The work of the UK research councils - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (RCUK 02)


  Following your letter dated 20 October regarding our latest annual report, please find our responses to your queries:

1.   The Committee requests a note on the BBSRC's commitment to a new national research facility in animal health and the changes to the Institute for Animal Health as well as the redevelopment of the Pirbright site and the implementation of the Gilligan report (page 5 of the Annual Report)?

BBSRC is fully committed to a new national research facility in animal health. Following approval of funding by BIS Ministers in July 2009, the Institute for Animal Health (IAH) is proceeding with the detailed design of the new facilities. The works, which are planned to start on site in early 2010, are due to take three years to complete.

In parallel with the development project IAH and BBSRC announced, in September 2009, a new science strategy that will see the focusing of IAH's research effort on viruses affecting livestock and poultry, together with supporting scientific disciplines onto a single site at Pirbright. This project will see specific science categories that align to the new vision transfer from IAH Compton. This strategy is fully in line with the recommendations of the Anderson report to Her Majesty's Government and the Gilligan and Beringer reports to BBSRC Council.

2.   What is the Council's view of the quality of services received from the Shared Services Centre?

  BBSRC has yet to migrate its transactional services to the SSC and therefore is as yet unable to answer this question fully. However certain IT/IS core desktop support is provided by the SSC and the quality of service is generally good. Strategic Procurement is live in the SSC and focuses at this stage on delivery of efficiency gains through rationalisation and renegotiation of contracts within a framework of specific product or service categories. A joint group between Research Councils and the SSC, The Strategic Sourcing Forum, has been established to manage the relationship between the parties. Specifically this forum oversees and prioritises the pipeline of commercial activity, ensures that the appropriate mix of commercial expertise and subject matter knowledge is brought to bear and that implementation of new contracts is effective. New contract arrangements have been finalised in a number of key areas: such as travel, energy provision, stationery and many others are in progress or close to conclusion. In addition specific projects have been successfully supported such as the acquisition of genome sequencing machines for The Genomics Analysis Centre (TGAC); a new national capability based in Norwich.

3.   Why was it necessary for 7.1 FTE staff to be transferred to the employment of the RCUK Shared Services Centre and immediately seconded back to BBSRC (page 43)?

It was agreed across RCUK that all employees in roles identified as being in scope for transfer to the SSC would TUPE transfer to the employment of the SSC on the same date (1 April 2008 for all staff with the exception of grants administration staff who will all TUPE transfer on a future date). This was to ensure a full and fair process of job matching occurred and to avoid a situation whereby employees transferring from councils at a later stage in the migration plan were put at a disadvantage. Therefore the new structures were identified, staff were matched according to the best fit against their present roles, and then staff were "appointed" to new roles all on the same day.

However the requirement for staff actually undertaking those roles is dependent on the actual migration to SSC of their home Council, and therefore staff were immediately seconded back to each of the Research Councils to continue in their present job until their role transferred to the SSC.

4.   What problems have Programme Assurance Visits identified in 2008-09 and 2009-10?

  The RCUK Funding Assurance Programme (FAP) provides assurance over the direct costs and the control environment for administering and managing grants at research organisations (ROs). The programme is managed by the RCUK FAP assurance unit, which is hosted by BBSRC. Experienced staff from relevant Research Councils also contribute to assurance work on visits to ROs. During 2008-09, there were 23 programme assurance visits to institutions, which resulted in no unsatisfactory assurance ratings. The 2009-10 schedule of visits is underway and will be completed by the financial year end. At present, there have been three out of 14 visit reports issued and there have been no unsatisfactory assurance ratings so far.

A further assurance programme run during this period has addressed the compliance with TRAC costing methodology, used to calculate the full economic cost of research. During 2008-09, three institutions were placed in sanction as a result of specific areas of non-compliance with TRAC methodology, and all of these institutions had their sanctions lifted at the end of the three month period following a successful follow up visit. During 2009-10, one institution was placed in sanction for non-compliance with TRAC methodology.

  Within the review of TRAC, the three issues which were identified most frequently were the operation of the time allocation survey, the calculation of the infrastructure adjustment and the ability of institutions to understand their costs including operating adequate reasonableness checks of the financial information.

5.   Why did grant commitments at 31 March 2009 decrease by £25.9 million to £455.1 million (page 43)?

  This is to a large degree explained by an abnormally high level of commitment in the preceding period. During this preceding period a very large number of longer term commitments were made, for example to Centres for Integrated Systems Biology.

In addition there was a fall in initiative funding. This was as a result of current initiatives coming to an end that had yet to be fully replaced by the award of new initiatives.

6.   Have BBSRC's liabilities in respect of the Roslin Institute crystallised?

  To date there have been no claims against any of the three agreements that were put in place as part of the transfer of Roslin Institute to the University of Edinburgh and there have been no indication of plans to call on any of these at this stage. However, these agreements run until 2023 so could well crystallise in the future. The three agreements were:

    — a declining contribution to direct redundancy costs if grant income falls;

    — indemnity against direct costs of any action against the university as a result of the past actions of the institute; and

    — indemnity for up to £1 million if any fall in grant income of the NPU.

7.   The Committee requests a note setting out the level of End Year Flexibility the Council could call upon at the start of the year 2008-09, the amount drawn down during the year and the balance carried forward at the end of the year
Revised EYF 1 April 2008-0.759
2008-09 adjusted published allocations 434.990
2008-09 provisional outturn444.394
2008-09 under/(over)spend-9.404
EYF 1 April 2009-10.163

  There was an agreed deficit opening EYF of £0.759 million which was fully discharged during 2008-09.

At the request of BIS, to cover under spends elsewhere in the science budget, BBSRC overspent its allocation by £10.163 million. This was achieved by bringing forward expenditure originally planned for 2009-10. This negative EYF was recovered from the 2009-10 budget.

8.   What proportion of invoices in September was paid within 10 days?

  We paid 1,062 invoices during September 2009.

55% were paid within 10 days.

  95% were paid within 30 days.

  The average number of days BBSRC took to pay an invoice was 11.6 days

David Parfrey

Director of Finance

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