Astronomy and Particle Physics

Further supplementary written evidence submitted by Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) (APP 33b)


  2-3 February 2002





Present: Mr Peter Warry CEng, FIEE, FIMechE, FCMA Chairman

Professor Ian Halliday FRSE Chief Executive

Mr Robert Barnett OBE
Professor George Efstathiou FRS
Professor Brian Foster FInstP
Professor Andy Lawrence FRSE
Professor Dewi Lewis FInstP

Professor Keith Mason

Ms Judith Scott CEng, FBCS

Mr David Steeds MA, FCA

Secretary: Mr Jim Sadlier Director Strategic Planning and


By Invitation: Dr Frances Saunders FInstP OST

Professor James Stirling FRS Chairman, Science Committee
Professor Martin Ward Deputy Chairman, Science Committee
PPARC Staff: Mr Jeff Down Head of Finance

Mr John Love Director Administration

Professor Richard Wade Director Programmes

Mr Jim Gallagher


1. The Chairman introduced himself to Council, noting his high regard for PPARC’s exciting and well-defined area of science. He acknowledged the world-class status of the scientific programme, and how privileged it was to be involved with Council in steering and formulating its future scientific policy.

2. Apologies for absence were received from Mrs Mandy Mayer (DTI); Professor Ian Ritchie; Professor John Pendry (ICSTM); and Professor Chris Sachrajda (Southampton).


3. The minutes were approved as a correct record of the previous meeting. The following matters arising were reported.

Matters Arising From Minutes

Minute 15 – The UK Dark Matter Programme

4. Mr Sadlier reported that plans to promote the official opening of the UK Dark Matter project had been postponed to allow for major construction work at the Boulby site. The campaign would be rescheduled to coincide with the public launch, scheduled for the summer 2002.

Minute 16 – The Sunday Times Astronomy CD-ROM

5. Mr Love informed Council that public demand for the second free astronomy CD-ROM from The Sunday Times, had been high at around 50,000 responses. Unfortunately distribution had been delayed because of a temporary production problem. Copies would be circulated to members as soon as available.

Minute 24 – VISTA

6. Professor Wade confirmed that VISTA had successfully completed its Phase A design review by the end of October. He noted that the project specification (which includes an infrared camera), had not been altered in respect to potential overlap with NASA’s proposed PRIME space mission. A review of the management structure had resulted in responsibility being transferred entirely to PPARC’s Astronomy Technology Centre, with a VISTA Management Committee (chaired by Professor Wade) to oversee the project.



7. Professor Halliday reported that Stage Two of the Quinquennial Review had been finalised by OST and would in due course be circulated to Council. He noted that the Report had endorsed the creation of a Research Councils Strategy Group (RCSG), and that little else had changed from the earlier draft. The RCSG would take a high level view on funding large, long-term projects and provide further emphasis on cross-council activities.

ESA Ministerial

8. Professor Halliday reported on the recent ESA Ministerial meeting decision which set the members core programme contribution at €369 ECU for this and next year. Council noted that this was below what ESA required to cover its current programme and, despite an additional 2.5% increase built in from 2003, represented a cut in cash terms. Because the last Spending Review had failed to provide any additional uplift for the space programme, the UK had hoped for zero indexation. Professor Ward added that the extra 2.5% was likely to be interpreted differently by ESA and its member states, the former seeing this as a non-inflationary increase. Professor Halliday noted that ESA must review its programme to identify savings within this cash limited environment.

DTI Review

9. Professor Halliday reported that the DTI Review, now underway, would place heavy demands on Dr Taylor (OST). As a result, he may have to drop some of his current commitments, such as the Gemini South opening ceremony in March 2002.

House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee Reviews

10. Professor Halliday noted that Patricia Hewitt (Minister for Trade and Industry) had been invited to give evidence to the Select Committee, and that it was highly likely these reviews would encompass large facilities.

SR Delay

11. Mr Sadlier reported that the SR2002 was likely to offer more freedom for the science programme, by providing a general uplift (although specific themes could be expected as well). Dr Saunders confirmed that negotiations were on-going with Treasury, but warned that Treasury had always exhibited a preference for explicitly focused and measurable areas. Professor Halliday noted that the proposed RCSG may have a strong role in defining the split on SR2002 funding – and that this would not guarantee every Research Council a general or equal uplift.

12. The Council noted the Chief Executive’s Report.


13. Professor Halliday recapped on the main points of the CERN funding situation, as raised at the previous Council meeting (approved minutes, paragraph 11). He outlined the action taken by the Executive to fore fill these criteria and reported on the current stance taken by the main factions at CERN Council and that of its management.

14. He had persistently requested that CERN provide an analysis of the damage to scientific research, for each of the options proposed to deal with the overspend. It was apparent that broader options to cut various experiments were being ignored on the basis that annual membership contributions would offset such pressures.

15. The Council of CERN had accepted the need for an External Review Committee (ERC) on finance, and this would be chaired by the eminent Dr Robert Aymar (Director, ITER). However, there was concern over the bottom-up process adopted in its draft terms of reference (tabled). Council expressed a preference to clarify the overall position rather than lose focus on the detailed bookkeeping. It regarded the Easter deadline for the ERC to report back to CERN Council as far to lengthy.

16. Professor Halliday noted that a stage two review would deal specifically with the CERN management structure. He added that he was aware of five review committees on various internal affairs, asked to identify an overall cost reduction of 5% - instead of considering options to cut the programme. Professor Lewis reported that he had been asked to participate in one of the internal review committees and

that he too was concerned at the direction implied by its terms of reference. His experience indicated that this approach was not likely to shed much light on the key factors that created the current crisis at CERN.

17. Professor Halliday regarded Easter as a critical time for CERN in respect to delivery of a workable recovery package. Should this fail to happen PPARC would insist that it was time to change CERN’s senior management.

18. With respect to on-going work for LHC, Professor Halliday reported that he had asked Dr Mianni if CERN had sufficient funds to cover the large dipole contracts. He advised him to consider delaying the dipole delivery rather than ignoring the financial liability risk factor to member states. He advised Council that if CERN proceeded regardless of a clearer understanding of the current financial crisis, then the UK would have no choice but to refuse approval of the budget for FY 2002-03. He regarded it as highly likely that there would be attempts to charge the overspend on top of the normal membership contribution, and wished to avoid this high risk. He did however say that it was unclear whether CERN could place the contracts regardless of an approved budget.

19. Professor Lewis (Chairman, Audit Committee) endorsed the PPARC stand. He noted that the Audit Committee had failed to comprehend how CERN handled the budget for the LHC. He however, also noted concern for the PPARC management information available, stating that it was geared more towards recording issues rather than providing a sufficient model to manage potential risk to the programme.

20. Mr Steeds reported that he, along with professors Foster, Lawrence and Mason, had visited CERN shortly after the September Council meeting. CERN management had implied that PPARC must have known about an overspend because there had been no contingency in the budget. Professor Halliday highlighted the American review of the LHC project, which had been assured by CERN that contingencies had been allowed for. CERN’s recent attitude to this had been that in reality no such allowance had existed, because the project would never have been approved if added. CERN management regarded the overspend as negligible when compared with other international facility projects of this scope.

21. Professor Foster asked Council to temper its deliberations and acknowledge the proven expertise at CERN, which was capable of delivering such leading edge physics. It was important to help repair the management structure so that the project demands can best be met.


22. Dr Saunders proposed that Council mandate the PPARC Executive to approve the CERN budget only if it was based on a sensible finance plan. She suggested lobbying other partner countries with similar concerns at the lack of a top-down finance review. Mr Steeds also advised that the UK (PPARC) be seen to ally itself to other partner countries when confronting CERN management.


23. Council noted the significant cost overrun identified for the LHC project and noted the actions taken to date to handle the situation.



24. Professor Halliday introduced the case for accession to the European Southern Observatory (ESO). He reported on the steps leading to the current proposal, how both Dr Taylor (OST) and Lord Sainsbury (Minister for Science) had accepted that this was the next big step for UK astronomy; the various internal and external reviews endorsing this process and the communities demand for 8 Metre and larger facilities in the next generation of world class astronomy. The ESO deal would provide access to 20% of four 8M telescope suites and participation on ALMA in exchange for in kind payments by way of access to the VISTA telescope and UKIRT’s Wide Field Infrared Camera (WF-CAM), and cash based investment over the next ten years. The community had endorsed this package by accepting re-structuring of its existing ground based facilities and savings in the order of £5M to free funds in its support.

25. He informed Council that ESO Council had approved the conditions of UK membership at its meeting earlier this week. If PPARC Council approved the package it would set in motion a series of parliamentary procedure over the next six months, leading to the formal inter-governmental agreement.

26. Professor Wade reiterated the lengthy discussions between him, the site directors and partners in agreeing to changes to their science output, and allowing for the clean departure from facilities - avoiding potential severe frictional costs to PPARC. He acknowledged that these efforts would provide the savings required to optimise the ESO offer. Professor Mason congratulated the Director, Science in delivering such an ideal package.

27. He noted that the E-Merlin running costs of £2M had been built into the new structure, hence providing the UK with a world class radio astronomical facility. The E-Merlin package had been dependant on a firm commitment from PPARC before Christmas or the offer of capital would have been dropped.

28. Professor Stirling highlighted the Science Committee’s statement of support (Annex 3), which was the fruition of months of discussion and debate that involved access to all the reviews. He and Professor Ward confirmed that the ESO deal represented a tremendous boost to UK astronomy, and was accepted by the community on the basis of the loss of current facilities.

29. Professor Wade noted the pressure on the programme created by the accession to ESO, and confirmed that there was no headroom to further exploit the UK’s participation. He highlighted the efforts taken to reduce PPARC’s risk, but acknowledged that the impact of early withdrawal from the WHT was є 15M ECU. Worse case scenarios were built-in in respect to restructuring costs and the gradual reduction of staff over five years (i.e. planned and early losses).

30. Mr Down confirmed that he was satisfied with the level of consultation between him and the Director Science. He accepted that there were individual areas where assumptions were open to interpretation, but he believed that the overall package was at an acceptable level of risk and achievable. He confirmed that a financial expert had not produced the finance model.

31. Council discussed the various risk factors to PPARC, such as the cost of VISTA, and agreed that a mechanism must be created to measure performance against the agreed criteria and monitor our status within the approved package. It was agreed that such information be incorporated within the annual Operating Plan/Report.

32. Council agreed to the proposed conditions for UK membership of ESO.



33. Professor Wade presented the plans to produce the Operating Plan for the three year period 2002-03 to 2004-2005. The Science Committee had been involved in reviewing the programme for the next ten years, based on assumptions of the resources likely to be available. It had recognised the severity to cash spend caused by re-structuring in the initial years but regarded this as sustainable.

34. The planning assumptions anticipated some compensation for indexation, and recognised that if this was not so, then there would be a need to recognise that the programme was overheating and must seek a balance on commitments. Professor Stirling endorsed this view, referring to the last Particle Physics Committee’s commitment to building in headroom to exploit participation in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Particle physics faced an accumulated £12M deficit by 2004. The Science Committee had recently created a sub-panel under Dr Thomas, to discuss restructuring its programme using the same mechanism used for the Ground-Based programme. The Panel had already met three times and would provide its draft report in January. Professor Foster warned that the implications of its recommendations was likely to impact on our relationship with existing partners, and at very least disturb our reputation as a reliable partner.

35. A draft of the Operating Plan would be presented at the next Council meeting, outlining the strategy adopted. It would be to early to include actual figures, but this information would be provided in correspondence prior to submission to OST at the end of March 2002.

36. The Chairman noted the plans to produce the Operating Plan and the difficulties facing the particle physics community. He suggested that these issues be considered as part of the Strategy Weekend meeting in February 2002.



37. Mr Sadlier explained that the annual Strategy Weekend provided Council with an opportunity to step away from the formal business and focus on high level issues. He highlighted a few examples of topical issues to consider and asked Council to propose other subjects for discussion.

38. Council proposed topics affecting the community such as the university/PPARC responsibility for infrastructure; defining a meaningful PPARC industry role (perhaps using the linear collider to illustrate it); and setting a strategic policy for space research in relation to the balance between investment and exploitation.

39. Council agreed to forward suggestions to Mr Sadlier within the next few weeks.



40. Mr Love confirmed that there were plans to provide access to meeting papers for PPARC’s respective committees and panels on an "Extra-net" web service. This had already been successfully introduced for the Science Committee and a similar service would be provided for Council meetings.

41. There was no other business discussed by Council.

ITEMS 8-10

42. The Council noted the following papers for information:

43. Draft minutes of the November 2001 audit committee PPA(01)47

44. Revised Council membership PPA(01)48

45. Circulated material PPA(01)49


46. The next Council meeting will be incorporated within the annual Strategic Weekend on 2 and 3 February 2002, at the Lydiard House Conference Centre, Swindon.