House of COMMONS






science and technology facilities council







Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 140




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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee

on Wednesday 4 February 2009

Members present

Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair

Mr Ian Cawsey

Dr Ian Gibson

Dr Evan Harris

Dr Brian Iddon

Graham Stringer




Examination of Witness


Witness: Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive, Science and Technology Facilities Council, gave evidence.

Q1 Chairman: We welcome Professor Keith Mason, chief executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, who is before us yet again this morning. This hearing is basically a follow-up of the work we did on science budgets in 2008 and their aftermath particularly the settlement for the STFC. A significant amount of water has gone under the bridge since we did our first report. Are you now satisfied that the structure of STFC is right to address the weaknesses which you acknowledged and we highlighted? Is it now fit for purpose?

Professor Mason: I believe it is. It has been a year since I last spoke to you and it is a pleasure to come and tell you about the huge progress we have made since then. STFC is playing its part in putting science at the centre of society which I know is a matter of huge concern to you and your inquiry and is very welcome. I believe that in the past 12 months we have come a long way. We are still a relatively young organisation and sometimes we have had some contentious issues to deal with, but we have listened to what people have been saying and to criticisms and suggestions and have acted upon them. We are now in a very good position. We conducted a programmatic review last year which led to the announcement in the summer of our investment plans amounting to 1.9 billion over the next three years. It is a fantastically exciting programme right at the cutting edge of the world. We have the LHC, the ALMA telescope, the Diamond Target Station 2 and, just recently, the C1XS instrument built in the UK that is now orbiting the moon and receiving high praise from the Indians. I believe that that programme is delivering science, excitement, skills and impact.

Q2 Dr Gibson: Have you heard from the Minister of Science and Innovation?

Professor Mason: Yes, I have.

Q3 Dr Gibson: What did he say to you?

Professor Mason: We discussed a number of things.

Q4 Dr Gibson: Did you discuss the question of improved performance? Did he send you a Christmas card, increase your salary, give you more money or encourage you in any way?

Professor Mason: I would not expect that, but, yes, I think Lord Grayson is very supportive. We are all in this together in terms of moving forward the agenda.

Q5 Dr Gibson: Did you discuss the problems you had had in the past?

Professor Mason: Yes, we did.

Q6 Dr Gibson: What was his take on that?

Professor Mason: You really should ask him, but it was a positive discussion. We are agreed that we have had some issues, have dealt with them and need to move forward and that is in everybody's interest.

Q7 Chairman: One of those issues was the over-representation of the executive on the council. That was a major concern. Why is that not resolved?

Professor Mason: The council has had a discussion on that. As we have made clear, we will make an announcement in the near future on how the council will move forward in conjunction with DIUS.

Q8 Chairman: With the greatest respect, when you saw us a year ago it was very much central to our concerns. Indeed, the external panel said, "There is also clear evidence that the composition of the Council has created a negative perception outside of STFC that the Executive has excessive influence within Council." This is central to the concerns we have and you have done absolutely nothing about it.

Professor Mason: That is not strictly true. We have discussed this issue and the way forward with the department. The composition of the council is not something that STFC determines. All I can say is that there will be an announcement soon and I am sure it will address the issues.

Q9 Chairman: What is your thinking or preference?

Professor Mason: I am very relaxed about the whole thing and, to be honest, I do not believe it makes an awful lot of difference. The issue has been highlighted as an external perception but from the inside it does not seem to me that it is terribly contentious and I am relaxed either way. But what we have done - again, an announcement on it will be made very shortly - is seek additional scientific members of the council. We have already conducted the interviews and submitted a recommendation to the secretary of state and we await confirmation. We hope that by April we shall have two additional scientific members on the council.

Q10 Chairman: In the past when I ran organisations, external perception was incredibly important for their success. You seem just to dismiss it.

Professor Mason: I do not dismiss it. I say that from the inside I am quite relaxed about the composition of the council. I will work with any composition of council, and I think we will be successful in doing so. This is an issue we are actively addressing. We take on board the external perception. I am concerned. I know that external perception is important and we shall be coming forward with a statement very soon.

Q11 Dr Gibson: What do you think is the external perception? How would you describe it?

Professor Mason: As the Chairman said and as described to me, it is perceived that the executive has excessive influence on the council. From where I sit I do not see that. The executive is a tool of council and must work with it, and that is what is happening. The relationship is very good. People have commented that the decisions made by the council would have been different had the executive not been there. That is not true.

Q12 Chairman: The executive dominates it and that is why you want the status quo, is it not?

Professor Mason: I do not think the executive does dominate it. The executive is usually present at council meetings, as it was at the predecessor councils.

Q13 Dr Gibson: But it is only as good as the information it is given by people like you, is it not? Have you suppressed any information?

Professor Mason: The intent behind the increase in executive membership of the council - I emphasise again that it was not my idea - was to improve the amount of information that council had available to make its decisions.

Q14 Dr Gibson: That does not mean it happens. Give me an example of where that has made a difference.

Professor Mason: My personal feeling is that I am quite relaxed about it.

Q15 Dr Gibson: But that is not good enough. You are in a very serious position in the sense that a lot of people are poking at you about your ability.

Professor Mason: Let me give you an example. One of the issues we had was management of a situation where we had to reduce the amount of internal staff within the research council. The earliest assumptions were that we would need a compulsory redundancy scheme which would have been very expensive and disruptive. The executive worked through very hard, conscientiously and imaginatively to come up with a scheme that avoided it and saved a lot of science. It was the executive that drove that forward and provided the information to the council. It was absolutely clear that to have that in-depth discussion between the executive and council members was key to making the council comfortable with that way forward, and that was what happened.

Q16 Chairman: I come to the external panel. Were you happy that the external panel was appointed to look at your organisation's structure and governance?

Professor Mason: Very happy.

Q17 Chairman: Do you think they did a good job?

Professor Mason: I volunteered the council to be the pilot in this exercise which is something DIUS intends to roll out to all the semi-PBs.

Q18 Chairman: Do you think they did a good job?

Professor Mason: I think they did do a good job and I welcome their input. The reason I volunteered the council was again a matter of dealing with external perceptions. We are not afraid of external scrutiny. We are doing a good job and we are proud of it.

Q19 Chairman: One of the big concerns when we looked at this issue was admittedly external perception but also what was happening within the organisation itself. There was huge concern on the part of different groups within the organisation that they were not being consulted. The external panel did not have time to interview a cross-section of staff; basically, they met only the executive. They took at face value all the self-assessments and did not do any audit of them. This is a total whitewash.

Professor Mason: I think that is somewhat unfair.

Q20 Chairman: If a group of MPs had to undertake self-assessments and nobody even looked at their validity they would be laughed out of court.

Professor Mason: I cannot speak for the work the panel did because obviously I was not involved in it. This is a standard process that the government uses for doing capability and organisation reviews. In terms of the perceptions and real issues about consultation among staff I think we have absolutely addressed those. The IIP report which came out at the end of the year was very complimentary about the progress we have made in these areas. We have a very good team. Our staff are increasingly on board with the new organisation and are working together in a very positive way. I do not think the organisational review got that wrong in any sense. They identified the problems.

Q21 Chairman: Do you think that self-assessments which are not even examined because people do not have time and are not cross-referenced against the people who make major complaints and who raised concerns with us and others at the time is a good process?

Professor Mason: I cannot speak for the process. This was a pilot.

Q22 Chairman: I am asking you what you think about it.

Professor Mason: But the process we undertook informing our self-assessment did consult with our staff. We went through a very intensive process over a period of two months which gathered the input and that self-assessment was based on the input of our staff and other stakeholders.

Q23 Dr Gibson: Do you have an appraisal scheme?

Professor Mason: An appraisal scheme?

Q24 Dr Gibson: Yes. Somebody more senior appraises somebody and somebody can say what they think.

Professor Mason: Yes, indeed. We are rolling out throughout the organisation what we call a new people management standard called CRISTAL which brings with it best modern practice. Again, that was developed by the staff themselves.

Q25 Dr Gibson: I hope you will agree that usually with appraisal schemes people tell you what is wrong with the organisation. Did that not happen during all the events over the past year or so? Was it ever said to you that basically the staff think the chief executive is crap?

Professor Mason: That particular comment was never made, but, yes, we do that and we have been working very hard over the past year or longer to address issues that the staff raised. Remember that the original difficulties happened when the organisation was very new and it takes time to imbed this sort of feedback.

Q26 Dr Gibson: But when this was going on did they know they were under threat of compulsory redundancy, or was it after the appraisals and you had seen who were the nasty ones and you got rid of them that way?

Professor Mason: Not at all. The threat of compulsory redundancies was there from the very beginning and it caused a lot of problems.

Q27 Dr Gibson: They are not going to say very much to anybody, are they?

Professor Mason: I think you underestimate the vociferousness of our staff. They are perfectly capable of standing up for themselves and they do, and we encourage it. We have a very good team spirit and are developing it.

Q28 Dr Gibson: What percentage were made compulsorily redundant?

Professor Mason: None.

Q29 Dr Gibson: But there was a threat to all of them.

Professor Mason: It was a potential. We did not issue a compulsory redundancy notice, but it was clearly discussed amongst staff, management and the trade unions.

Q30 Dr Gibson: I suggest that when that is hanging over people they are unlikely to be very co‑operative.

Professor Mason: You might think that but the evidence suggests otherwise. We had our Investors in People review last year and this year. People made comments last year and they were in the public record and we turned that around.

Q31 Chairman: I want to deal with two issues very briefly. The Wakeham review suggested that you should conduct a review of operations. Has that happened? Do you intend to do that, or is it no longer relevant?

Professor Mason: A review of operations? I do not quite understand.

Q32 Chairman: I refer to how STFC actually operates. Perhaps I may give the exact quote from Wakeham: ". . .the existing structure should be allowed time to develop, given it was founded on the basis of extensive positive consultation. However, at an appropriate point following the review of STFC management currently being conducted by Dr David Grant, DIUS should commission a review to examine STFC operations."

Professor Mason: That is a future review. The feeling of the Wakeham panel is that the organisation needs a few years to settle down. Larger mergers do not happen over night and that review will happen in the future.

Q33 Chairman: The RCUK shared services centre has been a bit of a flop, has it not?

Professor Mason: It has not had time to be a flop yet and I am sure it will not be. I am sure you are more aware than I that shared service centres are quite difficult things to implement. We have our challenges in putting this together but it is going rather well particularly lately. We are hopeful that STFC will be able to transfer into the shared service centre in the summer and that will free a logjam in terms of the other areas of reorganisation that we need to get into.

Q34 Dr Gibson: Why are grant letters issued to research councils by DIUS hidden? Why can we not see them? What is in them? I have seen some in the past and they are usually pretty dull, so what is wrong about disclosing them in this case?

Professor Mason: I certainly feel that mine was dull but I have seen only mine.

Q35 Dr Gibson: Would you release yours?

Professor Mason: I would be happy to show you ours.

Q36 Dr Gibson: Do you believe in the principle that all of these research grant letters should be freely available to the public?

Professor Mason: I think that needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. I am not sure what the surrounding issues are. Clearly, they are a process. I put it this way: I would not like to stifle the free flow of information.

Q37 Dr Gibson: So, any grant letters that have been given to you by DIUS you will make available to this Committee. That is what you said.

Professor Mason: I am happy to make available to the Committee my grant letter.

Q38 Dr Gibson: Or letters?

Professor Mason: I have had only one.

Q39 Dr Harris: There nothing commercially confidential in it. If there was you could put a black line through it.

Professor Mason: Indeed.

Q40 Mr Cawsey: Professor Mason, obviously you will be aware from the report of this Committee and your own self-assessment that one of the big criticisms related to communications. We are aware that in August of last year you appointed Terry O'Connor as communications director. What are your priorities for improving communications and how do you intend to measure those results?

Professor Mason: Terry has taken the bull by the horns from the very first day. We have reorganised our communications team to focus on two things: internal communications and stakeholder engagement. Those were the lead things that we really needed to do. I think that is already having a huge impact. I have already referred to the Investors in People report which highlights the improvement in communications and the way the staff feel much more positively about the information flow. We are also pursuing that increasingly with our external stakeholders. We are consulting with people regularly and with learned societies. We are holding workshops, for example, in relation to our consultation exercise and strategy basically to try to get a much more joined up vision to which our stakeholders and staff sign up so we can move forward in the same direction. I think that is incredibly important. We are here to make a difference to the UK science base and to extract the benefits of that for the wider society.

Q41 Mr Cawsey: The Investors in People strategy is quite a good way to measure the internal feedback in terms of what staff feel about what is going on. What are you doing to satisfy yourself that your external stakeholders are more confident and happy with the way things are now?

Professor Mason: By talking to them and getting their feedback we will as time goes on be assessing that and asking them what they want from us and how we should improve. We are actively engaged in that now and are very open to suggestions. I hope everybody is becoming aware that this is a big job. Organisations need to take it very seriously and it is not easily done, but we are working on it and are making huge progress.

Q42 Mr Cawsey: Is all of this being done internally with your new appointments and management or have you also employed some external communication consultants?

Professor Mason: We did have some external communications consultants in the interim before we appointed our new communications manager. We still employ consultants as and when necessary for special events or issues. If it was deemed important to do a survey of stakeholder opinions naturally we would want to use independent external people, but throughout all of this we have to balance the cost of doing that. We have a fixed budget and if we spend money on that we are not spending it on science, so we do not want to do that unnecessarily.

Q43 Mr Cawsey: What sort of resource have you been spending on consultants on communications?

Professor Mason: I do not have a figure to hand but I can provide one if you wish.

Q44 Chairman: Can you let us have that?

Professor Mason: Yes. Typically, it is of the order of one or two people.

Q45 Mr Cawsey: I notice that in the recent edition of Research Fortnight there was concern that you would interpret the need to improve communications as a call to spend more money on corporate PR fluff.

Professor Mason: I read that too and that is furthest removed from our mind. We are interested in useful communications, short simple messaging and getting the thing turned around, not creating some media presence. We are there to do the science and get the benefits from it and we are absolutely focused on that.

Q46 Mr Cawsey: So, readers of Research Fortnight can sleep easily?

Professor Mason: They certainly can.

Q47 Graham Stringer: I am finding it difficult - perhaps you can help me - to reconcile your answer to Dr Gibson's question with your response to an earlier question put by the Chairman. When you talked about recomposition of the board and the over-representation of the executive the converse of that was that you needed more scientists on the board, the theoretical physics community being up in arms. You said that it would not have made a lot of difference to the composition of the board. That would be a real change, but all you are doing is talking about communications. Do you not think that the physics community would feel much more relaxed if it was better represented?

Professor Mason: I think this is one of the messages we need to make very clear. I believe that the physics community is represented very strongly in our advisory system. Council has overall responsibility. It has responsibility for governance but it seeks advice from the various bodies it commissions to give it advice particularly on science. We have a very strong science board which has a much greater influence on our council than on equivalent bodies and other councils. That was the balance put in place originally to compensate for the fact that the council itself was small. The council receives advice from the science board and the chairman of that board sits at every council meeting. Concerns and issues of scientists of any flavour can be fed up through the advisory system and are taken notice of by council. These are very real issues to which council pays a huge amount of attention. My comment in regard to the issues last year, without wishing to rake over old coals, is that we took a series of steps. As far as council was concerned they were the only steps it could have taken and with the benefit of hindsight no one has suggested a practical alternative outcome. That is the sense in which I say it. It was not as if there was some other solution out there which scientists would have spotted and the existing council did not.

Q48 Graham Stringer: If you do not mind my saying so, when you put that in different words in your first sentence you said basically that if the composition of the board had been different it would not have made any difference. I do not understand how you can know that.

Professor Mason: I say that in the sense that nobody suggested an alternative to the actions that were taken. Where it would have made a difference perhaps is in the perception. I acknowledged earlier that perception was important and that is why we have taken the steps we have to change the balance on the council.

Q49 Graham Stringer: There is a fundamental difference, is there not - politicians probably know this better than others - between giving advice where you are in a less powerful position and being on a body that takes decisions? I think the perception certainly of the theoretical physics community is that if they had been sitting round the top table decisions would have been taken differently. I do not want to pussyfoot around this, but your answer that it would not be different, or there is not a lot of difference, sounds very complacent to me.

Professor Mason: We are certainly not complacent.

Q50 Graham Stringer: Perhaps I may first finish the question. In a sense you are not acknowledging the criticisms by this Committee and other parts of the science community that were not just about governance but leadership issues. What you are saying is that everything is fine and you are just getting on with it, whereas everything has not been fine and very little has happened.

Professor Mason: We have listened to the concerns and have taken action to address them. We have been very proactive in that regard. Far from being complacent, as you can imagine we have been in the centre of this storm and have been working incredibly hard to get the right outcomes. The right outcomes are to get a strong science programme and we have a world-class science programme over the next few years. We have more scientific opportunities over the next few years than we have ever had in these subject areas. We have the best telescopes, spacecraft, accelerators and light and neutron sources. There are huge opportunities here. We have worked incredibly hard with the scientific community through our programmatic review. I say again that that review involved an unprecedented level of consultation with the scientific community where they were able to put their view very clearly. We listened to that. Far from being complacent, we have been incredibly proactive and have listened, taken action and we are moving forward.

Q51 Chairman: The perception here is that the council is dominated by the executive. The executive makes decisions which are then consulted upon but because the council is dominated by the executive the consultation is pretty meaningless.

Professor Mason: I understand that is the perception and I am very anxious to deal with it. I am just offering my view. The STFC is not a council that can be easily dominated by anybody, frankly, and it does it a disservice to suggest otherwise. Everybody has worked incredibly hard over the past two years of the existence of the STFC to get it into an incredibly good position. We are in a very good position with a world-class programme. We are moving forward in all the agenda areas that we need. We have dealt with the real issues like communications and we are moving forward at a pace. Mergers of organisations do not happen over night and our job is not yet complete. We are not taking our foot off the pedal. It will be another couple of years or so before I can be happy we have reached a steady state situation, but we are not being complacent; we are moving forward as rapidly as we can. We are very keen to get external views as we have through the organisational review of our progress and to make sure we are on the right track, because it is too important to get it wrong.

Q52 Dr Iddon: You will know that some MPs in the North West are very concerned about Daresbury, so I should like to pose a few questions on it. For a long time there has been talk about a joint venture partner for Daresbury. The joint venture principle seems to be working well at Harwell but lagging at Daresbury. Can you tell us why that is?

Professor Mason: The sites are going in leapfrog. I am sure you are aware, but let me just remind you, that we trialled a number of the concepts behind the joint venture at Daresbury, so we have a partnership with NWBA and the local borough council. We have put in place the Innovation and Cockcroft Centres. These are all experiments to validate the approach of the campus. We have set up the joint venture at Harwell where we are taking forward the principles developed at Daresbury. Having learned the lessons from Harwell, we are moving that model back into Daresbury. We have done a master planning exercise for Daresbury and we are now in the final stages of preparing a notice for going out to tender for a joint venture partner for Daresbury. It is entirely on track and is as exciting as the Harwell opportunity and we are keen to push that forward.

Q53 Dr Iddon: Things always seem to be tried at Daresbury and then moved south. Why do you not do the pilot at Daresbury and then follow up with a joint venture partner there and then transfer to Harwell?

Professor Mason: The order in which you do things is dependent on several factors, but what you should not interpret into that ordering is any disadvantage for Daresbury. The Daresbury joint venture is in a way more complex because there are more partners and that is one reason we did Harwell first. Daresbury will benefit. We will be able to accelerate the process having done it at Harwell first and at the end of the day Daresbury will benefit from this ordering.

Q54 Dr Iddon: Can you tell us this morning when the joint venture notice for the Daresbury site is likely to be issued?

Professor Mason: The target is this spring. The exact timing is TBU.

Q55 Dr Iddon: Will not the current economic climate cause problems?

Professor Mason: Clearly, it is something of which we have been conscious and have discussed. The DSIC board has determined that it should go ahead in any case. One hopes that the current economic climate is a relatively short-lived issue, whereas the investment return on a campus like Daresbury or Harwell is 10 to 20 years, so we are looking at totally different timescales. While there are short-term concerns about property prices obviously the sorts of outfit that would look to be our joint venture partner at Daresbury as at Harwell are in it for the long term and recognise the long-term rather than short-term potential of these investments.

Q56 Dr Iddon: Obviously, everyone in the North West is anxious about the Tom McKillop review of science in the region. Why has your organisation felt the need to call that in three times now to have a look at it?

Professor Mason: I am sorry; I missed that.

Q57 Dr Iddon: Why has the STFC felt the need to see successive drafts of the McKillop review? Because of that are you not in danger of compromising the independence of that review?

Professor Mason: I am not sure that we are. The McKillop review is proceeding in an independent way. We have made our input into that review. I certainly have reviewed the notes that came out of the interview I did with the McKillop assessors and that is only right and proper, but it is a totally independent review and I am sure that it will reach its conclusions in the fullness of time.

Q58 Dr Iddon: I have here some minutes which more or less suggest that the review will keep coming back to the STFC until you are happy with it. How can that be an independent review?

Professor Mason: I do not accept that that is the case. I cannot imagine that Tom McKillop would stand for such a thing and we certainly would not want to interfere. Our interest lies in getting genuine, coherent and independent advice because we want to make a success of this.

Q59 Chairman: But the council's own minutes call for the review to be brought in in draft form to be looked at. It is a nonsensical process.

Professor Mason: You have me at a disadvantage because I do not recall that.

Q60 Chairman: According to the September 2008 minutes, "Council discussed the progress being made by the McKillop/Mier Campus Review. There had been particular disappointment with the first draft of a report on a similar parallel review being carried out on the NWDA, which also specifically included the DSIC report." You should not be getting that, should you?

Professor Mason: We did not get a draft. That was a third-party report of a different review. I think we were expressing concerns about the timescale and process involved, but we were not commenting on the draft.

Q61 Chairman: "There had been particular disappointment with the first draft of a report. . ."

Professor Mason: That is a different report.

Q62 Dr Harris: The minutes go on to say: "Steps had therefore been taken to ensure that STFC would be given copies of any developing drafts of the McKillop/Mier review of DSIC, in order to ensure factual correctness as the basis for any recommendations which might be made."

Professor Mason: Yes, and I think that is a perfectly acceptable process. When the report is finalised I think it is only right that we get an opportunity to address any factual issues, not the conclusions of the report.

Q63 Dr Harris: That is the final draft, is it not? That is not "developing drafts", so if you want to check for factual accuracy you might want to do it at the last stage, although I have to say that I do not think we do that. We do not give the government our whole report. If we have doubts about facts we ask them, but if you are to see developing drafts how often do you have to check facts?

Professor Mason: We have not seen developing drafts. We would expect to be able to comment on the accuracy. If we are to do this sort of review we want to get the facts and a real assessment of the situation. If it turns out that that is based on an incorrect interpretation of something that we or somebody else might have told them I think it is only responsible that we correct that.

Q64 Dr Harris: But interpretation is not a fact and I do not think that Sir Tom McKillop is recognised as a sloppy man when it comes to facts, so this is a bit controlling, is it not?

Professor Mason: No. I am not talking about interpretation. I would want Tom McKillop's interpretation, but if that is based on incorrect factual information then clearly the interpretation is not valuable. I would like to make sure that the facts are there and everybody agrees they are correct. I think that is only sensible.

Q65 Dr Iddon: Has the STFC held any of its council meetings on the RAL or Harwell site?

Professor Mason: Yes.

Q66 Dr Iddon: Has it held any at the Daresbury site?

Professor Mason: Yes.

Q67 Dr Iddon: Will that be a continuing process?

Professor Mason: Yes. We are moving around deliberately for obvious reasons.

Q68 Dr Iddon: This morning can you confirm the funding of the ALICE and EMMA projects at the Daresbury site? Is the funding for both projects secure?

Professor Mason: You will know that we have made huge strides in ALICE over the past several months and have achieved EMMA recovery which is a primary goal. Let us pay tribute to the people who did that because it was an incredibly difficult technical achievement. They have got there. We intend to continue to use ALICE to develop our accelerator technologies and it will be available in order to develop EMMA. Accelerator technology is part of our core strategy. As I am sure you are aware, accelerators are increasingly relevant not only for doing particle physics and other experiments but also for things like medical research. It is part of our translational activity to develop these advanced, compact, powerful accelerators so that eventually we can have portable units we can move around for whatever.

Q69 Dr Iddon: the new detector systems centre is based jointly at Daresbury and Harwell. Is there a breakdown of the finance that will go to both sites?

Professor Mason: There is a breakdown in the Large Facilities Capital Fund earmark. I cannot remember what that is, but it is at least fifty-fifty; it might even be in favour of Daresbury. But we are now developing the business case for that. The reason it is done jointly between Harwell and Daresbury is because obviously the expertise base on which we are building, not only internally but from the wider community, is distributed. Detectors are a fundamental input to much of our programme and we are taking advantage of our sites to strengthen the centre and makes sure it really acts as a gateway to the whole country.

Q70 Dr Iddon: Can you tell us how the Technology Strategy Board is working with both the Harwell and Daresbury sites?

Professor Mason: The STFC is working increasingly closely with the board. About two months ago we had a workshop with them in which we discussed a number of joint programmes. Clearly, the TSB is a key element in the chain from research to market in whatever shape or form and we are discussing with them how to optimise that linkage. For example, we have a joint funding scheme to take particle and nuclear physics technology and expertise and to export that into the security and medical world. We are also working with them on a number of other initiatives. I do not know whether you have had an opportunity to look at our strategy document, but we have what we call a number of futures programmes which provide seed corn for developing concepts so we can move them out. We see that as a chain which we start, TSB pick up and eventually the commercial world takes on.

Q71 Dr Iddon: My final question concerns the Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh which at one time was at great risk. What is the state of play now as regards that centre?

Professor Mason: It has been clear for a while that the volume of the astronomy programme will not be sufficient. Since we joined ESO at the beginning of this decade the demand for astronomy technology has naturally tailed off. This was well known and anticipated. The Astronomy Technology Centre is now part of the technology department under Roger Eccleston who is based at Daresbury. We actively seek to broaden the base of the work that goes on at the ATC. There are some absolutely fantastic technologists, engineers and scientists at the ATC. In particular, the technologists and engineers have generic skills which we can apply not just to astronomy but to a broad range of areas. Roger is working actively to maximise the use of that base alongside the other skills that exist among the technology partners. It is a huge resource for the country.

Q72 Dr Iddon: I am not quite sure what you are saying. At the moment the centre is at Edinburgh and you are talking about Daresbury. Are you suggesting that there will be a transfer of skills from Edinburgh to Daresbury?

Professor Mason: Not at all. There are people based in Edinburgh, people based in the technology department in Daresbury and people based in the technology department at Harwell. Roger is the overall leader of that. We seek to migrate work up to Edinburgh to broaden the areas of application using the specific expertise.

Q73 Dr Iddon: Away from astronomy?

Professor Mason: In addition to astronomy.

Q74 Chairman: To follow up Dr Iddon's question, when we visited ATC in Edinburgh one of its big concerns was that because of the limitations placed on it by STFC it was not able to bid for what were called commercially risky contracts particularly in the United States and elsewhere which wanted it to build large telescopes. One of the attractions of going in with the University of Edinburgh was that it would enable it to do it on a much more commercial basis. Are you saying that all of that is off now?

Professor Mason: No, it is still on the table. You will appreciate why an organisation like STFC which is publicly funded cannot take on those risks. It would be a risk to the public purse which clearly it is not appropriate, but we are very keen to pursue alternative models with the University of Edinburgh or the wider university, technical or industrial base in Scotland to produce a vehicle that can compete for any sort of contract, commercial or otherwise. There are various ways in which one can do that, but it would be perfectly appropriate to use the expertise that exists in the ATC to enable that to happen.

Q75 Chairman: But nothing has happened?

Professor Mason: We are talking to people in Scotland about this which is clearly not trivial. It also depends on the current financial climate and various other uncertainties which pertain to Scotland as well.

Q76 Chairman: When we met the then minister, Ian Pearson, on 20 February he and I had a little exchange about world-class science at Daresbury. When we visited Daresbury a great concern was that without a major world-class science facility this would become basically a business park. Do you still see the need for a world-class piece of science kit on that site in order for us to put that tag on it?

Professor Mason: I certainly agree there has to be world-class science on that site, as there is, and we are growing that science. As an illustration of it, I am sure you visited the innovation centre at Daresbury.

Q77 Chairman: We did, but when we visited the Cockcroft Centre the director said that unless there were major procedures on the site basically it would have to think about its future.

Professor Mason: Let me finish the story which is very brief. If you talk to people at the Innovation Centre, which is an incredibly exciting place to be, and ask why they are there the reason is that they interact with the strong scientific and technical people who are on the Daresbury site, so it is the capability rather than facility that is important. We are working very energetically to grow those possibilities. The Cockcroft Centre is a perfect example of scientific expertise that we absolutely need on that site in order to make the campus work. We have talked about the detector centre. There is also the Hartree Centre. We are looking at other opportunities going forward and in the future they may or may not include a so-called large facility. What I am anxious to do is avoid putting all Daresbury's eggs in a single facility basket and to broaden the base of activity so it is more resilient against anything that might pop up in the future, and we are doing that.

Q78 Chairman: There was a purpose in the Daresbury laboratory and a world-class group of scientists worked on a major facility that is now closed. I am not criticising that; it came to the end of its life. What is the point of all of them staying at the moment?

Professor Mason: Essentially, the world has moved on. It was the case that we had national laboratories around specific facilities but we are now evolving a different model. What is key to the UK's competitiveness in the world is to have critical mass in key areas. First and foremost, the Daresbury and Harwell science and innovation campuses are a means of gathering critical mass and making sure that the UK acts in unison, drawing in the expertise that is needed from all over the UK so we can compete in the world. The Cockcroft Centre is a perfect example of an investment that we, PPARC and others made in order to get that critical mass in place in Daresbury. It is a very powerful model which is demonstrating its credibility. We have also made an investment in the University of Durham recently. You might have seen the announcement of 60 million over 10 years to continue the particle physics theory centre there. We are making these investments all the time to get critical mass. We started the Particle Physics Institute in order to get critical mass in particle physics theory in the UK and it is incredibly successful. It competes in the world and is recognised as a beacon because we made that investment.

Q79 Chairman: If you had a free hand would you still move everything to RAL and close Daresbury?

Professor Mason: No, for the simple reason that we are a national organisation. My job is to make use of the national resources to pursue the programmes and the mission that we are given. We happen to have Daresbury there for historical reasons, but the North West is a hugely energetic area with a lot of capability and skills that we need to tap into, so I do not want to move it. I want it to be there for the purely selfish reason that I want to tap into the expertise in that area.

Q80 Chairman: When the director of the Cockcroft Centre says that he is thinking of moving and the centre is basically running down is he just shroud-waving?

Professor Mason: You would have to ask him that.

Q81 Chairman: I am asking what you think.

Professor Mason: My vision for Cockcroft is that we seek ways to expand that. Accelerators are a key technology that this country needs and we need expertise in that technology.

Q82 Chairman: But if the director does not support your view there is something wrong, is there not?

Professor Mason: I doubt very much that he does not support that view. There might have been some misunderstandings earlier on as to intent, but he is working with us to develop his vision of the accelerator world and how to move that forward. He is very supportive of that.

Q83 Dr Harris: Has the government told you that it would like to see a new large facility at Daresbury?

Professor Mason: The government has not told me anything in that regard.

Q84 Dr Harris: You are the only person in the world! I should like to clarify what you said earlier. You said it could not be guaranteed that there would be a new large facility at Daresbury.

Professor Mason: No.

Q85 Dr Harris: There might or might not be; you just cannot say?

Professor Mason: As you know, we are working on the new light source project and putting a lot of energy into it. We are developing that case and we shall have to consider the merits of it in competition with all the other demands for funding.

Q86 Chairman: It is not going to happen, is it?

Professor Mason: I cannot say that, and it is not a decision that I will make. What I will do is prepare the best possible case I can. You know the process for large facility capital funding; it must be ranked against other bids by RCUK and eventually government will make a decision.

Q87 Dr Harris: Figuratively speaking, how much energy are you putting into the European Spallation Source? Is the plan that the UK will bid for this new source and back it or is your priority to concentrate on upgrading the two existing facilities that you use which I think are ILL and ISIS, I think?

Professor Mason: We had a town meeting of the relevant community not so long ago and agreed a national position.

Q88 Dr Harris: I have read it but I cannot understand it and that is why I ask the question. The situation is not clear from that position statement.

Professor Mason: The first thing to clarify is that these facilities are complementary and do different things. In particular, the ISIS short pulse source has a totally different set of applications from the ILL and ESS will occupy an intermediate space. Our current priorities are to exploit the ISIS instrument and to work to maintain that at the forefront of the world. I am hopeful that that will involve internationalising ISIS much more than it is even today, so it would be part of A European network and our contribution to European neutron studies.
As to the ESS, our first priority in the short term is to exploit ILL where there is a development programme and ISIS, but we are conscious of the fact that ILL is a reactor-based facility. Initially we felt that one of the reasons we started the ESS discussion was for fear that ILL might not continue beyond 2020. I think we have to sit down and look very hard at the timing of the ESS with respect to any continuing programme on the ILL.

Q89 Dr Harris: I did not really follow whether there was an answer to my question. Do you want another go?

Professor Mason: In the short term our priorities are ISIS and ILL, but we are conscious that we do need to develop ESS for the longer term and that is the position that the community came to which is contained in that statement.

Q90 Dr Harris: The statement says that a decision by ministers on the site for the ESS could be taken within six months, so that is the short term, and yet you are saying that your short-term priorities - I do not argue with them because it is not for me to say what they should be; I just want to establish what they are - are not to bid for the ESS; it is not a priority in the next six months to a year or a couple of years?

Professor Mason: I think there are two issues here which probably cause the confusion. Ministers particularly in Europe want to make a decision in the next six months and that is driven by various issues, but once you have decided where it is there is a separate decision as to when it is. Even if the decision is made in the next six months it is not clear to us that one would start building the ESS in the short term.

Q91 Dr Harris: So, if they do get a move on we might not be in there at the beginning because we have other short-term priorities?

Professor Mason: No. Let us be clear: we are very heavily engaged in the ESS discussion. One of my people is convening the study that is looking at the ESS going forward. There are many ways in which we can contribute including technical developments. Whilst I have said that all of these three facilities work in slightly different ways they have at their root quite a lot of common technical work. I am sure that if we were to upgrade ISIS that work would also be useful for the ESS.

Q92 Dr Harris: In other words, is there a conflict in the short term? This may be a good thing because you want to make sure you sort out ILL and ISIS?

Professor Mason: That is right.

Q93 Dr Harris: The funding of that would compete with early investment in ESS, so in a sense it is in your interest to keep flexible and for ESS not to be moved forward very quickly in terms of expenditure?

Professor Mason: We are in a situation particularly in this economic downturn where competition for resources throughout Europe is very, very tight. We have to have a serious discussion about how best to move forward. People will have different views. We need to sit down and reach a consensus. That is what we are doing, and we are leading that discussion.

Q94 Dr Harris: You are agreeing with that point. If there are financial issues, can I urge you to say, in answer to the first question, what they are? Say what they are: communicate.

Professor Mason: Indeed; that is what we are doing.

Q95 Dr Harris: The next question concerns Gemini. Where are we on that? The position is not clear to me so now is an opportunity with a new communication strategy to make this clear.

Professor Mason: As you know, Gemini is a complex issue, but we are a member of it and are committed to be a member until 2012. We have to take a view on continued membership beyond 2012. The debate in which we are engaged with the astronomical community both in the UK and beyond is about what sort of range of facilities we need in future when moving into an era of extremely large telescopes. Clearly, everybody is in the same boat and has to deal with a fixed resource. We need to put in place the optimum plan in terms of making sure we stay at the forefront, so if we press ahead with the VLT which ESO is very keen to do we have to take a view on the priority of that compared with maintaining existing facilities. That is the debate that I am to kick off shortly.

Q96 Dr Harris: As I understand it, your current plan is to sell 50 per cent of your time in order to concentrate on one of the telescopes, which I think is the northern one.

Professor Mason: We are open to offers to buy time from us because we believe that those resources can be better deployed elsewhere. We have consulted with our community about that and the majority view is that that is an appropriate thing to do in order to use the resources most widely.

Q97 Dr Harris: Would you give an undertaking that as your position develops you will keep us informed in clear terms?

Professor Mason: Absolutely.

Q98 Dr Harris: It is better that we hear it directly than to hear concerns and complaints from vested interests on either side.

Professor Mason: Indeed.

Q99 Dr Harris: I move to ground-based terrestrial physics, which as you know is our favourite subject with you. How are you getting on with the discussions with NERC about transferring responsibility?

Professor Mason: We are making very good progress. We are still discussing and negotiating and hope to make an announcement very shortly. One of our concerns here was that clearly the application of these facilities has changed. It is directed more at the climate change agenda than the space agenda where it started. The whole business of upper atmosphere research has always been a difficult boundary between what was PPARC and NERC and now STFC and NERC. One of the clear things we have done over the past several weeks is to get an understanding of what the issues are and try to put a more clearly defined interface between the responsibilities of the two councils. You cannot legislate away boundary issues because science ignores them and transfers across, but we also have a well-established procedure for bidding for two entities at the same time for cross-disciplinary work and we want to encourage that. We shall be coming out with a considered statement in the near future, but I can tell you that we already have a much more robust definition of where the boundary lies.

Q100 Dr Harris: But in the short term until that is sorted out you do not propose to end the funding of ground-based experiments?

Professor Mason: We are committed to EISCAT until 2011.

Q101 Dr Harris: In terms of funding beyond that I have seen something about STP grants being considered on their individual scientific merits, and "PPAN confirmed that reduced support was appropriate in line with the continued subscription and this was graded alpha 1." Alpha 1 seems like a high grade to me.

Professor Mason: I think alpha 5 is a high level; it goes the other way round. But the general point of principle here is that anybody can apply to us to do anything and it will be judged on its scientific merit. I would encourage people to apply, but I should to re-emphasise, because I am sure people will listen to this, that they should use the cost disciplinary route.

Q102 Dr Harris: Is there still a disagreement within the EISCAT community about whether you are entitled to pull out in 2011 by giving notice in 2010 because some of the minutes say that EISCAT council does not accept that; it says you are committed to 2014: "EISCAT executives are aware of the STFC's view that it is only committed until the end of 2011 but have restated their view that the current UK commitment now extends to 2014." Those are two opposing views which affect the credibility of the UK.

Professor Mason: I think there is a genuine misunderstanding here. A letter was sent from the then PPARC which apparently the EISCAT Council does not acknowledge receiving at a particular time, but that is an issue with which we will deal. We hope that the issue will not arise. We hope to continue to exploit EISCAT but in a much broader way than we do currently.

Q103 Dr Harris: I have two further questions, one of which is to do with exchange rate fluctuations. What is your position on that? Presumably, you are exposed to the maximum like every research council but STFC is particularly affected because of its large number of international subscriptions paid in sterling to European countries. What is the position?

Professor Mason: Our liability on those is limited to the first three million in any given year.

Q104 Dr Harris: I thought it was six million.

Professor Mason: No; it was revised down to three million.

Q105 Dr Harris: The Wakeham review stated that "STFC are responsible for exchange rate/[net national income] variations up to 6 million in their costs."

Professor Mason: That was the original position.

Q106 Dr Harris: But it has been changed post-Wakeham?

Professor Mason: It was originally a liability but when the exchange rate changed it became a reality. We discussed with DIUS whether or not it was reasonable. DIUS took a very constructive view that it would limit our direct liability to 3 million and also NERC's liability and the rest would be spread.

Q107 Dr Harris: Which has a further impact on you?

Professor Mason: It has a further impact.

Q108 Dr Harris: What is the further impact of the spreading of all of that?

Professor Mason: It is 20 per cent of the impact.

Q109 Dr Harris: Which is how much? Is it more or less than the 3 million?

Professor Mason: In principle it is about the same. The whole issue of exchange rates is complicated. Because the pound has dropped both our contribution in euros goes up but also our GDP goes down and therefore there is an offset. It is a complicated issue with lots of time dependence.

Q110 Dr Harris: Is there a figure that you can put on it? My point is that there is an overall figure of more than 3 million and unless the pound recovers it will still be pressing upon us. What is your view on the options set out in the Wakeham report about how that could be dealt with, for example that the Treasury takes the risk rather than expecting research councils to take the risk?

Professor Mason: My personal view is that it is appropriate for that risk to reside at the highest possible level because there are then direct compensatory elements. For example, when the exchange rate goes down our subscriptions go up but presumably the number of exports also go up.

Q111 Dr Harris: Would you be disappointed if the current situation does not change to something that essentially moves the risk higher up for the reasons you have given and are set out in Wakeham?

Professor Mason: I believe that systemically that would be a more satisfactory solution.

Q112 Dr Harris: What is your reaction to Lord Grayson's recent suggestions that it is time the UK specialised in a big way at a strategic level in certain areas? I understand that he mentioned two areas neither of which was relevant to your research council. It does not mean that he is not going to do that, but what would be the consequence of something like that if it concentrated on, say, climate change - you might try to grab it back from NERC if that was the case - and biological stuff like medicine?

Professor Mason: Lord Grayson has mentioned a number of different areas over the past several days and it is only right that we have this debate. As I said right at the outset, like many members of the Committee I have been pushing the case that science should be at the centre of society. This economic downturn brings that into stark relief. We have a very strong research base in this country and it is only right that we see how to use it to best advantage. I think Lord Grayson also emphasised that we need to build that on a broad research base of skills and research capability. The engines of innovation are multidisciplinary. This is part of our fundamental vision of the science and innovation campuses.

Dr Harris: His suggestion is that there will be big winners and the consequence of that is that there will be losers. How do you think the community in your research council area feels about that because the other option is the status quo?

Q113 Chairman: Have you discussed it?

Professor Mason: I have not discussed it with my community, obviously, because it is a new suggestion, but what I can say is that this is consistent with our vision for the science and innovation campuses. This is an issue that we need to debate and have a clear view upon and it is one that other people in the world are debating. For example, the Obama administration is thinking along similar lines and has increased the NSF's budget by 50 per cent immediately, as I understand it, with the suggestion that it should be doubled in the next 10 years. As a nation we must have a debate and recognise the value of science in driving forward this agenda and invest in it appropriately.

Q114 Dr Harris: There will need to be some thick skins out there if we are the losers?

Professor Mason: I think that the whole of the research base should be mobilised in this regard. In terms of the reaction of my community I mentioned earlier that we had run a pilot scheme for the development of ideas from nuclear and particle physics into the medical and security areas. The reaction of the community to that was incredible. I was overwhelmed by the response. There are huge ideas out there and they just need the means to generate them, but that is not the same as saying that you do it at the expense of the underlying research base which would just be shooting ourselves in the foot.

Q115 Graham Stringer: After your last two appearances before the Committee you sent us a supplementary note in which you said: "We have now reached agreement with the University of Manchester on combining investments in eMerlin at Jodrell Bank." Can you tell us a bit more about that? The Committee was concerned about the future of Jodrell Bank and the eMerlin project. Can you tell us how and why you came to a solution to that problem?

Professor Mason: The STFC has been quite consistent on this. It sees eMerlin as a strategic link to the SKA which is one of our highest priority items. There was a lot of concern about Jodrell Bank because of advice we received from our scientific peer review committee on eMerlin. That looked at eMerlin as an isolated project which was running late and had problems, whereas the council was looking at a strategic plan. We said from the outset that we would want a joined-up picture with the University of Manchester which actually operates it and is responsible for it. Manchester is the lead for SKA. We have an allocation from the Large Facilities Capital Fund of 50 million to develop the first stage of the SKA using the expertise at Manchester, a lot of which is the same as that which has been developed and grown around eMerlin. Therefore, they are part of one strategic picture. We need to make sure that we move seamlessly from the eMerlin era into the new SKA. The long-term future of Jodrell Bank is something that the university will have to consider because, looking forward 10 years or so, it is not a suitable site for doing radio astronomy in the modern world. There is just too much noise around. There will have to be alternative plans for retaining and using that site. The university is in active negotiation and discussions with other entities about the future of Jodrell Bank as both an historic and educational establishment and technical site. Our position is clear. We are in charge of the research programme. eMerlin is important as a strategic step towards one of our very highest priorities which is the SKA where the UK can lead. We have an understanding which will continue to develop with the University of Manchester as to how to work together to achieve these various aims.

Q116 Graham Stringer: Let me make sure I have understood that. The funding for Jodrell Bank and some of the funding for eMerlin was going to be stopped because of the peer review, but you overrode that because you thought this was a pathway to SKA?

Professor Mason: That is in a sense correct. Peer review advises; it does not decide, but it was one of the factors that went into the equation.

Q117 Graham Stringer: You are now telling us that Jodrell Bank has been saved for a period of time. You would not expect it to be operating in 10 years' time in the way it has operated. Can you be more precise about the funding of both Jodrell Bank and eMerlin? The implication of what you said was that you were helping them out for a period of time and you were leaving the problems to the university. I do not want to misrepresent you, but can you tell me whether that is right and, if so, what is the timescale?

Professor Mason: We intend to continue to invest in the University of Manchester for radio astronomy. The emphasis of that investment will over time move from eMerlin into SKA. Incidentally, we are also investing in them as a lead on the ALMA telescope in the UK. The amount of investment going to Manchester is healthy and the projected investment, assuming that SKA et cetera go well, is also very healthy but the emphasis will change. We are not leaving them in the lurch in any shape or form but are talking to them in a very engaged manner so they are clear about our priorities and timescales and can make their plans in the full knowledge of the drivers that affect our programme. It is a very open dialogue and we both know where we stand.

Q118 Graham Stringer: Can the Committee know where it stands? When will Jodrell Bank stop operating as a radio telescope?

Professor Mason: I cannot tell you that because nobody knows. It depends on the timescale of technical development and the scientific case that is made. This will be looked at in our programmatic review in a year or two's time. If eMerlin is up and operational by that time - I fully expect it to start operating this year - and is doing the sort of science that I expect it to do then it will be able to make a very good case in the programmatic review and may well get ranked very close to the top, in which case we will continue to fund that activity as eMerlin, but irrespective of that we have a strategic plan to develop the SKA and that will involve resources going into the University of Manchester. It is for them to decide how to use those resources, but that will allow them to continue in operation at Jodrell Bank.

Q119 Graham Stringer: For how long is funding for eMerlin and Jodrell Bank guaranteed at the present time?

Professor Mason: It was two years from last summer, so it continues for another 18 months or so.

Q120 Graham Stringer: When will the decision on the next tranche of funding be taken?

Professor Mason: At the next programmatic review which is due in about a year or 18 months, so it is a similar timescale.

Q121 Graham Stringer: Therefore, 18 months would be a bit late, would it not?

Professor Mason: If it is late then we will deal with that problem and provide bridging funding or whatever. Our intention is to work with the University of Manchester to achieve our joint and national strategy for radio astronomy which is important both for science and for other reasons such as knowledge transfer and training. It is an incredibly important activity for taking that forward.

Q122 Graham Stringer: Almost uniquely in the world at the moment, one of your spokespeople told Physics World that you had a surplus of 9 million. Can you tell us where that came from and what you are going to do with it?

Professor Mason: It is certainly not a 9 million surplus. We made provision for exchange rate fluctuations at the 6 million level. We discussed with DIUS the reality of exchange rate fluctuations and it very helpfully for other reasons reduced our liability to 3 million, so we recognise the pressure on exploitation grants.

Chairman: How did you end up with 9 million?

Q123 Graham Stringer: I wish I had a bank manager like that.

Professor Mason: Indeed, but we recognised from the outset the pressure on research grants, so when that money became available we naturally-------

Q124 Chairman: I have to stop you at this point. I am not Carol Vorderman, but I do not understand this. You allocate 6 million to this process. That is reduced to 3 million. You then have a liability of 3 million. There is a surplus of 3 million and suddenly it becomes 9 million.

Professor Mason: No; it is per year, so it is 3 million over three years.

Q125 Chairman: So, it was not part of the Comprehensive Spending Review; it was 6 million per year?

Professor Mason: Yes.

Q126 Graham Stringer: Maybe I did not understand your answers to Dr Harris's questions, but there was 20 per cent extra as the money was dispersed, was there not? Did you not say that when the 6 million was reduced to 3 million there was some liability as the government took on that extra 3 million liability?

Professor Mason: In principle there might be, but as I understand it DIUS is taking care of that centrally at the current time.

Q127 Graham Stringer: What are you going to do with the 9 million?

Professor Mason: We will reinvest it in exploitation grants. We have consulted again through our peer review system and 6 million will go directly into exploitation grants and 3 million into special schemes in universities to help technology transfer.

Q128 Dr Harris: The STFC spokesman in this new communications world told Physics World not that the council got 3 million back over three years making 9 million because of DIUS helping you on exchange rates but that "it comes from how we manage our risk and exposure to foreign currency fluctuations", which is a little more opaque than the clarity you have given on that question.

Professor Mason: I am glad that I was able to clarify it for you.

Q129 Dr Harris: You should be the spokesman from now on. You are saying that the 9 million is over the next two years, so you are taking three years' money and concentrating it in two years?

Professor Mason: Yes.

Q130 Graham Stringer: Do you think that with the general change in the economic atmosphere there is any opportunity to attract back into the world of science some of the clever physicists who went into the City to make pots of money, and how would you do that?

Professor Mason: A possible use of the 3 million we have just talked about is the creation of new positions to attract back such people, but the details of how that is to be used are still being worked out. I am sorry to sound like a broken record, but I think science is important to the economy and we need to maximise the number of scientists we have and also work very closely and carefully on how to extract the benefits from our science base. This is an area where we can make a big difference in future. The reason we have the science and innovation campuses is to create critical mass and explore new models of working with the commercial world and to get the benefits of that world back into the science base. We are open to all such suggestions, but at the root of all this is having the most talented people. If there are such people in the City, yes, we need to get them back.

Q131 Graham Stringer: To return to some of the unhappier issues that we dealt with at the beginning, there have been press articles - I cannot remember in which papers I have read them - to the effect that the problem of the FTSC is that it is impossible to put together the grant-giving side of its responsibilities with its responsibility for campuses like Daresbury and Harwell. Do you think that is fair comment?

Professor Mason: To be quite open and upfront about it, I do not see it that way. I think the world has moved on. Both facilities and the university community are essential to fulfil our mission. You cannot have one without the other. My mission is to act on behalf of the UK. If one sees it from that vantage point there is no conflict because one has to get that balance right and work with both elements of the resource one has. Let us be clear that both are absolutely essential. We need our national laboratories and facilities and the university community, so it is a matter of getting that balance right, and that is what we are doing.

Q132 Graham Stringer: That is really answering the question by ignoring the essence of it, is it not? The essence of the question is that there is a conflict of interest. You have given what is, if I may use a political term, the standard democratic centralist answer, that is, "We will control everything", which ignores the fact that you might in controlling everything come to different answers from those you might arrive at if the interests of the campuses were separated from those of the grant-giver. Do you not see that there is a conflict there?

Professor Mason: I understand the potential for conflict, but what I am saying is that the structure we have set up deliberately looks at things from a different view to avoid the conflict. If I was the director of a national lab clearly my interests would be to protect and grow the national lab. If I was in charge of funding the university research community my interest would lie in furthering those activities. But I am charged with an entity which requires both elements in balance to be most effective for the UK. If one looks at it from that point of view the conflict just does not exist; it goes away.

Q133 Dr Harris: To clarify that, you disagree with the Wakeham recommendation - you are entitled to do so - which says that "the STFC be required at each CSR to bid for and allocate specific funds to former PPARC facilities and grant funding together. This would avoid the undesired tensioning of these grants and facilities support against national facilities and the project for the development of science and innovation campuses." What you said in response to Mr Stringer, prefaced by the words "Let us be clear", was that you disagreed with that. Yet your memorandum is not clear. It says: "We believe we need to manage our expenditure as a whole across the newly-formed organisation rather than managing individual budgets in discrete silos." That appears to agree with Wakeham.

Professor Mason: No, that does not agree with Wakeham.

Q134 Chairman: It agrees with the point you have made.

Professor Mason: Indeed; I have been consistent.

Q135 Dr Harris: If I may finish quoting from the memorandum - we are running out of time, and you can then deal with it as a whole, "We recognise, however, that the newly formed council has challenges in appropriately tensioning different types of expenditure - for instance, between grants and capital investments, and also with respect to interdisciplinary programmes." The problem is that your memorandum, as with your press releases, is not clear as to what you mean. You are quite clear in these sessions eventually. It is really difficult.

Professor Mason: We face a real issue here and I do not want to mask it. It was set out in gory detail in the submission we made to you on your inquiry into science at the centre of UK society. We operate large facilities and international subscriptions both of which have a very long time constant. You cannot switch them on and off in a short period. These are national investments and there needs to be a proper debate about how we resource those national investments in order to get the benefits out of them. We have a facility for building them, which is the Large Facilities Capital Fund. We do not have a facility for operating them which recognises the long-term nature of that operation.

Q136 Chairman: That was what Wakeham suggested; you take away the grant.

Professor Mason: No. This problem existed in the ex-PPARC area, too. What I think Wakeham suggested - perhaps we should talk to him - was that we ring fence the particle physics, astronomy and nuclear physics money and separate it from the ex-CCLRC facilities, but I am saying that that tension would exist also within that ring fence because of the international subscriptions. I made this point on my very first appearance before your predecessor Committee. This is a systemic problem that we have just not come to grips with as a country.

Q137 Chairman: I think the issue that both Graham Stringer and Dr Harris have raised in which the Committee is interested is how you resolve those things. Is there a minute within the council to show that you have discussed that part of the Wakeham report and rejected it and you have some evidence to support that, or is this just how you feel?

Professor Mason: We did discuss it in the council and I am sure there is a minute that refers to that discussion. To be clear, I do not want to be in the position of interpreting what Wakeham meant, but what I mean is that we have long-term commitments in these facilities.

Q138 Chairman: We are not arguing with that. Wakeham who was brought in by the government to look at the state of physics made a clear recommendation which you do not appear to have taken seriously; you have just dismissed it.

Professor Mason: No. We have certainly taken it seriously. The point is that there were two recommendations within that Wakeham recommendation: first, that we make it clear what we were bidding for in those areas. We do that anyway, so no change is required. The second matter, on which the Wakeham report is a bit hazy, is that somehow we operate it as an entity within an entity. From the council's point of view we disagree that the latter point is really practical or even desirable because it is hard enough to manage a complex budget like this without having ring fences which just complicate and disadvantage it. The benefits of this have already become apparent in the current period. We have been able to move money into grants and support facilities in our scientific programme at the expense of savings made elsewhere. We need that flexibility in order to get the best of both worlds.

Q139 Dr Iddon: I suppose the final question is: was it right to make the collision between CCLRC and PPARC in the first place?

Professor Mason: I do not describe it as a collision but I think it is absolutely right, particularly in the current economic regime because, as I keep emphasising, we need to make sure we put the science base to work for the country and STFC has the structure and remit to do that. That benefits science and has wider impact because if you are using the science base that is more reason to invest in the science base and do more science. We need to make that link and get better at exploiting the research base in all its glory. It is glorious and fantastic; it is world-leading, but we need to make sure that we harness that in the best possible way. That is the main mission of STFC and is a much better vehicle for doing that than its predecessor. Therefore, as you said it was a very fortuitous collision.

Q140 Dr Iddon: It is still throwing off sparks.

Professor Mason: There will always be sparks.

Chairman: This morning has been a very sparky interview. Professor Keith Mason, we thank you very much for being our witness and for being so frank and transparent with us, we think.