Letter from Professor Keith Mason, Chief
Executive, Science and Technology Facilities Council
The Committee asked that I provide an update
on the activities of the Science and Technology Facilities Council
(STFC) since we last corresponded in July 2008
and before I appear before the Committee on 4 February 2009.
I have provided a summary of progress in a number of areas below.
I am pleased to report that the Council, management
and staff have worked hard in recent months to improve the organisation's
ability to deliver maximum scientific, economic, and societal
benefit. The Organisational Review Panel's report (see below)
reinforces our direction of travel. We accept that we have much
more to do, unsurprisingly for the merger of two large and complex
organisations, and are committed to act upon the Panel's recommendations.
As the Committee is aware, the STFC is a large
and complex research council supporting a very broad range of
world-leading science. From STFC's creation in April 2007 until
July 2008, the focus of the Council and management was rightly
on preparing for, and then implementing, the outcome of the Comprehensive
Spending Review of 2007.
This delivered a three-year budget which enabled
us to support a world class programme across all our research
fields, but in doing so we had to rigorously review our priorities,
and we recognise that this was sometimes unpopular.
Our goal was at all times to maintain our commitment
to scientific excellence, and the consultation on the Programmatic
Review of mid-2008 endorsed our approach.
I am enthusiastic about the future direction
of the STFC now set in train and confident that we are well equipped
to meet the challenges and fulfil the opportunities ahead.
Following the Committee's investigation into
the Science Budget Allocations (HC 215-I),
the STFC volunteered to be the first participant in the Department
of Innovation, Universities and Skills' (DIUS) reviews of its
Delivery Partners, announced in the Government Response to the
The review, chaired initially by Dr David Grant and later by Mr
Peter Hazell, covered strategy and planning, customer and stakeholder
engagement, governance and monitoring and control, delivery, value
for money and management of change.
The review process involved a self-assessment
and scrutiny by an independent external panel
conducted between June and August 2008 and was published, following
scrutiny and input from DIUS, on 19 December 2008.
The STFC welcomes the report
and had already made significant progress against many of its
recommendations prior to publication. Foremost among these include
a restructuring of the senior management team, a stronger focus
on improved leadership and teamwork and better administrative
practices, as well as a clear commitment to open and timely engagement
with staff and the wider community. Detailed responses to each
of the panel's recommendations can be found in the STFC response,
but it is worth highlighting the following:
Recommendations 5, 9 and 11: STFC accepts
that the Executive Board should be responsible for all top-level
decision-taking. This Board has been streamlined and comprises
the Chief Executive Officer, the two Deputy CEOs, Director of
Corporate Affairs, Finance Director and the Director, Corporate
Services (with responsibility for Human Resources). In addition,
STFC Council and Executive are discussing the evolution of the
management structure beneath the executive level as part of STFC's
ongoing change programme. STFC accepts that it needs further to
develop its leadership capabilities as part of its change management
programme and is in the process of recruiting an external mentor
to help the top team with this. A new Finance Director, Ms Jane
Tirard, joined the STFC on 5 January 2009 and there have been
further management changes which are referred to below.
Recommendation 3: The STFC recognised
the shortcomings of its communications capabilities in its self
assessment. Mr Terry O'Connor, a new Communications Director,
was appointed in August 2008 from outside the organisation. Under
Mr O'Connor's leadership, the STFC has developed a new plan for
its communications, endorsed by its senior management team. A
restructuring of its Communications function is underway, with
effort concentrated on stakeholder relations and external media
management, as well as the improved development and delivery of
clear communications, internally and externally. The report of
our Investors in People assessor has highlighted the improvements
in communication that has resulted from these changes (see below).
Recommendations 11 and 12: One of the
first priorities for Ms Tirard is ensuring that the STFC has all
the necessary financial systems and robust controls required to
ensure mutual confidence in the information used for decision
making in the next Spending Review. The Council has already moved
to strengthen the effectiveness of its interactions with DIUS,
and STFC is already in informal discussions with DIUS and our
wider stakeholder community, in respect of its approach to the
next SR, in particular with regard to the long term nature of
many of the STFC's investments.
The Review of UK Physics
forms part of RCUK's continuing oversight of the health of disciplines,
and was the first in a series of such reviews. The review Panel,
led by Professor Bill Wakeham, gathered information on the volume
and nature of research being undertaken by physics departments
through the first part of 2008 and reported in October 2008.
The review considered the priorities for investment across physics
as a whole, taking account of the need both to maintain the health
of discipline, and to strengthen its wider impact, including economic
impact, in the future. The STFC made its own written submission
The STFC welcomed the Review's findings that
the strength of the discipline in the UK is high, in particular
with regard to the physical infrastructure required to sustain
research in the UK. STFC contributed to the RCUK's response to
the key findings of the report
and welcomes the stated need for continued and increased interdisciplinary
working to ensure the continued health of the discipline.
The Panel made recommendations with regard to
the STFC's approach to CSR bids (Recommendation 6) with regard
to former PPARC facilities and grant funding, and other potential
tensions between regional, national and international facilities.
The STFC stands by the RCUK response to these points, in that
the evidence for all aspects of bids for funding as part of spending
reviews is already supplied in detail. In addition, we believe
that we need to manage our expenditure as a whole across the newly
formed organisation, rather than managing individual budgets in
discrete silos. We recognise, however, that the newly formed council
has challenges in appropriately tensioning different types of
expenditurefor instance, between grants and capital investments,
and also with respect to interdisciplinary programmes. On 19 November
2008 I took the opportunity to expand on some of the themes in
the report in a speech to the Foundation for Science and Technology,
and outlined some of the challenges for the UK, and the STFC in
particular, with regard to physics.
We welcome debate in this area and, with regard
to some of the unique investment challenges faced by the STFC,
we have also submitted a discussion paper to the Committee's Inquiry,
Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government
which explores some of these questions and looks to potential
routes to their resolution.
With regard to the Panel's call for the STFC
Council to be broadened (Recommendation 7), the STFC and DIUS
held an open competition to recruit two additional non-executive
science members in the latter part of 2008. Interviews with candidates
are being held on Friday 23 January with the expectation that
the Secretary of State will make appointments effective 1 April
2009 following the interview panel's recommendations.
The Panel made specific recommendations regarding
Solar and Terrestrial Physics, Nuclear Physics and High Performance
Computing (Recommendations 12, 15 and 17). The STFC has been working
closely with NERC, EPSRC and other relevant bodies to progress
all these areas positively.
Following an external consultation process which
concluded in early 2008,
and an intensive review process conducted by the STFC Science
Board and its two key advisory bodies PPAN (Particle Physics,
Astronomy and Nuclear Physics Science Committee) and PALS (Physical
and Life Sciences Committee),
the STFC announced its £1.906 billion investment programme
in July 2008.
Ten independent specialist panels assessed input from the wider
scientific community during a consultation which received more
than 1,400 responses from the UK and abroad.
The programme is ambitious, scientifically sound
and makes excellent use of the resources available. All projects
reviewed were judged as having considerable scientific merit.
However, support for some existing work inevitably needed to be
withdrawn to create space for new activities. Successfully managing
the competing aspirations for the community with the constraints
placed upon the STFC will always remain central to the challenges
we face, but the successful completion of the review and continued
management of resources is of great credit to our management team,
advisory groups, staff and stakeholders across the organisation.
STFC STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT
Throughout 2008 STFC has been engaged in a series
of conversations, workshops and forums with staff and external
stakeholders to develop and agree its strategy for the future,
under the leadership of the Director of Corporate Affairs, Gordon
Input from external bodies encouraged the development
of a strategy that covers all aspects of the STFC's work (Science,
Operations, Economic Impact and Education & Skills) in a single
place, as well as the development of a framework that can provide
clarity and vision for all members of the organisation.
The draft strategy has now been opened to public
and structured engagement with key stakeholder groups, including
DIUS, other Research Councils, learned societies and other key
stakeholders is taking place over the coming weeks. The formal
consultation closes on 20 March 2009, with a view to final publication
in April. The Committee's input to this process is very warmly
STFC CHANGE MANAGEMENT
OF 2008 AND
THROUGH 2009. WHERE
REVIEW, I AM
The senior management team has been re-invigorated
over the last year with the introduction of new faces to the senior
team, as described above. The year also saw significant work to
implement the Research Councils's Shared Services Centre in Swindon.
At the end of 2008, the British National Space
Centre relocated its offices from DIUS to the headquarters of
the Research Councils in Swindon, which improves integration and
communication with this key body for which STFC is a primary sponsor.
This is augmented by the full time secondment of senior STFC staff
to the BNSC team.
This year will see the closure programme of
the SRS at Daresbury Laboratory enter its final stage, with the
last planned round of redundancies, that of the decommissioning
team, due to be announced shortly, in line with the agreed timetable.
During 2008 the opportunity was taken to celebrate the incredibly
successful operation of the SRS over its lifetime.
I am particularly grateful to the management team at Daresbury
for dealing with the closure programme so professionally, which
has understandably been a very challenging and at times stressful
On 12 December 2008 the STFC's Investors in
People assessor reinstated the organisation's full Investors in
People Standard, following some concerns outlined in their assessment
12 months earlier (the full report is attached). The STFC welcomes
the report and believes it rightly highlights the hard work being
made across the organisation to forge a single culture. The report
welcomes the creation of our new unified People Management Standard
(CRISTAL) and highlights the successful promotion of new and existing
talent within the organisation to key roles at all levels. I continue
to be greatly enthused by the description of the STFC as an organisation
that "oozes talent" and one where "professionalism,
passion and pride [is] displayed at all levels".
The signing of the Joint Venture Agreement for
Harwell Science and Innovation Campus (HSIC)
between UKAEA, STFC and private sector partner, Goodman, in October
has been an important step in moving forward the long term Campus
development project and, in particular, marks commercial confidence
in the project despite a difficult investment climate. It is planned
for the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus (DSIC) to develop
and issue a European OJEC notice to secure a similar joint venture
partner at Daresbury, drawing on the HSIC experiences of this
Work continues at pace at the joint research
council Research Complex at Harwell,
led by MRC, which will provide facilities for life and physical
sciences researchers adjacent to the Diamond Light Source, and
is now well advanced in construction.
Progress at HSIC was quickly followed by the
agreement of the European Space Agency (ESA) at its intergovernmental
Ministerial meeting to develop plans to locate a research centre
at the Harwell.
Once established the new centre will play an important part in
the development of key technologies and capabilities, particularly
new work on climate change modelling that uses space data and
the development of technologies for a new era of planetary exploration,
including robotics and novel power sources.
STFC has had £236.5 earmarked for investment
to develop large-scale research facilities and projects in its
The investment was announced in July 2008 by DIUS and is being
made available through the Government`s Large Facilities Capital
Fund. The STFC projects approved include:
£50 million for the Hartree
Centre, an advanced computational science centre at STFC's DSIC;
£24 million for a new Imaging
Solutions Centre based at HSIC;
£30 million for a new Detector
Systems Centre based jointly at Daresbury and Harwell;
£25 million for ISIS Target
Station 2, STFC's world-leading pulsed neutron and muon source
facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory;
£92.5 million for the Diamond
Light Source, in which STFC has an 86% shareholding, for the design
and construction of an additional 10 beam lines; and
£15 million for the Square Kilometre
Array to develop the first prototype phase of this next generation
global radio telescope.
In recognition of the difficulties caused by
the reduction of grants funding to universities as part of the
2007 CSR Allocation, STFC has worked hard to find flexibility
in the original programme, largely by identifying management of
risk in other areas of the budget profile. The STFC was able to
announce in October an increase in our planned spend on research
grants by a total of £9 million over the next two years
as a consequence.
Following this announcement, the Science Board
has agreed to recommend the allocation of an additional £6
million to the Particle Physics, Nuclear Physics and Astronomy
grants panels over the remaining CSR period, with the remaining
£3m going to support new initiatives in Universities.
The Committee will appreciate that the STFC
is involved in a great many projects at any one time and a broad
update can be found in the Council's Scorecard.
Included below, however, are brief updates on some of the matters
in which the Committee will have particular interest.
Further to the Recommendations of the Wakeham
review, STFC has been working closely with the RCUK and EPSRC
to establish the UK's requirements in this area, particularly
in the context of the UK's requirements for skills in this area
and taking into regard the recent Nuclear Engineering case study
work of the Committee.
Solar and Terrestrial Physics
Further to the Recommendations of the Wakeham
Report and following the conclusions of the Select Committee,
the STFC has been working with NERC to define ongoing responsibility
for ground based Solar and Terrestrial Physics capability.
European Spallation Source
Following an accelerated timetable from European
partners with regard to planning towards for future neutron facilities
in Europe, a town meeting was held in November 2008 to agree the
UK's negotiating position.
I look forward to expanding on these matters
when I appear before the Committee on 4 February.
1 Correspondence June-July 2008. Back
IUSS Select Committee Report on Science Budget Allocations. Back
Government Response to the Committee's Fourth Report. Back
STFC Self Assessment Report. Back
Report of the External Review Panel. Back
RCUK Organisational Review Homepage. Back
STFC response to the Organisational Review Report. Back
Wakeham Review of UK Physics homepage. Back
Wakeham Review of Physics Report. Back
STFC submission to the Wakeham Review of Physics. Back
RCUK Response to theReview of UK Physics. Back
Keith Mason address to the Foundation for Science and Technology,
19 November 2008. Back
Memorandum from the Science and Technology Facilities Council
(STFC) in response to the IUSS Select Committee Inquiry: Putting
Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy-attachment. Back
Consultation on STFC Programmatic Review. Back
STFC Science Board; PPAN; PALS. Back
STFC Programmatic Review. Back
STFC Strategy Concultation. Back
SRS Formal Closure. Back
STFC, UKAEA, Goodman sign Joint Venture Agreement. Back
Research Complex at Harwell. Back
European Space Centre at Harwell. Back
£236.5 million pound investment earmarked for STFC science. Back
Statement on STFC Research Grants, October 2008. Back
STFC Scorecard. Back
IUSS Engineering Case Study-Nuclear Engineering. Back
An update on neutron facilities. Back