Notes from the Chair of the Board
36th Meeting of the Board of Directors of SKA Organisation held by Video-Conference on 20 April 2021
Prof. Lars Börjesson, Vice-Chair of the Board, welcomed directors and invited guests to the 36th Meeting of the Board of Directors of SKA Organisation. There was Board representation from Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, The Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
Invited guests included representatives from the Australian SKA Office, Department of Science and Innovation (South Africa), European Commission, Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (Spain), Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, Max Planck Society, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, National Institute for Astrophysics (Italy), Science and Technology Facilities Council (UK), SKA Finance Committee, SKA Science and Engineering Committee, SKA HQ, SKA Observatory, Squire Patton Boggs, and the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (Switzerland).
Administration and Governance
The meeting commenced with the election of Prof. Lars Börjesson as the Chair of the Board of Directors and Mr Arun Srivastava as its Vice-Chair. Mrs Miriam Luizink’s nomination as Voting Representative (Board) for NWO, Netherlands was also approved.
Prof. Philip Diamond, Director-General, provided a progress report on activities since the last Board meeting in December 2020. SKA Organisation is in the final stages of transition to the SKA Observatory (SKAO), an Inter-Governmental Organisation. He highlighted the intense period of focused effort by staff to prepare for a fully operational SKAO on 1 May 2021. The Board endorsed the Business Purchase Agreement (BPA) and recommended its approval by Members. The BPA supports the transition to the SKA Observatory by setting out the terms by which SKA Organisation’s staff, assets and liabilities will be transferred to the SKAO.
Prof. Diamond stated that, following the start of the UK’s emergence from lockdown over the past month, the phased re-opening of the SKA HQ commenced on 12 April 2021. This means that staff are now able to work safely in the office on a voluntary basis by following the rules and procedures in place. A staged road map to recovery plan, developed by the HSSE Manager, is being followed.
Prof. Diamond provided an update on the Spectrum Management Strategy and reported that an SKAO conference on Spectrum Management for Radio Astronomy will be held in late-September 2021.
Prof. Diamond reported on the successful SKA Science Conference, ‘A Precursor View of the SKA Sky’, which took place on 15-19 March 2021. This fully virtual event attracted over 950 attendees. Positive feedback has been received from attendees and, although some physical aspects of the meeting were missed, it demonstrated the potential for future hybrid events encompassing both virtual and physical participation.
Ms Fiona Davenport, Head of HR, spoke about recent recruitment, noting that 27 roles were recruited in the 12 months to March 2021, with a number of individuals having taken up post remotely due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Regular tri-partite meetings are taking place between the SKA Office, CSIRO and SARAO to support recruitment for the SKA in the host countries of Australia, South Africa and the UK.
The Board approved the 2021 objectives for SKA Organisation and noted the Director-General’s performance review for 2020. The Board approved the appointment of Mr Abhay Kumar from the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), India to the Finance Committee.
The Board received a report from Mr David Luchetti, Chair of the Finance Committee, on the outcomes of the 20th Finance Committee meeting, held on 25 March 2021. The main items of business were the management accounts for the full year of 2020 and for 2021 year to date, the External Audit Plan for 2020 by RSM UK Audit LLP, a proposed Budget Revision for 2021, the draft Business Purchase Agreement, a status update on transition, a review of the corporate and construction risk registers, and proposed revisions to the company’s Articles of Association and Membership Agreement.
Ms Caroline Whiteley, CFO, presented the revised 2021 budget, which the Board approved in accordance with the Finance Committee’s recommendation. This revised budget shall take effect following approval of the SKA Observatory’s revised (and linked) 2021 budget by the SKA Observatory Council. The Board also noted that the Finance Committee endorsed the donation of any remaining assets, including cash reserves, to the SKA Observatory on winding up of the company. The External Audit Plan for 2020 was approved.
Dr Joseph McMullin, Programme Director and Deputy Director-General, presented an update on the engineering programme. The start of SKA-1 construction (T0) is scheduled for 1 July 2021, contingent upon approval by the SKA Observatory Council; preparations are underway to ensure readiness to start. Dr McMullin spoke about the change management process in place for the Construction Proposal, which was submitted to the Board for endorsement in September 2020.
Dr McMullin reported that Internal Contract Readiness reviews of approximately 27 contracts were completed over the last three months; these in-depth reviews ensure the readiness for procurement to begin immediately following approval to start construction.
The Board received a report from Prof. Andrea Ferrara, Chair of the Science and Engineering Committee (SEAC), on the outcomes of the committee’s last meeting, held on 17 February 2021. The Board noted that SKA Organisation’s SEAC has now been disbanded and good progress is being made to establish its successor committee for the SKA Observatory. The Board thanked the SEAC Chair and its members for their contributions to the SKA project.
Dr Lewis Ball, Director of Operations, provided an update on operations planning. He stated the drafting of the Telescope Host Country Agreements with Australia and South Africa is in the final stages and will be discussed by the SKA Observatory Council at its next meeting.
Dr Ball reported that good progress is being made with development of legally-binding Collaboration Agreements with CSIRO and SARAO. These documents will replace the Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) already approved by the SKA Observatory Council. The MoUs are intended to ensure a common understanding on construction, operations, and business-enabling activities, including staffing profiles in Australia and South Africa. Early-stage recruitment in Australia and South Africa is underway.
Planning for the SKA Regional Centres (SRC) Network is progressing and the SRC Working Groups have now been established, comprising more than 150 people focused on the development of work packages and an SRC roadmap.
Dr Ball noted the excellent progress on the recruitment for the SKA Telescope Directors in Australia and South Africa, which is expected to be completed shortly.
Dr Catherine Cesarsky, Chair of the SKA Observatory Council, reported the key outcomes from the first SKA Observatory Council meeting, held on 3-4 February 2021. Dr Cesarsky presented the approvals made in the meeting including a number of policies and rules, the 2021 Budget, and the planned date of 1 May 2021 for full transition.
The SKA Observatory Headquarters Agreement between the UK Government and the SKA Observatory was signed at this meeting by Ms Jo Shanmugalingam, Director-General for Industrial Strategy, Science & Innovation at the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and Dr Cesarsky, Chair of the SKA Observatory Council. This purpose of this agreement is to enable the SKA Observatory to establish and operate its global headquarters in the UK, giving effect to the SKA Observatory Convention.
Ms Theresa Devaney, Head of Business Development and Change, presented an update on the status of transition planning activities, in preparation for transition on 1 May 2021. All staff of SKA Organisation will transfer to the SKA Observatory on this date, subject to signing of the Business Purchase Agreement by representatives of SKA Organisation and the SKA Observatory. Ms Shelley Decker, Solicitor and Assistant In-House Legal Counsel, provided a summary of the Business Purchase Agreement. She explained that a business purchase by the SKA Observatory is the simplest legal method for transferring staff, assets and liabilities from SKA Organisation.
The statutory staff consultation process as required under TUPE, the UK’s Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations, 2006, is taking place and will be completed by 30 April 2021. The consultation process required the election of employee representatives and the establishment of an Employee Representative Board (ERB) to represent the views of staff. The ERB comprises nine staff who represent staff across the company.
Ms Davenport shared the progress of the company’s six meetings with the ERB to date. At these meetings, TUPE-related questions have been raised and answered, the majority of which have focused on the impact of personal privileges and immunity. She stated that staff will be provided with letters confirming the transfer to the SKA Observatory and any measures taken as a result of changes to an individual’s terms and conditions of employment.
Ms Devaney presented information about the planning for the closure of the company in accordance with its Articles of Association. Following transition, remaining company activities will be supported by nominated SKA Observatory staff. Closure will be achieved by voluntary removal of the company from the UK Companies House register. The action to start the company closure will be triggered by a decision of SKA Organisation Members to enact the closure processes. It is expected that closure of the company will take place towards the end of 2021.
The Board endorsed the proposed revisions to the company’s Articles of Association and Membership Agreement, which reflect the company’s new circumstances following the transition to the SKA Observatory.
Future Board Meetings
The next meeting of the SKA Board (SKA-BD-37) will be held by video-conference on 9 September 2021. At least one further Board meeting will be required in order to consider the final closure arrangements for the company.
Prof. Lars Börjesson
Chair, SKA Board of Directors
27 April 2021
Below is an archive of all the previous Notes from the Chair