58. In April 2002 Dame Bridget Ogilvie announced
her resignation as Chair of Copus with effect from the end of
June. Her resignation letter was widely circulated; in it, she
"Although the brand name Copus is formally "owned"
by the Royal Society, the Royal Institution and the British Association,
in practice it is totally controlled by the Royal Society. I as
Chairman and the staff cannot make anything happen in Copus without
the agreement and involvement of Royal Society staff/honorary
officers. I have done everything I can to move things on and find
a new niche for Copus as the national strategic focus for science
communication activities. I still believe an organisation of this
type would be valuable, but it is clear that it will not happen
as a new role for Copus as currently controlled by the Royal Society".
In evidence she told us "I think that if you
have an umbrella body then it has to be a gathering of equals
and has to be seen as independent of any one body".
We were surprised to hear the apparent lack of autonomy given
to Dame Bridget as Chair of Copus. She told us that in regard
to the budget, the Royal Society had "complete control. I
have never seen a real budget".
59. In contrast to this statement, Mr Stephen Cox,
Executive Secretary of the Royal Society, told us afterwards that
"in the business plan that was present at the Copus Council
in May , very clear financial details were provided then".
The minutes of that Copus Council meeting include Dame Bridget's
resignation, stating her view that "the delay by the Royal
Society in implementing the revised remit of Copus, including
the arrival of the draft business plan only one week before this
meeting, left her with little option but to step down as Chairman
from the end of June".
When asked about the availability of financial papers to Dame
Bridget, Mr Cox said "routinely she was able to see anything
she wished. She rarely asked, I have to say".
In writing, after this session, Dame Bridget told us "the
only documents I have seen are a scratch paper tabled at the Council
meeting last May, and the draft budget for the socalled
business plan produced by the Royal Society just before the Council
meeting in May 2002".
Clearly there are two different interpretations of the same events.
60. The issue of Copus' independence from the Royal
Society was discussed in oral evidence. Professor Ian Halliday,
a member of Copus Council, told us "the Minister [Lord Sainsbury]
has made, I believe, a very strong statement that he would like
this independent strategic view from Copus".
The OST told us "we believe that Copus needs independence,
a constitution and clear decision-making mechanisms".
We asked about the possibility of Copus receiving its funding
directly from OST. Dame Bridget said "I had many discussions
with OST because it shared my frustration but they kept saying
they had to have the accounting officer applying for the money".
The Jamieson Report recommended that Copus be rehoused and Copus
Council minutes from January 2002 state "Copus Chairman agreed
to explore the feasibility of Copus moving to South Kensington
as part of the Dana Centre redevelopment", but there did
not appear to be any current plans for relocation.
61. There is clearly a great deal of confusion and
ill will regarding the recent developments within Copus. We sympathise
with Dame Bridget's frustration at the lack of progress made in
carrying out reforms which she understood to have been agreed.
If Copus' business plan was indeed produced only a week before
the Council met to discuss it, then this demonstrates either a
lack of co-operation on the part of the Royal Society or disorganisation.
Copus has been active for over 15 years and its reform appeared
to help it on to a new stage. We are disappointed that this has
not happened as it should. We are also disturbed at the impression
given that the Royal Society has not helped Copus towards independence,
although we accept that the review was perhaps too ambitious to
accomplish within two years. We suspect this is the result of
institutional inertia rather than malevolence, though the Royal
Society may not be willing to relinquish control to the necessary
degree. The OST has told us of its impatience with the situation.
If that is the case we cannot see why it has not pressed more
heavily on the Royal Society to carry out reforms.
62. The Copus episode is revealing of a gulf in
perception. The Royal Society saw it as an unwarranted and
unjustified attack on them, whereas outsiders saw it as a symptom
of a slow-moving and somewhat old-fashioned attitude to institutional
working. The Royal Institution, another of the founding bodies,
told us "more extensive communication could maximise benefits
not just to the science communication organisations themselves,
but to the nation at large. Since it is already in place, Copus
could take up this challenge but alternative ideas should also
A strategic body is badly needed in the field of public communication
of science. Copus, if reformed as has been suggested by Lord Sainsbury,
the Jamieson Report and the House of Lords Science and Technology
Committee, would serve this purpose admirably. We call on the
OST to make every effort to ensure that this happens. We believe
that Copus should be made entirely independent of the Royal Society,
the Royal Institution and the British Association, receive its
funding directly from OST and that it should find new premises
as soon as possible.
63. Government grants are given out to so many organisations,
it is hard to tell exactly what is spent where. We have considered
whether there are too many organisations or excessive duplication,
or whether centralising the funds would stifle smaller projects
on a local level. Learned societies do good work but there is
a marked lack of co-ordination and real investment in these projects.
There is a limit to what each small group can achieve. Dr Briggs
of the BA told us "variety is a good thing. You can get too
many small initiatives but a range of ways of tackling this problem
is not to be spurned".
We believe that the system of grants to learned societies for
their public understanding work should be formalised, in order
both to monitor better the total spending on public communication
projects and to ensure that each society has an opportunity to
benefit from these funds. We recommend that OST create
a central fund for public understanding work administered by a
single organisation, to which learned societies could bid for
funding for specific projects.
64. Little effort has been devoted to evaluating
the effects of the public understanding work carried out across
the UK. While this is clearly a difficult task, since concrete
and measurable outcomes are often lacking, the millions of pounds
of public money spent on these activities justify scrutiny. This
is particularly true of the large grants given to the Royal Society,
the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the
Research Councils. We recommend that OST, or a body set up
to co-ordinate public communication work, assess the work carried
out by those to whom the Government gives funding, to identify
the success stories and the outright failures, and to apply the
lessons learned to future activities.
64 See volume II, appendix 30 Back
Q 241 Back
Q 243 Back
See volume II, appendix 38 Back
See volume II, appendix 31 Back
See volume II, appendix 2 Back
See volume II, appendix 35 Back
See volume II, appendix 33 Back
See volume II, appendix 41 Back
See volume II, appendix 22 Back
Science and Society, Third Report of the House of Lords
Science and Technology Committee, Session 1999-2000, HL 38, para
Q 275 Back
Q 221 Back
Q 227 Back
Q 284 Back
Minutes of Copus Council, Friday 17 May 2002: unprinted Back
Q 297 Back
See volume II, appendix 28 Back
Q 236 Back
See volume II, appendix 29 Back
Q 240 Back
Copus Council minutes 17 January 2002: unprinted Back
See volume II, appendix 29 Back
See volume II, appendix 35 Back
Q 261 Back