - I put it to you that we have heard people will start leaving because they will grab what they can get - are 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 Thorpe ---
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 functions 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 by 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. Keith actually admitted that STFC management is coming to grips with it, which is reflected in the restructuring of his own management and staff. Given what I have heard, that it is going to be three centres of technology - computational science, further science and technology and possibly science instrumentation - and 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 sides.
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 park?
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 everything.
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 this discussion.
Ian Stewart: Yes.
Q314 Chairman: 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 had a daily input from Cockcroft into that vision. From my perspective, I consider the vision and the scientific leader 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 quickly?
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 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 IOC 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 very little workforce to work with.
Q318 Chairman: 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 STFC - RAL, 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.
Witnesses: Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive, and Mr Peter Warry, Chairman, Science & Technology Facilities Council, gave evidence.
Chairman: We move on to our second panel and thank you very much indeed, Professor Mason - we meet again, Keith - and Mr Peter Warry for joining us this morning. We will go straight to my colleague, Roberta.
Q319 Dr Blackman-Woods: Professor Mason, the last time you were in front of the Committee you said, "I think we do consultation extremely well in STFC; I am very proud of the peer review system that we have set up, it is very effective ...". I have to say from our visits and evidence we have gathered so far not everyone shares that opinion. We have spoken to people who have immense international standing in the physics community who simply do not agree there was proper consultation about these cuts or that the system is working effectively. How do you account for that divergence of opinion?
Professor Mason: I think we are talking about several different things actually. I was speaking about our Science Strategy Board and the sub-committees we have underneath it - PPAN, particle physics, astronomy and nuclear physics, and the physical and life sciences committees - which are new structures we have set up under STFC which actually do the peer review and which actually conduct things like the programmatic review. These are very difficult exercises to go through, particularly over such a wide remit as STFC has, and I am genuinely proud of how these committees and how the people on these committees have actually responded to this huge challenge. You heard earlier some discussion about the challenges of peer review. Peer review is not easy, peer review over such a broad range as we have is doubly, trebly, difficult, and the fact we have within ten months been able to arrive at a system which can integrate physics and physical and life sciences and the particle physics, astronomy and nuclear physics requirements into a single set of recommendations to the Science Board and then onwards to Council I think is something to be proud of. There was some, I think, confusion in the discussion earlier about the various peer review bodies and the issue of consultation is one which I take very, very seriously, and it is an area which we are actively working on in order to improve things for the future.
Q320 Dr Blackman-Woods: Would you accept that parts of the science community, in particular the physics community, have been really affected by the decisions which have been made by STFC? Do you feel they have not been adequately consulted and that something has to be learned from this process?
Professor Mason: Yes, indeed, and we are actively learning that lesson. Again there is a misunderstanding of the process and what the effect of consultant would have been. If we are talking about the PPAN area now, which derived from the old PPARC, we had consultative panels in that structure which reported on strategy only a few months before programmatic review. So the reality is, had we had such a structure in STFC from the beginning, it would not have made any difference to the delivery plan output because we were not missing that element because it is carried over from PPARC. One of the tasks that the PPAN committee was set at its inception was to derive and devise a better system of community consultation which is an exercise which is not yet completed because, for one reason, its business has been dominated by the delivery plan and the programmatic review so it just has not had the time to put the thought in. But this has always been on our agenda and it will be put in place in the future. In terms of the current programmatic review, this is an exercise we went through two years ago in PPARC and following the programmatic review the next stage was an unofficial consultation with the community. We intend to do exactly the same thing but this is now an official consultation period just to make it absolutely clear that we are taking people's views on the outcome, we do not just take the outcome of the programme as reviewed and say, "It is cast in concrete", we want to hear what people think about it simply to optimise the science we get out. We have a certain amount of money that we can spend, we want to get the maximum amount of science from that, we rightly always have and always will involve the community in doing that, and it is really just a question of time.
Q321 Dr Blackman-Woods: I think the community would accept that peer review is difficult, what we are not seeing is confidence in the peer review system across the sector. Are you clear the changes you are bringing in are going to lead to a greater confidence in peer review?
Professor Mason: Well, if they do not, we will change them again. It is absolutely clear that we need to have this confidence. I have to say we are living in a situation where two research councils have been merged, there were many people who had doubts about that merger and are waiting to see the proof of the pudding, and are rightly putting us under very close scrutiny. But actually, if you look objectively at what we have done in the ten months we have been in existence, I think we have done pretty well actually in getting these structures together, in conducting a very comprehensive exercise, and we have to see what the outcome of that will be.
Q322 Dr Blackman-Woods: You have just announced changes to the structure of STFC's senior management, what is the rationale behind that if everything is working well?
Professor Mason: STFC is a very complex organisation which has come together. It is much more complex than any of the other predecessor councils and I think it is right we be evolving structures to deal with the challenge that we have. We started off with a management structure which I frankly was not particularly happy with from the outset - it was too flat and unresponsive - and I had always intended to evolve that as time went on. This is a reflection of that evolution. The motivation behind evolution - this stage of it at least and there will be more, it is not finished - is to provide greater responsiveness in terms of dealing with the challenges we have, to really tackle the issue of culture change within the organisation, to ensure that STFC becomes the vision that we have and not a relic vision from the old research councils, and to ensure that vision is enshrined in the staff and in the community that we are serving. We have also made changes to focus on the campus development, which is really important, and the KE agenda. With the campus developments both at Daresbury and Harwell we clearly need to up our game because we are now getting into very serious territory with joint venture partners, et cetera, and we need to manage that much more proactively, and we have made the changes to put that in place. I see these as the correct response to the challenges we have and, as I say, I am very determined that as we move forward we will continue to make changes to adapt to the situation we are in.
Q323 Dr Blackman-Woods: Do you intend to widen the Council? As you know, you have ten people, three are senior members of STFC, that is smaller than other councils, do you intend to make it more representative because that seems to be the charge that is levelled against you, that it is not fully representative of the community?
Professor Mason: No, but we are piloting a new model for research councils here and this was something done in discussion with DIUS. I think the structure we have is a Council which concentrates on governance and we have a Science Board which deals with the science strategy, and we also have advisory systems which deal with knowledge exchange and other aspects of the Council. So I think the new slim look Council is actually working very well. It meets more often than typical councils do, it is much more responsive, it is much more engaged. Peter could comment on this but I think it is working much more effectively than certainly the predecessor councils did.
Mr Warry: I absolutely agree with that. I do not think, because our community is so large, we could actually get representatives of the whole community on to a council and get it sensibly to function; it would be very large to get in all the different aspects of it. Indeed I think it is an advantage that people are not there as representatives but they are there actually to look at the big picture and try and make those decisions. It is a much more effective council in the sense we have had some very difficult decisions to take which I think would have been extremely difficult with a very large council. Because we have had to do these things which affect people's jobs and their careers, the Council has needed to spend a lot of time looking at that - we actually met four times in two months which is probably unique for a council and we stared long and hard at those things because we actually really regret having to make those sort of decisions. We believe we made the right decisions, there is only one pot of money, we cannot spend it twice over. It would be difficult to make it without the sort of council we had, so I think it was very helpful. If I could finish by saying that there is real pain in what we are doing but there are also some big signs we are still going to be able to do it. Our scientists actually have £11/2 billion-worth of new facilities which are coming on line in this CSR that they are going to be able to address, so there is a lot of grief which we feel, and I feel personally, but there is also some science as well.
Q324 Dr Blackman-Woods: However, the accusation which is often levelled against you is that you do not have the full breadth of knowledge you should be drawing on in your strategic advice and your peer review panels. Are you taking that on board and are you going to do something about it or are you going to continue to say that everything is fine and this is a bit of pain that we are managing quite well?
Mr Warry: Keith has already said that the proposal is that we are going to introduce advisory committees which are effectively sub-committees of the Council to pick up that point. So, yes, we recognise that and it is an important point to take on board and we will be doing that.
Professor Mason: To finish off, one should not forget that even with the top level committees we have, not to mention grants panels and all the other structure we have below, we are talking about 30 people or so, so it is not a handful of people in a room, it is a lot of people and they are spread across the whole range of expertise that we cover.
Q325 Mr Boswell: Thank you, Professor Mason, you have explained the background to the changes you have had to make and the underlying rationality, as it were, from the management viewpoint. On the other hand, you both acknowledged, could have hardly failed to do so, there is a good deal of concern at the staff end and may I perhaps concentrate on that area particularly in relation to the process. You will have heard also the exchanges about Daresbury. You commissioned the views of the various departments at Daresbury but, as I understand it, you have not discussed either their methodologies or their conclusions with the staff there, and we have been told by your lawyers that these reviews are confidential. It does seem an odd way of conducting peer review. Why so confidential? What is going on there?
Professor Mason: There is a huge amount of misunderstanding about what these reviews are and what they were intended to do.
Q326 Mr Boswell: Could I interpose a moment. Are they peer reviews as you know them and I may broadly understand them to be?
Professor Mason: Let me understand what they are because there is a danger of putting labels on things and misrepresenting them. The subject matter of these reviews is the in-house research effort, so we are not talking about the bulk of the programmes which are undertaken by the Daresbury, ATC, RAL Laboratories, but we are talking about that fraction of the research effort which is equivalent to the research effort in university staff, and generally that is conducted by a handful of people in each group rather than the staff as a whole. It is their own personal research as opposed to the research programme of the council. So when I took over as CEO of STFC I as aware that there had been a lot of discussion, even criticism, of the in-house research effort and whether it was competitive with the research going on in university groups, because they are competing for the same resources. So I wanted to have an independent view of whether we were doing the right research and whether this research was at world level or whether it was second rate, basically to guide me in future planning as to how much research time ought to be done in-house and what the subject areas were. One of the criticisms which had been levelled in the past is that such reviews had involved internal staff and internal managers who had a vested interest to maintain the research of their group. So I deliberately set this up with completely independent panels, with international representation, and we had I think 11 panels covering the whole of the research council, so quite a major exercise, so they are peer review panels in the sense they are independent experts who are not related to the research councils. I told them, "You can be as honest with me as you like because this report is coming to me to advise me, it is not going to be shared with my managers or staff, so you can tell me what you really think." I said to them at the outset, "Please tell me exactly what you think so I am informed, so I know how to take this forward, and be honest." So that is the reason for the so-called confidentiality around these reports, they are reports to me and not shared with my managers, so that I can get a really bona fide gold-standard opinion as to whether the research going on in these groups is truly world class which we should continue or whether it is just sucking resources away from things that universities might be able to do better.
Q327 Mr Boswell: You would accept then that these conclusions of these reviews, whether labelled as peer reviews or otherwise but certainly independent of the organisers, those conclusions, the advice tendered to you, are not contestable? It is not, for example, possible for the participants who have been reviewed to say, "It is not so"?
Professor Mason: That is right but it depends on how they are used. As I said, my purpose in setting up these reviews was to inform me long-term as to which areas to invest in in the research council and which areas not to invest in and perhaps to move outside. It is a process which has not got any further than that because it is not related to the delivery plan, it is not related to the other strategic decisions we are taking. In effect, it has been put on hold because we are dealing with a different set of problems.
Q328 Mr Boswell: If that is the case, how can you reassure staff, for example, that you have not merely cooked up or selected a group of persons to give you the advice you were predisposed to wish to accept?
Professor Mason: You are caught between a rock and a hard place with that one, because in order to get the independent advice there has to be some level of confidentiality involved.
Q329 Chairman: Are you not also indicating that standard review panels do not say what they think?
Professor Mason: There is a danger in a peer review situation where the information is made public that people are reticent about criticising their peers naturally.
Q330 Dr Gibson: Do you trust your managers?
Professor Mason: Do I trust them?
Q331 Dr Gibson: Did you trust them?
Professor Mason: Yes.
Q332 Dr Gibson: So why did you not incorporate them and show them the stuff as it went along and took their views alongside? That would have been the smart thing to do, would it not, in retrospect?
Professor Mason: As I said, one of the criticisms which has been levelled is that the managers have a vested interest in the outcome.
Q333 Dr Gibson: Do you?
Professor Mason: Well, indeed, I have a ---
Q334 Dr Gibson: Anybody has a vested interest.
Professor Mason: --- I have a vested interest in making the research council as competitive as possible and making sure there is a level playing field. As I say, the problem is that this exercise, which was started in all innocence and for a background level purpose, is taking on a significance that it never was intended to have and does not deserve. In the light of that we will be making the reviews public and people will be able to see what they say, and I can tell you that by and large they are very supportive of what is going on and I was very encouraged to read them.
Q335 Dr Gibson: Will they be unabridged versions?
Professor Mason: They will remove reference to ---
Q336 Dr Gibson: Will they have black marks in them and names and things crossed out?
Professor Mason: As I understand it, they will remove references to individual people.
Chairman: It does not sound to be a very healthy organisation where you do not trust the peer review which exists, you have secret reviews. Sorry, I am getting carried away.
Q337 Mr Boswell: Can you just say for the record, in terms of self-assessment by those who are conducting the science themselves, is that something you would want to aim rather heavily off, to discount, in your decision making process? That is separate from the peer review or independent review process, but do you think your managers are capable of telling you what they think?
Professor Mason: Of course they are, and how you take an organisation like this forward is by using a multitude of tools. I would never act literally on the outcome of these reviews, these were to inform me as to where the problem areas might be, mostly where the areas which had not got any problems were because then you can just leave those alone and not worry about them.
Q338 Mr Boswell: Finally on the communications, do you hope your new structure will itself smooth, ease, the communication process with staff which is obviously a concern?
Professor Mason: Absolutely. One of the areas I have been concerned about since the organisation started is the communication area because essentially STFC is a much more complex organisation by an order of magnitude, I would say, than its predecessor council in terms of its capacity, and we really need to tackle communications in a much more thorough and broader manner, both internal communications and external communications. That is something we are actively working on and it is something we have recognised for a while, but these things are not fixed overnight.
Q339 Mr Marsden: On that specific point, you seem to be saying that what you will do is release information about these boards on what we might call a Chatham House basis, in the sense they will not refer to individuals. If you are so concerned about not telling your own staff what particular individuals have said about them, do you accept the Chatham House principle in all your doings in the future, that when you have these reports you do actually share them with your staff which would be a good way of proceeding?
Professor Mason: This is generally what we do. This would be my guiding principle. As I said, the reason for making an exception at this time was to make it absolutely clear that this was an external view of the organisation and one which gave it a legitimate gold stamp, if you like, in terms of probity that there were no internal conflicts of interest in what was produced.
Q340 Chairman: On the issue of the grants to the university physics community, when figures of cuts of 25 per cent were being mooted, you pooh-poohed that and said that was not realistic, and yet it was you at the town meeting on 13 December who actually made that comment that there would be a 25 per cent cut in the grants. As briefly as you can, can you tell us first you were right, then you were wrong, then you were right again?
Professor Mason: I do not think I pooh-poohed it, that is not my style. Both statements are correct and I think ---
Q341 Chairman: They both cannot be correct.
Professor Mason: Of course they can. It depends what question you are asking. It is a 25 per cent cut against a rising profile, so it is a real 25 per cent cut in what we had aspired to fund. Incidentally, the reason that we had planned to increase the number of grants, post docs and grants, is that the community is expanding and this is something which needs to be looked at by the Wakeham Review in particular. We have seen an increase of 40 per cent in the number of researchers doing astronomy in universities in the last two years, which is a huge increase. So against that planned profile, we were making a 25 per cent cut, which essentially brings us back to a zero increase. So having announced we would be making this 25 per cent reduction, people then concluded that there would be a 25 per cent hit on physics departments and that is what I tried to clarify at my last appearance, that because this is on a rising profile actually it is not a 25 per cent cut on physics departments, it actually brings us down to more or less level funding rather than at the increased funding.
Q342 Chairman: I am just a humble politician, unlike my colleagues, but when the Institute of Physics informs me that we are about to see very serious cuts in physics departments across the country, particularly those in major universities which have very serious physics departments, then I have to take notice of that. But you are saying that is just nonsense? There will not be any cuts at all?
Professor Mason: We have provided the figures for you but in this first year of the Spending Review there will be no cuts in exploitation grants. As we go forward we are making a 25 per cent cut on the original plan for new commitments so there will be cuts which come in in later years, but we will still end up in a position where over the next Comprehensive Spending Review we have the same number of post docs in universities as we had in the last Spending Review. So it is clawing back on the planned increase and flattening it out.
Mr Warry: On the ILC, on the people involved in the programme, there will be cuts there.
Professor Mason: This is exploitation grants.
Mr Warry: Exploitation grants.
Q343 Dr Gibson: So it is a lot of fuss about nothing really, is it not? Is that what you think?
Professor Mason: It depends where you are coming from. As I said, the astronomy community in particular has grown by 40 per cent in the last two years, so by holding the number of grants steady, level, the success rate will go down. But what is not clear to me, and I hope that Bill Wakeham's panel actually looks into it, is why there has been a 40 per cent increase in astronomy. I can think of some reasons but I think somebody needs to do some research there.
Q344 Dr Harris: What is the right metric for working out what the health of the grants to these parts of physics is? Is it the total spend or is it the number of grant allocations?
Professor Mason: One measure is the ratio of academic staff to grant-supported staff.
Q345 Dr Harris: What about the total number of grant applications provided? Is that a good measure or does that depend on whether there are lots of small ones instead of a few big ones?
Professor Mason: It is a complex issue.
Q346 Dr Harris: So you would not rely on the total number of grant allocations?
Professor Mason: No. To illustrate that, in particle physics there are 15 large grants and that is it, there are lots of small ones but 15 large grants, whereas in astronomy there is a multitude of much smaller grants.
Q347 Dr Harris: So it is not meaningful to use the total number of grants?
Professor Mason: No.
Q348 Dr Harris: Just a couple of quick questions and hopefully quick answers from Mr Warry, does the Council take the advice generally of your Science Board on science issues?
Mr Warry: Yes, we have so far.
Q349 Dr Harris: When it comes to issues to do with the Haldane principle, if the Government were to seek to tell you - I am not saying they have - that you must spend a certain amount of money in a certain geographical place, let alone on the actual project, would you say that is your decision rather than theirs to make?
Mr Warry: I think the Government is in a position where it can ring fence money, so ---
Q350 Dr Harris: Okay, but if it does not? Short of ring fencing, if it says to you, "Out of your overall budget we think, we would like, we require you ....", any of those, "... to spend a certain amount of money in this certain geographical location", would you say that is something you were bound to follow, would you say it was inappropriate, would you say, "We are going to go by our other priorities, including science but not only"?
Mr Warry: I would actually be at the far end of that spectrum, which is that if they have not ring fenced the money then the job of the Council is to use that money in the wisest way it can. Clearly there is a lot of competition for these funds, as we know, so I would be reluctant to be swayed by the Government saying ----
Q351 Dr Harris: I would ask the same thing to any research council chairman. So it would be inconsistent with the Haldane principle for you to be directed to spend money which you are free to spend in a certain geographical area at the behest of the Government?
Mr Warry: I am not an expert on Haldane, but what I would say is that there is probably a difference between them saying, "You must invest in this project", which is then taking a scientific decision so to speak, and "You should invest this sum of money in the science you choose". That may be different but I am not an expert in this field.
Q352 Dr Harris: So what you are saying is that it would not be acceptable to say, "This project", unless the Government ring fenced it, but it might be appropriate for them to say, "Whatever you decide to fund, we want you to spend it in Newcastle"?
Mr Warry: I would want them to ring fence that if they did that.
Q353 Dr Harris: I think we are agreeing. In respect of the investment in Daresbury, your Science Board in a note to your Council meeting on 21 November said that its view was, "to minimise overheads and maximise synergies, Science Board felt that there is no alternative to closing the Daresbury Laboratory in the current budgetary climate." That is pretty clear actually. Yet your decision does not appear to be that, I think, because ---
Mr Warry: Our decision is absolutely not that.
Q354 Dr Harris: That is a bit strange, is it not?
Mr Warry: No, it is not. That is the Science Board giving the Council some advice about how it should manage its overall budget. The Council has responsibilities which go beyond science. We have a responsibility to provide facilities to make economic impact and so on. So I can well understand that if you look at this purely from maximising science, then let us focus everything on to a single point, but we have wider responsibilities.
Q355 Dr Harris: I am grateful to you for the brief and very clear answers. So the job of your executive officers is to take on board the science but to take into account in their advice to Council some of these other issues you have mentioned. You would rely on your chief executive to do that?
Mr Warry: Or the Council.
Q356 Dr Harris: Or indeed the Council. The chief executive said in his note, before the Science Board put in their view, that his proposal was to "... concentrate most if not all core in-house capability on the Harwell campus and plan for all future national large facilities to be located there. This would mean ....", second bullet point, "... working with the private sector and the NWDA to develop the Daresbury campus primarily as a private sector venture with some core scientific and/or technology expertise retained either within the STFC or transferred into a university or private sector company." Your press release of 21 January and perhaps other notifications do not even seem to back the advice of your chief executive either.
Mr Warry: No, they will not. What you are seeing there is the on-going Council discussion. Because we have had to pare back the programme, it is absolutely appropriate that we should look long and hard at doing some of the drastic things and you have mentioned one, we looked also at getting out of a major subscription such as CERN, we looked at all these extremely unimaginable options before we actually came down and said, "That is wrong." You are just picking on a point in the debate.
Q357 Dr Harris: We are interested in scrutinising your decisions. I cannot see, and maybe we have not got it all - perhaps you could send it - the documentation, the advice you got, which was so convincing that it persuaded your Council to ignore the advice of the Science Board and indeed to reject the recommendation, as you describe it, of the chief executive. I have not seen that and we have been seen a lot of stuff. Was there something or did it just emerge in discussions? Was there perhaps a phone call from the Government?
Mr Warry: There was not a phone call from the Government, let me tell you that.
Q358 Dr Harris: A fax, email?
Mr Warry: No, not even that. We had four meetings, as I said, on this - four very long meetings because of the gravity of the issues we were dealing with - and we looked at all of the uncontemplatible things, and Keith produced several notes in the process of this and you have one, and we looked at the variety of options we could do and then sub-options of those. We did take on board the Science Board's scientific advice, we did not take on the Science Board's suggestion about ---
Q359 Dr Harris: That is fine, you are repeating now. I understand that. It would be useful if you could send us the advice you got, if there was any, other than something which emerged in discussion, which led you to take the decision you took. Is it a sensible decision? This is what we were told by the Cockcroft Centre - this is in the document they gave us which they have allowed us to quote from - "Are the plans to make Daresbury a Science and Innovation Campus "viable"? We fear the answer is "NO". Lack of support of the STFC leadership for scientific 'flagship' facilities on the DL campus by design renders such a plan incredulous!! 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." I think the founding director of the Cockcroft Institute confirmed that view just this morning.
Mr Warry: Yes, indeed.
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 this view?
Mr Warry: I was aware of their view. I do not agree with their view because the plans we have for Daresbury mean we believe - and Colin Whitehouse's presentation last night was referred to earlier - we have a very viable future for that campus.
Q361 Chairman: 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 also - and we cannot announce this yet because it is not fully signed off - are 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.
Q363 Chairman: 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 per cent cut in grants, not 25 per cent.
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 that?
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 for the economic costs, 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 true.
Q372 Dr Turner: The MRC have.
Professor Mason: The MRC have, yes.
Q373 Dr Turner: Spectacularly bigger.
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 here - well, 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 case - well, the case has been made - for 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 science. As I have explained, the accommodations we were able to reach in terms of the profile 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 new 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 message.
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 targetisation too and central laser tools 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 is bad."
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 wrap 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 ----
Q379 Chairman: Yes, you have said that.
Professor Mason: There will be more.
Q380 Mr Cawsey: Professor Mason, when you appeared in front of this Committee earlier in this inquiry you told us that the decision to withdraw funding from ground-based solar-terrestrial physics facilities was a decision taken by PPARC and that the STFC was simply implementing it now. In fact we understand the decision was to close the facilities but to maintain a capacity for ground-based STP. Would you accept that with the benefit of hindsight your earlier comments were perhaps misleading?
Professor Mason: I think they were spot on. PPARC two years ago made the decision to withdraw from ground-based STP facilities, but as in all cases that does not mean we will not accept grant applications in those areas and they will be judged on their merits. The point was made earlier, I think by Evan, did we suddenly pull the plug on these people or did we consult with them and give them time to find a new way forward? Given the decision was made two years ago - actually it was made before I took over as CEO - I can nevertheless remember going to a community meeting of that community and telling them exactly why that decision had been made, because they were not being competitive in peer review and advising that they needed to seek a broader base.
Q381 Mr Cawsey: Are you saying therefore that you agree with the original PPARC decision but you want to maintain a capacity for ground-based STP?
Professor Mason: Personally I think that would be a very welcome thing to do because ground-based STP has a role to play, but in a much broader arena than just STFC science. I think the way forward for STFC, and I will say it quite clearly, is that they need to be developing a broader base, so we have mechanisms for dealing with broad cases but they need to come forward with that case, and that will receive a sympathetic hearing.
Q382 Dr Harris: I did not understand your answer to Ian Cawsey because the decision and the outcome of the programmatic review paper published in April 2006 was, "Although PPARC wishes to maintain a capacity in ground-based STP, it has become necessary to close some of the facilities", and your latest plan says you are going to withdraw from all. There is a difference between "some" and "all", is there not?
Professor Mason: There certainly is but the two are not compatible.
Dr Harris: This will be interesting!
Q383 Chairman: This is very strange science to us!
Professor Mason: Welcome to my world, is all I can say.
Q384 Chairman: Right.
Professor Mason: The thing is, we could not withdraw from EISCAT because we had just recently entered into a five-year commitment, as has been indicated earlier. So essentially the PPARC statement was meant to reflect the fact we would withdraw when we could without breaking international agreements. We remain in EISCAT for another three years.
Q385 Dr Harris: You are just reading in words. It does not say that.
Professor Mason: I am telling you what the situation is, which is that the plan was to roll down at these facilities but maintaining our international agreements, and we have done, and we continue to do that because we are still in EISACAT.
Q386 Mr Cawsey: There have been some criticisms anyway about the way in which PPARC decisions have moved across to STFC because you work under very different remits, as I understand it. What have you done since you set up as your organisation to actually review those decisions as they are going to apply in the future but under the remit you now have?
Professor Mason: In the specific case of STFC, the remit has not changed and, as I said, my advice to that community is that they should be making applications against a broader remit than either PPARC or STFC, but the remit in terms of STP is the same as it was under PPARC. The general point is that one of the main jobs of our Science Strategy Board, the Science Board, is to do exactly that and to be continually reviewing the rationale and the case for the decisions which have been made and will be made in the future, and that is what they did in the context of the ground-based STP. Basically their conclusion was that the situation is the same as it was two years ago and in the financial circumstances they could not see a case for reversing those decisions.
Q387 Mr Cawsey: You no doubt saw the comments of the director of EISCAT who said, "It is not at all clear that any changes have been made to the STFC interpretation of the programmatic review to ensure that the economic impact of projects like EISCAT are genuinely given more weight than they were in the PPARC regime."
Professor Mason: That is correct because our remit has not changed and my message ---
Q388 Mr Cawsey: So you think his understanding of what your remit is is probably wrong?
Professor Mason: It might well be. I cannot obviously vouch for his understanding. What I am saying, and I want to say quite clearly, is that I believe the remit for ground-based STP is broader than STFC and that the community should take note of that and formulate its applications accordingly. If they did that, it would have a much better impact and much more likelihood they would be funded.
Q389 Dr Turner: We understand that ATC is likely to lose a contract to build an instrument for Gemini. Would you accept that the uncertainty surrounding our participation in Gemini has led to more consequences than simply for astronomers directly using the instrument?
Professor Mason: Gemini, as all these things are, is a complex situation. I think there is a lot of misinformation going around about Gemini which I can explain to you if you wish but it probably is not relevant. The issue that we were dealing with in Gemini is that when we originally signed up to the Gemini partnership the intention was that both the operation, the current facilities, the development and new facilities would be paid for out of that subscription budget. Subsequently, it has been decided by the Gemini Board that they cannot afford to do that within that subscription so they are looking for extra contributions to build the next generation of instrumentation. Our current agreement is to remain in Gemini until 2012 but the new instrumentation will not come on-line until 2014-2015, so there is an urgent need for us in the UK in particular to decide what our long-term future in Gemini is so we are not building instruments we will never use. This whole Gemini discussion really revolves around the need to have a clear understanding with the Gemini Board about what our long-term engagement with Gemini will be. Yes, there has been a lot of hoo-ha about what our intention was, there was a misinterpretation by the Gemini Board who thought we were withdrawing immediately, which was not our intention, that has created a lot of uncertainty, but we have been working behind the scenes to rectify that and I think we are getting back on track. I think we have to have a serious discussion as to whether this particular instrument forms a future part of Gemini and, if it does, then maybe there will be work for the ATC which will be very welcome and we will certainly be pushing for that. But it is part of a longer term strategic decision about how the future of ground-based astronomy evolves, recognising we do have access in particular to other northern telescopes coming along - Subaru and GranTeCan in La Palma - so we need to have a joined-up picture of what provision we need and how we should invest in it. It is a zero sum gain - if we take money from one, we cannot give it to another - and it is very important we have a long-term plan to inform our strategy going forward, and that is what we are doing.
Q390 Dr Turner: Finally, can you clarify your fairly abrupt decision to withdraw funding from the International Linear Collider, when that had been funded on the basis of peer review but the decision to withdraw was not? How do you justify this? Was it in fact a response to the American withdrawal of funding?
Professor Mason: No, we made our announcement two weeks before the American decision and it was completely independent. It is not true to say that was an abrupt decision. We had been having discussions within the old PPARC science committee about the balance of funding which was required for ILC compared to the second generation of LHC instrumentation - large hadron collider - at CERN. We had started the ILC programme, and even though it was labelled ILC actually it was generic accelerator and detector development, so generic developments. We were now at a point where the ILC project was wanting to move forward to specific ILC instrumentation and to ramp up those costs, and it was clear to us for a long time and to our peer review bodies that under a flat cash regime we could not afford to do both that and to invest in LHC. So the decision was not made overnight, it was not made rapidly, but it was informed by considerable discussion over many months, even years, about the direction of this programme and whether it was sustainable. As you know, one of the issues which concerned us greatly was the fact that the cost of the ILC was rising, the timescale was stretching, we were in danger of threatening the future of particle physics essentially by putting all our eggs into a basket which might deliver chicks.
Q391 Chairman: That is an interesting metaphor. You told us previous, Keith, that delaying the implementation of the delivery plan was not an option. We now seem to have had a slight change in terms of Gemini. The Wakeham Review you said you could not wait for, but we now understand - and perhaps you would confirm this - the Wakeham Review is not going to report in the autumn but probably June or July. Given the fact also that you have something like a £27 million under-spend on your budget this year, surely simply waiting for the Wakeham Review to come in will send out a very strong signal that you are seriously looking at the future of STFC and its programmes in the light of the future of the physics and particle physics community? Surely that is the least perhaps we could get out of this morning's session?
Professor Mason: Yes. We are waiting for Wakeham, in the sense, as I have indicated, we are not doing damage to physics in the first year; what we have decided to do is not to fund the increase that we had previously planned. So I stand by what I have said earlier, we had to take that decision because had we funded that increase we were committed to that for five years, so that would have made any further adjustments downstream much more painful than they will be. In terms of waiting for Wakeham, we are not going to be doing irrevocable damage to physics departments in the time between now and when Wakeham reports, and we will certainly look at the outcome of Wakeham to inform how we take this process forward. The comment I made earlier was reflecting the fact that we will not get any more money in the Spending Review, is my understanding, so what we have is what we have got. All we can do is re-profile and play with it and that is what we are doing in order to maximise the amount of science we get in this period. The comment - and I think Ian Diamond made the same point - was that Wakeham is going to inform really the next Spending Review and we do not expect to receive manna from heaven to help us out in the short-term. We have to deal with that.
Q392 Chairman: In terms of ATC, are discussions actively being carried out with Edinburgh University about an approach to that?
Professor Mason: Yes.
Q393 Chairman: Secondly, in terms of ground-based solar-terrestrial physics, are you in discussions with NERC about a possible solution long-term for that community?
Professor Mason: We have had discussions with Alan Thorpe but, as I think I said in my letter to you, the mechanisms for dealing with the joint STFC-NERC applications are already in place, they have been in place for a number of years. The onus is on the community to come forward with a proposal.
Chairman: I think that is a good message there. One very final point.
Q394 Dr Harris: I thought Professor Holdaway had said you were on the case in negotiations with NERC. My question is about access charges for facilities, which is an option you have considered or at least floated. That would mean, particularly the MRC, or MRC-funded users, would pay a contribution. That would require a change of policy, and if it was applied to Diamond they would have to change their policy, but presumably the Government would agree, but that would be a way of sharing your pain. Have you asked for that or do you think it is a non-starter?
Professor Mason: There are difficulties with the proposal. It has been tried, we had what was called the ticket system, where users, when they got time on a facility like Diamond, were given essentially a voucher that they gave to the operator of Diamond or ISIS, which was cashed into pound notes to run the facility. What was found when that system was tried was the problem is that running something like ISIS is a fixed cost, it is £X, and if you have £X minus £1 you cannot run it, or 10 per cent less than £X you cannot run it, so you have to collect £X to run it. In order to collect £X basically you have to adjust the price of the ticket so it adds up to X, so the number of tickets times the ticket price adds up to X.
Q395 Dr Harris: I understand.
Professor Mason: So basically this is a very expensive administrative way of getting the number you first thought of. In other words, you have to track all these tickets all the way through different research councils just to come back with the number you knew from the outset.
Q396 Dr Harris: But it would be new money in.
Professor Mason: That is a good question, is it not? I predict that if we were to go to that system the first thing which would happen is it would be a transfer of money out of STFC to the other research councils so they could pay for STFC ---
Q397 Dr Harris: That would be sensible but if that did not happen, that would be an option. If RCUK or whoever makes these decisions says, "We think that is fair because you have these big facilities, they are being used a lot, other people have grants to increase their use of them, you are not seeing any benefit from that", that would be possible with political will.
Professor Mason: That would be a dream solution as far as I am concerned, but I am sure the other research councils would say they do not have the money to pay that.
Chairman: It is a dream solution but one we hope you will seriously look at. Could you send us a timetable for decision making and implementing cuts from now on, so the Committee can be kept accurately informed about what is happening as a result of the decisions you make? I think that would be useful.
Ian Stewart: And a timetable for redundancies please.
Chairman: Thank you. Finally, could I thank you very much indeed, Professor Mason and Mr Warry, we understand these are not easy decisions and we are grateful to you for your frankness this morning.