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UK News from CERN Issue 56


Council Confidential

UK participation in CERN (whether you’re a student, an established academic, a company hoping to win a contract or a Brit looking for a job on CERN staff) is only possible because the UK pays an annual subscription to be a member of this unique organisation. But who signs the £100M cheque every year, and how do they know how the money is spent? UKNFC investigated.

Sharon Ellis
(Credit: STFC)

Sharon Ellis is one of the UK’s representatives on CERN Council; she’s the Deputy Director, Research Base at the UK government’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), “In simple terms, BIS gives the subscription money to STFC, and STFC gives it to CERN.”

Of course, it isn’t quite that simple.

As a nation you can only study particle physics or accelerator science by approaching them strategically – by nature the experiments are very big and very complex. They need long-term stability of funding, as well as an infrastructure of highly skilled scientists, engineers, technicians and administrators, labs and workshops to enable R&D and prepare for upgrades. And of course, analysing the data is impossible without a similarly large and complex computing capability, and a ready supply of students!

STFC is the research council responsible for managing particle physics research and accelerator science in the UK. It’s a very strong research sector, and the UK is among the best in the world. This hasn’t happened by chance; to excel at the science, you have to excel at strategic planning and support.  There’s no room for complacency - without that essential and sustained combination of expertise, you won’t get the funding, and you won’t have the teams in place to get the most out of the current experiments or to prepare for the future.

STFC fulfils this role on behalf of the UK government and the UK physics community, managing the annual subscription to CERN. UK involvement in experiments at the Antimatter Decelerator [hyperlink to issue 4] and n_TOF [hyperlink to issue 8] are funded by EPSRC, and at CLOUD [hyperlink to issue 30] by NERC. But the basic access to CERN starts with UK membership.

“Membership is a priority,” says Sharon, “scientific endeavour is essential if we want to go beyond the current frontiers of science. But CERN membership is also good for UK business and we need to capitalise on the technology that comes from blue sky research.”

CERN Council meetings take place four times per year, with delegations from all the member states getting together to review performance and proposals. “It’s all about being part of the strategic, collective decision making process,” explains Sharon. “Along with the other Council Members, I’m there to challenge the CERN senior management to deliver the best outcomes.”

But when it comes to the science, Sharon is neither a physicist nor an engineer - so how does she know that she’s making the best decisions for particle physics and accelerator science? “That’s easy!” she says, “I have exceptionally good advice; I know who the best people are, and I ask them.” John Womersley (STFC) is the UK’s other representative on CERN Council and Jon Butterworth (UCL) is his deputy, but Sharon also draws on the expertise of the wider UK university community and senior British members of CERN staff such as Paul Collier.

It’s definitely the research that matters most to Sharon. “CERN is a long-term endeavour and the potential outcomes are huge. If we put UK interests above the science, we run the risk of wasting billions of pounds of investment.”

With Brits@CERN coordinators Kate Kahle and Ray Veness, Sharon gets underground advice from Guy Wilkinson, LHCb spokesperson (Oxford) and Dave Charlton, ATLAS spokesperson (Birmingham) in the LHCb cavern.
(Credit: STFC)

Budgets are always under scrutiny, and helping the government understand the value of basic research is essential. Sharon is clear about how the research community can help, “Talk to us!”, she says, “Help us to understand the potential applications of blue sky science – demonstrate the impact of your technology outside physics.” She cites the transfer of accelerator and detector technology into medicine as particularly good examples of this, but more case studies in other sectors are needed.

Being a member of CERN is not just about access to some of the best science facilities in the world, there are economic benefits too. Membership enables UK companies to bid for contracts. The goal is to have the percentage value of contracts won by UK companies equal to the percentage of the CERN budget paid by the UK. There’s still some way to go in this area, but Sharon has been impressed by the UK’s efforts. “STFC, with UK Trade and Investment, is working really hard to help UK businesses understand what CERN does and what commercial opportunities exist. The efforts are showing improvements but I would like to see more high value contracts coming to the UK. The key message to members of the UK CERN community is ‘Buy British’!”

Sharon is keen to engage with the UK community – meeting the people and understanding the projects helps when she goes through her sheaf of Council papers and listens to detailed discussions. In a recent visit to CERN, she met members of the Brits@CERN network formally and informally to gain a wider perspective on community concerns. She hopes to repeat this during each Council week, continuing the now-established, and much valued, tradition of updating Brits@CERN members immediately after the closed session of Council. Make sure that you keep an eye out for the invitation – everyone is welcome and you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s been decided!

Boosting The Bottom Line

‘You get out what you put in’ is not just a philosophy for life, it’s also the goal for each Member State at CERN. When it comes to winning industrial contracts, the verdict for the UK is definitely ‘must do better’.

(Credit: © Chimeandsense |

In principle, each CERN Member State should receive the same proportion of industrial contracts as its contribution to the annual CERN budget. In the case of the UK, we contribute 14% of CERN’s annual budget, but our share of the supplies contracts is only 5%, so there’s plenty of room for improvement. CERN’s annual spend on services and supplies is roughly £330M - getting more contracts placed with UK companies is good for the UK economy.

We asked Dante Gregorio, Head of Research Sector Contracts in CERN’s Procurement team, what we can do to help.

You’ve got to be in it to win it

“The most important step is to establish a direct contact between a company and the end user (in CERN-speak, that’s the Technical Officer)” says Dante. “In this way, future needs can be identified and the company stands a better chance of being put directly on the list of potential suppliers to be contacted for forthcoming price enquiries, market surveys and invitations to tender. Registering on the CERN’s supplier database is a necessary but insufficient condition to be considered for future CERN requirements.” Dante continues, “the second most important step is maintaining regular contacts with the Technical Officers in order to be kept up-to-date with changing needs, schedules and new projects.”

If you’re a Technical Officer

  • Make sure that every UK company with which you’ve had contact is added to the CERN supplier database.
  • Include relevant UK companies on the potential list of suppliers to be contacted for price enquiries, market surveys and invitations to tenders
  • Come and meet representatives of UK companies at UK@CERN events organised by STFC and UKTI – the next one will be 23-25 February

Tell your colleagues about interesting UK companies and encourage them to add them on their potential supplier list or to contact them directly to discuss future needs

If you’re a company representative

  • Contact the UK Industrial Liaison Officers (ILOs) and the Procurement Service and tell them you’d like to supply CERN – as well as requiring specialist components for its research programme, CERN has the same supply needs as any big organisation; including everything from cleaning and catering to construction and computing. The UK ILOs and the Procurement Service can help you identify key Technical Officers
  • Take part in UK@CERN events where you can meet relevant Technical Officers
  • Attend Meet the Buyer events in the UK
  • Be sure to register on the CERN supplier database by completing the online form.

Actions speak louder than words

If you’re already a Technical Officer or you’re likely to place an order for either goods or services, here’s what the UK team proposes you can do to help the UK’s industrial return, within CERN’s procurement rules:

Contract value Priority Process Dante’s advice
Under 5000 CHF Buy British!
  • Select a UK company
  • Get a price
  • Place your order
Small contracts often lead to bigger ones
5-10K CHF Buy British!
  • Contact three companies (they can all be UK)
  • Get a price (it doesn’t matter if only one company responds)
  • Place your order
Small contracts often lead to bigger ones
10 – 50K CHF Propose as many relevant UK suppliers as you can
  • Use the Procurement Service to make price enquiries
  • Put UK companies on your list of potential suppliers
  • Generally, the final list will comprise five companies
Procurement may add companies from other countries that have a low industrial return*
50-200K CHF Propose as many relevant UK suppliers as you can
  • Use the Procurement Service to make price enquiries
  • Generally, the final list will comprise five companies
  • Details of the requirement are sent to all the ILOs – the UK team will add relevant companies
Procurement may add companies from other countries that have a low industrial return*
Above 200K CHF Propose as many relevant UK suppliers as you can
  • Use the Procurement Service to do a market survey (to qualify companies) and, thereafter, issue an invitation to tender
  • Generally, the list of qualified firms will not exceed 10 companies for requirements up 750K CHF and 15 companies for requirements exceeding 750K CHF
Procurement may add companies from other countries that have a low industrial return*

* The list of companies will be finalised by the Procurement Service which endeavours to have a representative number of firms from poorly balanced Member States, including the UK, within the above-mentioned quotas

Secrets of success

“The only way to improve the UK return is for more UK companies to make competitive and conforming bids,” explains Dante. “Whilst this might sound obvious, it’s surprising how many companies disqualify themselves from the procurement process because they don’t follow the rules.”

A typical error is to make assumptions about what CERN really wants and offer a product or service that has additional/different features to those that have been specified in the price enquiry or invitation to tender.

Companies can submit an alternative bid that can include enhanced technical specifications beyond those detailed in the price enquiry or invitation to tender but this will only be considered if it has also submitted a bid that meets the technical specification exactly (a compliant bid) and is the lowest price.

“Take advice right at the start, before you submit a price,” says Dante. “Make sure that you have a clear understanding of the technical and commercial requirements. The Procurement Service as well as the UK Industrial Liaison Officers and UKTI will be happy to help – we work as a team so you’ll get the same advice regardless of who you contact.”

“For supplies, contracts are awarded on the basis of the lowest compliant bid i.e. to the bid with the lowest price that meets the technical specification and the delivery requirements. For services, contracts are in general awarded on the basis of best-value-for-money, i.e. to the bid which is the most economically advantageous, taking into account clearly defined quality criteria.”

CERN’s procurement rules may seem complicated but they are designed to protect not only CERN’s interests but all the companies that take part in the process.

More information on how to do business with CERN is available from STFC and the CERN Procurement Service

For help and advice about supplying CERN : Dante Gregorio or STFC Industrial Liaison team.

Spend Your Summer At CERN

If you’re an undergraduate in the penultimate year of your degree and you’re looking for a challenge that will also look great on your CV, why not apply to join the summer student programme and spend up to 13 weeks at CERN?

There are opportunities for engineers, physicists, mathematicians and computer scientists, but you need to get your application in quickly because the deadline is 28 January.

There’s lots of competition for places so check out STFC’s user-friendly tips for a successful application and see what previous participants thought about the summer student programme in issues 1, 26 and 48 of UK News from CERN.

Summer students @CERN
(Credit: CERN)

New Year Honours

(Credit: © Ginasanders |

Warm congratulations to Mary Elizabeth Shewry and Anne Richards who received awards in the New Year Honours.

For almost 30 years, Mary Elizabeth led the UK Liaison Office at CERN, setting the standard for similar offices at laboratories in Germany and the USA. Her work was often used as an example by other countries seeking to establish a similar operation.

Mary Elizabeth’s efficient management of the interface between CERN management and the Research Councils enabled UK scientists to concentrate on their research, secure in the knowledge that the upheaval of moving to a new country was being seamlessly handled. Her work included the often burdensome administrative details of living in France or Switzerland, such as customs and property regulations, but she went well beyond such requirements to provide scientists with a welcoming environment in and out of the laboratory, responding discretely and sympathetically to difficult and sensitive problems that personnel sometimes face when they are away from home.

Mary Elizabeth has been awarded the British Empire Medal for services to UK scientific research.

Anne Richards has been awarded a CBE for services to the financial services industry and voluntary work. Anne is the Global Chief Investment Officer for Aberdeen Asset Management and Chairperson of the CERN and Society Foundation, the charitable branch of the organisation that promotes CERN’s research programmes through education and outreach, innovation and knowledge exchange, and culture and the arts.

An electronics and electrical engineering graduate from the University of Edinburgh, Anne was as a CERN Fellow on LEP before changing career. She continues to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers and is a Vice Convener of the University of Edinburgh.

Congratulations to both.

Diary Dates

  • CERN Council Week 16 – 19 March
  • IOP High Energy Particle Physics Group Conference, University of Manchester, 30 March – 4 April
  • CERN Council Week 15 – 19 June

Science and Technology Facilities Council
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