2019 was exceptionally busy on the administrative and governance side, with the migration of the data centre to Bologna, the procurement of a new high-performance computing facility (HPCF) and the Future Accommodation project contributing to a peak of activity. Brexit dominated the period, with diverse work carried out to understand and monitor the consequences of the departure of the UK from the EU for many aspects of the organisation.
The Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system went live at the start of the year, integrating HR and accounting processes. Work then focused on ensuring that the change management process was completed. Work is ongoing to exploit the reporting capabilities of the system and provide useful information for decision-making and for operating as a multi-site organisation.
Procurement, financial and legal resources were mobilised to support the procurement of the new HPCF. In January, the Centre held an industry day in Bologna to explain how ECMWF would be procuring equipment and services for the new data centre. The procurement team worked on 18 invitations to tender, with some concluded and others still open at the end of the year.
The Centre rationalised the use of office and meeting room space at Shinfield Park, creating new open plan areas and adding a modular building. This made it possible for all staff who had been based in rented offices at the University of Reading to move back to the Shinfield Park headquarters.
Work continued apace on the design proposals for future, long-term ECMWF office and conferencing accommodation on the University of Reading campus. However, the project was paused in the autumn in light of the potential relocation of ECMWF’s EU-funded activities and the impact that such a decision could have on the size and costs of the new building. In December, the Council approved the recommendation for the establishment of an ECMWF facility in a location compatible with all key European Union funding policies relevant for ECMWF and established an Evaluation Panel to review proposals for hosting such a facility.
ECMWF continued to support the establishment of the data centre in Italy, liaising also with international organisations operating in Italy to acquire valuable information to support this. The Centre obtained a Codice Fiscale, required to be quoted for all commercial transactions in Italy, and staff members received training in the use of the Italian Government’s online system for registering staff members and issuing VAT exemptions.
By the end of the year, 5 members of staff had transferred to Bologna. To mark the considerable data centre progress achieved during the year, all staff were invited to an Italian-themed lunch, with colleagues from Bologna joining via video link.
As an international organisation, ECMWF is proud of its multicultural environment with 372 members of staff from 30 different countries at the end of 2019. During the year ECMWF hosted 4 graduate trainees from Croatia, Germany, Hungary and Serbia; 7 visiting scientists from China and Japan; and 6 visiting scientists as part of a new short-term secondment scheme developed with Member States.
The implications of Brexit for staff and their families, and the transfer of staff to Bologna were given much consideration throughout the year. The Centre continued to interact with the relevant authorities in the UK Government, notably the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), regarding matters related immigration control, the right to work for spouses of ECMWF staff, and access to higher education for staff dependants.
A pilot teleworking scheme introduced in 2018 came to an end. A staff survey concluded that the pilot had emphatically met its objective of offering more flexible working options for staff without impacting productivity negatively. The Centre has used the lessons learned to develop a policy to be implemented during 2020. In the meantime, staff continue to be able to telework under the pilot scheme conditions.
The Centre also began a comprehensive review of family-related policies in response to ECMWF’s diversity policy and staff feedback.
An initiative from staff to establish an informal well-being network was embraced by the Centre. The network was launched in October, providing a forum to discuss mental health issues and come up with initiatives in support of improving the way the Centre addresses this topic, including raising awareness, line manager training and new support mechanisms.
There were regular opportunities to keep staff up to date with developments in topical areas, and to highlight staff achievements and efforts to engage with young people and our wider community.
The ongoing uncertainty around the timing and the modality in which the United Kingdom would leave the European Union continued to influence the volatility of the sterling/euro exchange rates. With the establishment of the new data centre in Bologna, the Centre carefully monitored expenses in both currencies to reduce long-term exposure to currency variations.
The high demand for ECMWF data and products generated an increase in sales and contracts and contributed to a budgetary surplus. In parallel, the Centre continued to work on a new charging and delivery model. In December, the Council agreed that ECMWF would move towards a free and open data policy in phases over a period of several years, starting in 2020.
European investment in ECMWF
The 34 Member and Co-operating States of ECMWF are the principal source of finance for the Centre, with contributions totalling £48 million, representing the main proportion of the Centre’s £112.3 million funding. External organisations support both core research and the complementary goals of the Centre with funding of £54.7 million, while revenue from sales of data and products provides additional income of over £10.2 million.
In 2019 ECMWF continued to invest in its staff, infrastructure and systems to provide the highest quality products to its Member and Co-operating States. The main areas of expenditure are summarised below, and include capital investment of £2.8 million, principally for IT and infrastructure.
The main areas of expenditure related to remuneration and related items (£26.5 million), computer expenses (£20.1 million), buildings (£5.9 million), pension schemes (£5.6 million), and other operating activities (£4.1 million). Costs associated with externally funded projects amounted to £47 million and net finance costs were £5.9 million.
ECMWF’s budget remains on a cash basis and the Financial Statements include a reconciliation of the results under IPSAS and in cash terms. Under cash accounting, the Centre generated a surplus of £0.913 million in 2019, the use of which will be decided by the ECMWF Council.
Note: all numbers exclude Centre tax.