Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280-299)



  280. Can you outline why it is unincorporated as opposed to being any other kind of body?
  (Mr Cox) It always has been. I realise that that is a silly answer, but because it always has been, it is; and, therefore, it was looked at to see whether that situation should be changed. The recommendation of the Jameson report was that it should not be changed, and that recommendation was accepted by Copus council.

  281. You have referred to the committee of the three societies and you have reinforced that point in an earlier answer. Do the other two societies see it as being equally the responsibility of all three societies, or do you take the lead as the Royal Society?
  (Mr Cox) "Yes" is the answer to both those questions. They do see it very much as part of their responsibility. I have sat through the BA council, discussing Copus, because I am on the BA council, and I know how much they value the link with Copus. Of course, the Royal Society has an additional financial responsibility for Copus and therefore there is an additional onus placed on the Royal Society in financial terms. However, in terms of the way the other bodies see it, it is very much integral to the work they do. As you can see, the British Association and Copus organised the recent seminar, not the Royal Society.

  282. Putting finance to one side, you provide staff and you are the accounting officer for OST money. Do each of the three parties have an equal share of responsibility?
  (Mr Cox) Yes. In the original Copus council, indeed they did. The make-up was designed to give each of the three partners equal status on the council. The current council is slightly less clear, and all of us—the three founding bodies—have two members, and then other bodies have one or two, depending on the sector.

  283. Are members of the council clear as to who is responsible? It does sound like a very difficult council to manage, given the way in which responsibility is diffused through the membership?
  (Mr Cox) The Jameson report, which the Copus council looked at, was quite clear on the balance of responsibilities. Copus council did have that report in front of it.

Dr Iddon

  284. When I was questioning Dame Bridget last week, she gave us the clear impression that she did not know what the finances were, the budget of Copus. She said that the Royal Society handled all of that. Would that be a true interpretation of the relationship between Copus and the Royal Society, and, if so, what about the independence of Copus, on which great play has been made?
  (Mr Cox) The position on finance is that in the business plan that was presented at the Copus council in May, very clear financial details were provided then. It certainly was there then. The Royal Society handles Copus's monies, in an accounting sense, because they are granted to the Royal Society from OST. We have a formal contract which does that. The book-keeping is done by us.

Mr Hoban

  285. You have used some careful wording there perhaps, but did Dame Bridget have access to the numbers prior to the main meting? Has she always been aware of the budget of Copus and how the money is being spent?
  (Mr Cox) I have certainly discussed it with her, yes.

  286. What have you discussed?
  (Mr Cox) It is not very difficult. Would it be helpful if I ran through the finances?

  287. Yes, it would.
  (Mr Cox) There are three sources of income: the Royal Society's parliamentary grant; a direct grant from OST for Copus grants; and private sector contributions for the book prize. Also, we get support in kind to Copus from the BA and RI. The direct OST grant to Copus is 272,960. This is for Copus grants, of which 42,000 is for administration. In addition, from the Royal Society, from its own parliamentary grant that it gets direct from OST, which is not hypothecated, we devote 105,000 additionally to Copus grants. So for Copus grants alone, there is 377,960 per annum approximately. In addition, there is an allocation from the Royal Society's grant in aid of approximately 62,000 for activities and 43,000 for staff, overheads and other things. Dame Bridget was aware in general terms of those figures because I had been through them with her.

  288. Did it happen on a regular basis?
  (Mr Cox) Yes, reasonably—certainly annually.

Dr Turner

  289. Dame Bridget told us that the Royal Society runs Copus and does not respond to the invitation to apply to the OST for core funding for Copus's new form. Is this true, and, if so, why?
  (Professor Enderby) If I could take you back to the September meeting that Mr Cox has referred to, the Council spent most of its time discussing governance rather than function. I think that was symptomatic actually of the difficulties that subsequently came about. We worked out what we thought were very good proposals that would be embedded in a business plan that would be submitted to OST. We do not want to get into the business of direct delivery, but there are generic issues of science communication, and we listed four problems. Dame Bridget was unable to accept our offer to define more closely the role of Copus as opposed to its governance, but in the event we submitted to the May council a business plan, and on the basis of that would be our application to the OST. I do not think that we could have done it any differently. We cannot go to the OST and ask for money unless we define the use to which the money would be put.

  290. Is the business plan available publicly? Could we have a copy?
  (Mr Cox) In very draft form. It was considered at the Copus council in May and this is why I was quite heartened because we began to get to the nitty-gritty and discuss what Copus could be about. It is in draft form which has not been approved; it was just something that the Society produced to try and help the process along.

Bob Spink

  291. Could you nevertheless take us through some of the business plan?
  (Mr Cox) I do not think I can at the moment. I did not bring it with me.

  292. From memory.
  (Mr Cox) Rather than do it from memory, I would much prefer to give you a note on that. I can remember some of the things but the discussion was so convoluted that I think I prefer to go back to the original document.

Dr Turner

  293. The proposition was not for a separate core funding for Copus.
  (Mr Cox) It was my responsibility to put into the Royal Society's bid for the spending review 2002—I wrote in my letter to John Taylor: "A separate bid will be submitted for Copus following the council meeting, to ensure it is resourced to carry out its newly defined role." I had flagged up, which was my responsibility, to OST, that there would be an additional bid coming in for Copus from us, as soon as the Copus Council had been able to agree on a programme that it wished to submit.

  294. There was no question of you not being prepared to —
  (Mr Cox) On the contrary; I certainly would not have written this because you never write anything to government that you are not prepared to go along with, because you get picked up on such things.
  (Professor Enderby) Can I perhaps give a flavour of some of the projects that we were proposing and building in? What lessons can be learned from activities to date? Is redundancy in the form of different organisations, groups or individuals, pursuing broadly similar agendas, and in this case the strength of the grass-root nature of how we do things in the UK—is there significant redundancy and overlap; and, if so, may it not be a fruitful aspect of an evolutionary process? In this respect, how does the UK compare with other countries? Are there generic problems with delivery and, if so, what are they? Those issues go across all types of science communication, and that is what we felt that Copus should be doing. We wanted that embedded in the business plan that we could submit to OST.

  295. Were you happy to discuss all financial details with Dame Bridget?
  (Mr Cox) At all times, yes, certainly. There is no question of not being happy to discuss financial details at all. It is all published anyway, so it is not as though anyone would want to keep anything secret.

  296. Did Dame Bridget not avail herself of those opportunities?
  (Mr Cox) Not to my knowledge, no. She certainly did not ask me for any specific details at any time, although she was aware, because I had briefed her, as I have just done with you, along those lines.

  297. You did not routinely share papers with her.
  (Mr Cox) Routinely she was able to see anything she wished. She rarely asked, I have to say.

  298. If she had to ask to get them, you would not have given them to her as a matter of course—"this is next year's budget, Dame Bridget—what do you think?"
  (Mr Cox) We did precisely that at the May meeting. "Here is next year's budget. Dame Bridget, what do you think of it?" That is exactly what we did. The council had only been running for a year, so the budget for the previous year had already been decided before the new council was in place. It had to be; otherwise there would have been no money there.

Mr Heath

  299. Lord Jenkin is a facilitator, so you have a committee now with no chairman. Is there any prospect of a chairman?
  (Mr Cox) I do not see any difficulty in finding a chairman once we feel, as a result of Lord Jenkin's facilitation, confident that we have an organisation and a council that is able to take things forward. There will be no difficulty.


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