Memorandum submitted by the Arts and Humanities
Research Council (RCUK 03)
ARTS AND HUMANITIES RESEARCH COUNCIL: ANNUAL
REPORT AND ACCOUNTS 2008-09
Further to Mr Phil Willis' letter dated 20 October
2009 in which he raises a number of queries on behalf of the Science
and Technology Select Committee regarding AHRC's Annual Report
I am please to provide you with the following information in direct
response to his questions:
1. What plans has the AHRC to evaluate the
new peer review arrangements set out at page 8 of its Annual Report?
The new peer review systems arising out of the AHRC's
Review of Decision-Making Structures project were introduced in
January 2009. One of the key features was the move to open deadlines
and four non-standing prioritisation panels with membership drawn
from the Peer Review College. Since January the Block Grant Partnerships
and Collaborative Doctoral Awards schemes, and two complete cycles
of the Research Grants scheme have been run under the new systems,
with feedback from participants generally being very positive.
Given that the new systems are still in their relative
infancy, it is not intended to undertake a full-scale review until
the processes have been in place for at least two years, although
it is anticipated that the AHRC's internal audit programme will
undertake an interim review at an earlier stage to measure emerging
benefits. In the meantime, the AHRC's new Advisory Boardwhich
meets four times a yearhas an ongoing role in monitoring
the performance of the Council's peer review systems and the Peer
Review College, to ensure quality and effectiveness. This includes
reviewing panel meetings and outcomes to date, as well as monitoring
the Peer Review College's membership (to ensure an appropriate
spread in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, institutional and subject
coverage) and performance both in terms of the quality of reviews,
and trends in relation to grading patterns across subject areas.
The number of complaints and appeals in respect of peer review
processes in comparison with previous years will also be monitored
on an annual basis.
2. What was the outcome of the review of
the Institute of Historical Research "knowledge transfer"
project set out at page 25 of the Annual Report?
"Using Archival Sources to Inform Contemporary
Policy Debates"this is a Collaborative Research Training
Scheme award, funded under the National route. The award is for
a total of £38,388, and is a collaboration between the Institute
of Historical Research, the National Archives and the History
and Policy Group.
The aim of the project is to provide doctoral students
with KT skills in identifying and using appropriate archival sources
to enable them to use history to inform contemporary policy debates
and develop good practice in policy-making and implementation.
It aims to:
Give students an insight into the range
of archival material available.
Through case studies, demonstrate how
archival sources can be used to illuminate current issues and
inform policy debate and formulation.
Through case studies, demonstrate how
archival material can provide practical lessons about how best
to implement policy to achieve desired outcomes, and to avoid
repeating past mistakes.
Offer students practical suggestions
about how to use their research to influence policy-makers and
Over two years, the programme aims to equip
80 students with new awareness, skills and confidence, not only
to benefit them and their research, but to build a new generation
of historians who see the understanding of history as a key aspect
of developing better public policy in the future.
The project has been running for just over a
year and is a two year award, running until 30 September 2010.
AHRC will have review information at the end of the project.
3. What is the Council's view of the quality
of services received from the Shared Services Centre?
AHRC is currently receiving a transactional
HR service from the RCUK Shared Services Centre Ltd. This service
went live on 6 July 2009. In November 2009 AHRC is transferring
its Payroll services over to the SSC, Finance transactional services
will be going live in April 2010 and Grants processing services
in October 2010.
Staff across the organisation are getting to grips
with the new Oracle system and new ways of working and as you
would expect with any project of this size understandably there
been a few initial difficulties. None the less, AHRC is pleased
with the quality of service it has received from the RCUK SSC
Ltd and looks forward to continue working closely with SSC Ltd
colleagues in ensuring effective delivery of transactional services.
4. How many staff will be moving to Swindon,
staying in London and leaving the Council?
AHRC is currently based in Bristol and the entire
office will be relocated to Swindon towards the end of June 2010,
with no residual staff based in Bristol. AHRC are currently consulting
with staff and unions over the relocation and it is expected that
a clearer view about numbers of staff coming to Swindon will be
known in the New Year. AHRC management are hopeful of retaining
50-60 of its staff during this period.
5. What proportion of invoices in September
was paid within 10 days?
93.2% of invoices were paid within 10 days during
September 2009. A total of 161 invoices were paid in the month
with 150 paid within 10 days.
6. The Committee requests a note explaining
the risk identified at page 58 of the Annual Report concerning
budgeting and forecasting processes and the steps taken to deal
with the risk?
A review carried out by KPMG during 2008-09 highlighted
a potential risk of the AHRC not effectively budgeting and forecasting
future commitments. The process at that time involved different
members of staff using separate spreadsheet models which weren't
integrated. This risk could be seen as materialising as the AHRC
did overspend in 2008-09 (see response to question 10 below).
In response to the report, the AHRC restructured
some roles within finance which freed up a member of staff to
design and build an integrated forecasting model which has enabled
the AHRC to consider commitment planning scenarios over a five
year window, by programme and by delivery mechanism (responsive
mode, targeted calls etc); the consideration of individual programme
spend profiles and start dates; the capturing of actual spend
data within-year, combined with future spend forecasts to allow
robust monitoring of the year-end position; and the holding of
a common data repository for the various financial reports that
the AHRC is required to produce.
The model was demonstrated to Council on 11
December 2008 and received a positive response and is now being
used regularly when planning for future years' spend and commitments.
7. 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
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
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
8. The Committee requests a detailed breakdown
explaining why staff and Council Members' Costs increased by over
£700,000 from 2007-08 to 2008-09
The increase in staff and Council member costs
can be explained through a variety of factors outlined in the
|Additional temporary staff due to the demands of the SSC implementation
|Pay rise for staff and Council members
|Interim Senior management charges||£50K
9. What does "pay modernisation in universities"
on page 71 mean?
Pay Modernisation refers to the Higher Education Role Analysis
(HERA) job evaluation scheme which universities started to implement
in 2005, with the aim of moving all university staff to a nationally
negotiated 51 Point Payscale by 2007. Universities worked to different
timescales in implementing the new payscales and it was identified
at an early stage that this would affect Research Grant applications
to the Research Councils as universities would not be in a position
to accurately reflect their potential staff cost requirements
over the life of a grant. RCUK, after discussions with the Universities
and Colleges Employers Association, agreed to meet any additional
staff costs arising from pay modernisation for Research Grant
applications made between 10 March 2005 and 31 July 2007. Universities
would be able to claim the additional costs at the end of the
grant at the reconciliation stage. AHRC has been accruing for
the potential costs for grants that were applied for in this timescale
and that have yet to finish.
10. 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||1.760
|2008-09 adjusted published allocations
|2008-09 provisional outturn||110.263
|EYF 1 April 2009||-2.011
AHRC has plans in place to submit a balanced budget at the end
of the Spending Review Period (March 2011) with a £0 EYF.
If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact
Professor Rick Rylance
AHRC Chief Executive