STFC Funding Crisis: Astronomy

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Last Updated: 27 Nov 2020

This page is intended to provide professional UK astronomers with information relating to the ongoing STFC funding shortfall and relevant developments in UK science policy. See news updates from STFC RAS, and Google News. See archive of UK particle physics announcements at STFC Funding Crisis: Particle Physics and a parallel site for ISIS at STFC Funding Crisis: Neutron and Muon Science. News Updates are now available on Twitter. Send corrections and additions to


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Section Last Updated: Dec 2011

What crisis?

Section Last Updated: Oct 2008

The merger of two science research councils, Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) and the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC), in April 07 into the Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) (see initial consultation from Mar 06 document, and responses published in Sep 06 ) was intended to lead to an improved situation regarding research opportunities in astronomy and particle physics. Indeed, a previous Minister of Science, Malcolm Wicks MP assured the now-disbanded Science & Technology Committee that there would not be an overall reduction in funding as a result of the merger of PPARC with CCLRC. Some relevant items from Mr Wicks and Prof Sir Keith O'Nions (the previous Director General of Science and Innovation) can be found in the Minutes of Evidence from 17 Jan 07 submitted for the Office of Science and Innovation: Scrutiny Report 2005/06 Sixth Report of the Science and Technology Ctte whose report includes a recommendation that

“ the funding of the Science and Technology Facilities Council from the CSR [2007] round be an increase over the combined existing budgets of its component parts in order that it can achieve its potential

Alas, the STFC outcome from the recent 2007 comprehensive spending review (CSR07) has been the reverse, noted by Peter Warry in the Minutes of the 21Nov07 Council meeting

“ the CSR settlement had provided the most difficult outcome for the Research Councils since 2000 and would inevitably have serious implications for STFC's programme over the next four years

Overall, science achieved a healthy annual increase above inflation in the CSR07

See DIUS press release pre-budget report and CSR from 9 Oct 07 (details in Table 2.1 from DIUS Science Budget allocations). To put Research Council expenditure in context, the £3.0 billion committed to Research Councils in 2007/08 comprised 0.5 per cent of total UK government departmental spending - see summary courtesy of the Guardian on 13 Sep 08, updated for 2008/09 here on 16 Sep 09

Rt Hon John Denham MP Secretary of State at DIUS (until 2009) notes:

“ The Government's commitment to the country's research base is clear. The settlement is good news for science and research. This settlement maintains that commitment. It enables us to consolidate the progress we have made; and to prioritise spending on areas of national importance.

Read the Minister's speech from 11 Dec 07 on the Science Budget Allocations . In Minutes of the 21Nov07 STFC Council meeting, Paul Williams (DIUS) acknowledged that there had been a change in emphasis by the Government in funding science in CSR07, with a higher priority given to translational health and energy related research.

Total STFC allocations for CSR07 (between 2008/09 to 2010/11)

represent an average 1.6% annual rise over inflation over the 3 year period in its total budget, comprising three elements (Near Cash, Non Cash and Capital Allocations). So far, so good. However, since Non Cash (52.4% increase over CSR07) and Capital (6.8% increase over CSR07) Allocations deal with depreciation and construction costs, the all-important `near cash' element are effectively flat over CSR07 for STFC (see Council statement on CSR07 from 6 Nov 07), i.e.

as itemised in Table 2.8 of the DIUS Science Budget allocations was by far the poorest near-cash percentage increase of any Research Council for CSR07

although these numbers are heavily skewed by additional Full Economic Costing (fEC) allocations, in which 80% overheads are paid on grants - see Guardian Education item from 29 Jan 08 on fEC . According to item 5 from Memorandum 38 from the Science Budget Allocation report of 30 Apr 08, STFC (and EPSRC for comparison) received the following fEC funds

so the STFC 8.0% near-cash increase over CSR07 equates to just 2.6% after allowance for fEC (and EPSRC's 18.3% increase reduces to 0.1% after adjustment for fEC).

Without allowance for inflation in the STFC near-cash allocation (assuming a rate of 2.5%), the erosion in buying power on its (circa) £400 million resource budget over a three year period is £10 million (2.5%, 08/09), £20 million (5%, 09/10) and £30 million (7.5%, 10/11), i.e. £60 million over the three year period.

STFC Council minutes from 25Jun07 noted that a 17% uplift over CSR07 would have been required to deliver a full programme of new priority initiatives as well as existing commitments according to Prof Keith Mason.

Additionally, together with other items, including a minor shortfall in operating costs of Diamond Light Source and the cost of the Shared Service Centre (SSC) which will serve all Research Councils, have resulted in a total £80 million shortfall in their cash allocation over the course of the CSR Capital (construction) costs of Diamond and ISIS TS2 are apparently not the origin for the current financial difficulties (see Diamond/ISIS section)

The STFC position resulting from CSR07 was summarised by Prof John Womersley on 22 Nov 07 - shortly before the final Delivery Plan - in an Edinburgh seminar womersley.ppt

“ At its meeting on 2 Nov [07] STFC Council considered the CSR07 settlement. The settlement contained an increase for FEC and support for the costs associated with the closure of the SRS, otherwise it represented an essentially flat cash allocation.

While the settlement will enable the Council to pursue much of our planned programme, the costs of running the STFC will increase not just with inflation but also due to the increased costs of operating some new major facilities. The consequence is that with other minor adjustments the STFC is looking at a deficient of about £80m in its existing programme over the CSR period.

In moving forward the Council reaffirmed that its strategy will continue to be guided by four key principles which it believes are at the heart of its mission and the rationale for creating the Council. They are:

Council also reaffirmed that a major restructuring of its activities is necessary.

Given the settlement this process of restructuring will now be accelerated. Some tough decisions will have to be made and in some cases relatively quickly. The Council has asked the Executive to come forward with detailed plans in consultation with its Science Board and the PALS and PPAN sub-committees.

Council recognises that the restructuring of our activities will impact on both our research community and our staff but believes it will put us on a stronger footing in the future.

At its meeting on 21 Nov [07], Council considered such a plan.

fasten your seatbelts; wait till you see the whole picture before reacting; when the wagons are circled, remember to shoot outwards

In fact, a total budgetary saving of £120 million is being planned (more than 9% of STFC cash allocation over CSR07) to provide an additional contingency fund for items that are not in the `core' programme right now, and for new ideas (read report from Prof Norman McCubbin and Prof Mike Green on the 13 Dec 07 STFC Town Meeting). The net result of this budgetary saving is outlined in the STFC Delivery Plan and includes a 25%(!) reduction in research grants by the end of the CSR07 period (currently £100m for PP/A/NP grants in 2007 - see update from 15 Oct 08 in which £9M additional funds have been freed-up by DIUS of which £6M will go towards planned cuts to grants in 2009 and 2010, equivalent to circa 25 PDRAs in astronomy, particle and nuclear physics). Yet one of the successes highlighted in the STFC Delivery plan is the

“ 44% increase in publications from the astronomy community for 2006/07

According to Prof Mike Cruise (Astronomy Grants Panel, chair)

“ Measures have sought to preserve as much high quality science as possible, but there can be no doubt that science will have to suffer if these levels of cuts are to be achieved.

Implications of these reduced grants for physics and astronomy department's are discussed in the 11 Jan 08 joint IoP/RAS response to the Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee, and testimony on 21 Jan 08

Prof Peter Main “ It will of course not be evenly spread but there at least half a dozen universities - some large, some small - whose dependence on STFC is about 75% of their funding or more and lots with about 50% of their funding so a 20% cut in that will be a 20% cut in their income. If you look at what the actual figures are - in terms of grants it is money in/money out because you spend it on the research - there are also now full economic costs and the direct costs that go into the university. Some universities are standing to lose about three quarters of a million pounds a year in terms of their direct costs, ie the money they will lose as a result of these cuts. Some departments, even some of the very largest, will suffer very badly. Some of the smaller ones with high dependence on STFC may really be under a lot of financial pressure, particularly since, as we know what I call the parachute funding for HEFCE (the extra £75m that HEFCE found for certain subjects including physics on the teaching side) is due to end at the end of the next academic year. If these things all come together at the same time it will put a lot of pressure on physics department.

which was followed up later in the evidence session

Prof Keith Mason “ It is unfortunate that we have to make cuts to research grants but research grants actually make up the bulk of the money that we spend in universities so you cannot make the books balance unless you put a reduction on them. I do think actually that people misunderstood but the impact of those cuts is not as great as people are perhaps expressing in some circles. It is 25% of new commitment year on year; it is a gradual rank down on grants and against an aspirational programme that would have been an increase. The actual reduction in research, in the numbers of PDRAs in astronomy for example, will be some 10% down on what they were in 2005 by the end of this period, not 25%.

Dr Blackman-Woods “ Can I try to summarise what I think it is you are saying and please correct me if I have got this wrong. You are saying that there should not really be this hoo-ha from affected departments because, although they may lose out a bit, they will have some compensation because of full economic costs, they will have new programmes that they may be able to apply for and they should be looking at new methods of funding and perhaps looking more to the private sector or other sources of funding. Because of those three things they should not really be complaining to the extent that they are.

Prof Keith Mason “ From my point of view I do not want to belittle the problems. We do face collectively as research councils challenges in getting quarts out of pint pots; we do have to tackle the inflation problem et cetera. There is real loss of potential here which I do not want to underestimate, but on the other hand I think this is an opportunity to sit down, through the Wakeham Review and wider, to think about our scientific strategy in this country and what we want to do as a nation. Science is quite clearly an important component of the future economic wellbeing of this country. We need to plan it properly; we need to be aware of all the wrinkles, all the difficulties and talk about them in a fully open and calm and collected way. I do not want to comment on the reaction of certain elements of the community, but I think we do have real problems that perhaps have been overstated in some circumstances and in some circles. We actually need to look at the facts and plan our way forward.

The STFC Delivery plan notes

“ Investment in university departments is of strategic importance to the long-term health of a competitive science and engineering base. With the introduction of Full Economic Costing (FEC) many of these departments, particularly in physics, will be increasingly dependent on Research Council funding ..

for which investment will

“ take account of reduced facility availability.

New applications dependent upon facilities that are no longer supported will be deemed to have failed on technical grounds (also true for existing grants, although exploitation of existing data will be taken into account). The new STFC priority list has been drawn up by PPAN/PALS/SB through their biennial Programmatic Review 2008 (see Town Meeting slides ). Groups heavily involved in low priority facilities, such as ILC and ground-based STP from which the UK has announced its intention to withdraw, will undoubtedly suffer greatest (see STFC 2008-11 Delivery Plan Scorecard from 1 Apr 08). The 7 Feb 08 STFC Programmatic Review: Next Steps news release notes:

“ There will be a consultation period of three weeks following the release of the programmatic review results during which the relevant communities will be encouraged to submit their views. ”

see Consultation exercise in which small subject-based panels - including ground-based astronomy, solar and solar-terrestrial physics, space science and exploration, plus theory, computation and data handling - will distil the input into a form where it can be considered as outlined at the STFC Science Board Town Meeting.

By way of context, the American Astronomical Society have issued a 24 Jan 08 resolution on scientific priorities, which includes

“ The AAS .. strongly endorse community-based priority setting as a fundamental component in the effective federal funding of research. Broad community input is required in making difficult decisions that will be respected by policy makers and stake-holders. ”

In Jan 2006 an international panel provided a report on UK Physics and Astronomy research, under the sponsorship of EPSRC, PPARC, RAS and IoP, titled International perceptions of UK Research in Physics and Astronomy 2005 who noted

“ The UK continues to enjoy a high standing in astrophysics and solar system physics. The best departments and individuals have outstanding international reputations and there has been considerable growth on several fronts since the 2000 review both in terms of participation in large international projects and in developing new research areas ”


“ It is important to take care that the funding agencies have sufficient means to maintain a healthy balance between the large investments in international facilities and funds spent nationally to exploit these opportunities through experiment development and data analysis programmes. ”

Also read the RAS response to the International Review. These views were apparently echoed by correspondence between review panels members (e.g. Prof Roger Blandford) and the IoP according to Prof Peter Main during the 21 Jan 08 inquiry in science budget allocations. By way of context, the RAS president Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson noted that:

“ Back in January [07] I briefed Sir Keith O'Nions, Director General of the Research Councils, about the need for astronomy and particle physics funding to share in the planned expansion of science funding. I pointed out to him that of the 41 UK Physics departments in universities, 34 have some astronomy funding, and for 11 more than 40% of their research funding comes from astronomy. ”

in his RAS news item on 10 Dec 07. There has been a significant increase in astronomy academics and associated fellows in the UK over the past decade, representing an expansion from 386 in 1998 according to the RAS survey, to 545 in 2007 from the STFC studentship quota exercise. Research support over that timescale has more or less remained constant. For example, in 2005 there were 524 astronomy academics and fellows in the UK (PPARC studentship quota exercise) and 278 active (responsive) post-doc awards to PPARC funded astronomy, i.e. 0.53 PDRA's/academic, to which 30-40 project-funded positions and senior technical staff should be added, i.e. 0.6 PDRAs/academic overall (see trail of ineptitude from Research Fortnight on 23 Apr 08).

On this topic, the 6 Feb 08 News from STFC Council following the 28/29 Jan strategy meeting states

“ The number of PDRA's supported by STFC through astronomy grants by year, taking into account the awards that will shortly be announced for next year, are

STFC's published delivery plan envisages that the number of PDRA's supported in 2011 will be 11% below the 2005 level, but following the introduction of FEC the overall funding for exploitation grants in astronomy will have increased by £14m over 2005. Comparing 2008/09 to 2005/06 there is an overall increase in funding for astronomy grants of 67% (£15.2m). ”

To put these numbers into context, we need to examine the number of responsive grants awarded over a longer timeframe (grants are renewed on a 3 year period). Assuming a reduction of 25% in 2010/11 (246 post-docs) versus 2007/08 (329 post-docs) is to be achieved through the award of the following post-doc positions in astronomy - taking into account an additional £6M funds for (2009 and) 2010 announced on 15 Oct 08 - assuming half of the extra 25+ posts (costs £70K/yr) are awarded in astronomy/space science:

Apparently, of the 20 rolling grants awarded in April 2008, the average award was approximately 2.5 PDRA's. An analysis article Stars in their eyes from Andrew King writing in Research Fortnight on 20 Feb 08 adds

“ This year's "broadly level" grants settlement is simply the first stage of the 25% cut planned all along by the STFC

But now the brakes have been slammed on with a vengeance, and the smell of hot metal is palpable. This year's 82 new posts evidently replace 88 PDRAs who finished grants announced in 2005. So, research groups last funded in the 2005 round had their total allocation cut by six PDRAs, or by about 7%. But many more PDRAs will drop off grants in 2009, and even more in 2010. The effect of a flat award of 82 in those two years will be far more severe relative to previous allocations.

Next year's putative 82 PDRA awards will be about 25% fewer than the number awarded when groups last applied for funding; in 2010, the reduction will be an eye-watering 37%.

Astronomers should brace themselves for descriptions of next year's allocation of new PDRAs as "broadly level" if the number is 82, or even "increased" if it is 83.

As we have seen, such figures actually mean unprecedented cuts in the total number of post-docs, something unlikely to get much of a fanfare. More of this kind of broad levelling may leave UK astronomy, still in many ways a world leader, broadly flattened.

This topic was returned to at the 27 Feb 08 IUS Committee session

Q340 Phil Willis MP “ On the issue of the grants to the university physics community, when figures of cuts of 25 per cent were being mooted, you pooh-poohed that and said that was not realistic, and yet it was you at the town meeting on 13 December who actually made that comment that there would be a 25 per cent cut in the grants. As briefly as you can, can you tell us first you were right, then you were wrong, then you were right again?

Prof Keith Mason “ I do not think I pooh-poohed it, that is not my style. Both statements are correct..

Q341 Phil Willis MP “ They both cannot be correct.

Prof Keith Mason “ Of course they can. It depends what question you are asking. It is a 25 per cent cut against a rising profile, so it is a real 25 per cent cut in what we had aspired to fund. Incidentally, the reason that we had planned to increase the number of grants, post docs and grants, is that the community is expanding and this is something which needs to be looked at by the Wakeham Review in particular. We have seen an increase of 40 per cent in the number of researchers doing astronomy in universities in the last two years, which is a huge increase. So against that planned profile, we were making a 25 per cent cut, which essentially brings us back to a zero increase. So having announced we would be making this 25 per cent reduction, people then concluded that there would be a 25 per cent hit on physics departments and that is what I tried to clarify at my last appearance, that because this is on a rising profile actually it is not a 25 per cent cut on physics departments, it actually brings us down to more or less level funding rather than at the increased funding.

Q342 Phil Willis MP “ I am just a humble olitician, unlike my colleagues, but when the Institute of Physics informs me that we are about to see very serious cuts in physics departments across the country, particularly those in major universities which have very serious physics departments, then I have to take notice of that. But you are saying that is just nonsense? There will not be any cuts at all?

Prof Keith Mason “ We have provided the figures for you but in this first year of the Spending Review there will be no cuts in exploitation grants. As we go forward we are making a 25 per cent cut on the original plan for new commitments so there will be cuts which come in in later years, but we will still end up in a position where over the next Comprehensive Spending Review we have the same number of post docs in universities as we had in the last Spending Review. So it is clawing back on the planned increase and flattening it out.

Q343 Dr Gibson MP “ So it is a lot of fuss about nothing really, is it not? Is that what you think?

Prof Keith Mason “ It depends where you are coming from. As I said, the astronomy community in particular has grown by 40 per cent in the last two years, so by holding the number of grants steady, level, the success rate will go down. But what is not clear to me, and I hope that Bill Wakeham's panel actually looks into it, is why there has been a 40 per cent increase in astronomy. I can think of some reasons but I think somebody needs to do some research there.

Prof Mason made similar claims on 3 Apr 08 at the NAM in Belfast -

“ There has been a large increase in the number, allegedly, a large increase in the number of university researchers in astronomy. And we collect statistics from our studentship rounds every two years in which departments are asked so say how many people have you got, actually academic staff are doing research in astronomy and those numbers have gone up by 40% in two years, from 500 to 700.

In fact the number of astronomy academics grew by just 4% from 2005 to 2007 according to STFC's own statistics from the studentship exercise (the 40% figure came from an letter from Prof Mike Cruise, quoting a 37% increase in the number of academics associated with rolling grants reviewed in 2007 since their last grant round). This is discussed further in an article trail of ineptitude from Research Fortnight on 23 Apr 08.

According to Prof Mason's presentation at NAM on 3 Apr 08 (see his slides), academic staff effort from fEC could be seen as additional support beyond that to post-docs, which was felt to be very misleading according to Prof Rowan-Robinson's letter to RAS members from 28 Apr 08.

The nuclear physics community switched grant funding from Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to SFTC this spending round, under the false assumption that research funding under STFC would be more stable than EPSRC. The number of PDRA's in Nuclear physics will be reduced by 22%, circa 14 posts in the CSR period.

EPSRC is also effectively flat-cash, although because EPSRC has a large proportion of responsive grants, the main impact for EPSRC is lost opportunities owing to a modest volume decrease in overall grants, rather than the risk of substantial redundancies (STFC has about 2000 staff at its establishments), cancellation of projects and a substantial volume decrease in research grants. The 7 Feb 08 EPSRC announces a reduction in grants item in Times Higher Education), reports the situation for EPSRC, followed up on 20 Mar 08 in EPSRC cuts to blue-skies funding raise concern , noting ` a reduction in investigator-led funding at the 12-15% level' Overall, EPSRC faces a 3-5% drop in research volume, to be more closely aligned to managed science via key themes - see EPSRC Delivery Plan 2008-11

Prof Ian Diamond (RCUK, Chair) gave the following testimony to the IUS Select Committee on 21 Jan 08

“ There will be a reduction in success rates and volume of research funded across all research councils. ”

see Education Guardian report from 22 Jan 08.

Apparently, new grant applications dependent upon facilities that are no longer supported will be deemed to have failed on technical grounds (also true for existing grants, although exploitation of existing data will be taken into account) - on this last point Prof Walter Gear reported a PPAN statement at the 3 Mar 08 Town Meeting

“ PPAN considers it an outrage that it is forced into a position where it will recommend withdrawal of previously peer-reviewed and announced grants to Universities for excellent science, as it believes this completely undermines the relationship between the research council peer review process and Universities and damages the confidence of University administrations in making investments in Physics ”

followed up at the 3 Apr 08 STFC community session at NAM by Prof Gear

“ Members of PPAN, as you do in these circumstances, discussed whether the only option was for to us was to resign, and again we felt that would achieve nothing... we were the only thing between random chaos(!) and destruction. ”

For example, the STFC Delivery Plan Scorecard from 1 Apr 08 notes "To withdraw support for the ILC specific activities" by Oct 08. Turning to astronomy facilities, the ground-based astronomy strategy within the STFC Delivery Plan focuses primarily upon ESO (including ALMA), JCMT, plus ongoing design studies for E-ELT and SKA.

Otherwise STFC intend to:

Community concerns over delivery overruns at VISTA (and potential ensuing late penalty fee carried over from PPARC) further impacting upon the STFC budget were addressed in Minutes of the 02Apr07 Council Meeting that note a `letter of comfort' issued by ESO (although a risk was further noted in minutes from the 25Jul07 Council meeting). Space-based astronomy is fortunately delivered through ESA, with priorities targeted towards completion of instruments for Herschel and JWST, plus data analysis capability for GAIA, and participation in BepiColombo (Mercury probe).

The Astronomy Technology Centre (see ATC section), along with other STFC institutions, have been asked to come up with the following savings targets per year, to be achieved through a combination of redundancy, efficiency savings and non-STFC income, over CSR07:

according to a Prospect Union news item from 12 Dec 07, i.e. the majority of the entire £120 million budgetary saving over the period of CSR07 (the next largest saving involves cuts to the grants-line). Specifically, the ATC saving represents a 50%(!) cut in funding over the next three years.

There is little doubt that had the research council merger not taken place, PPARC would have been hit, though not necessarily as hard as STFC has suffered (CCLRC alone would have been left to deal with extra running costs at ISIS TS2 and Diamond) as noted in the Times Higher Education article from 10 Jan 08 - indeed Prof Roger Davies notes:

“ I don't think the PPARC council would have gone along with the merger if it had realised this would be the outcome. ”

Science Board minutes released to Prof Mike Green under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 discuss this further.

According to testimony to the IUS Select Committee on 21 Jan 08,

Q95. Dr Brian Iddon MP “ When the collision between LRSC and PPARC took place I was under the impression that the physics budget was likely to be protected, at least that is what the physics community were led to believe. Now we can see that that has all crashed. ”

Prof Keith Mason “ The budget I received to run STFC was the sum of the budgets that were previously in PPARC and CCRLC. I think again there is a lot of misunderstanding perhaps about that statement but I interpreted that statement to be that the Government were not motivated to bring the councils together in order to save money and nor did they, we got the full budget for the combined... Essentially the merger was cost neutral. ”

This topic was followed up at the 20 Feb 08 select committee hearing (read full transcript )

Q189. Dr Turner MP “ Sir Keith, you told our late-lamented predecessor Committee and gave them an undertaking that STFC would not inherit any financial difficulties from the merger with the CCLRC. How does this square with the actual fact that STFC have had to make 80 million worth of cuts in their grant-awarding budgets?

Prof Sir Keith O'Nions “ I will try and go as fast as I can but I would like to get the facts on record. When CCLRC and PPARC were merged, we did have the NAO undertake due diligence and it was clear that there were no deficits in either council upon merger.

Q190 Dr Turner MP “ May I clarify that. There may not have been any actual existing deficits, but were there future funding gaps implied by strategic decisions that had been taken but which were not funded?

Prof Sir Keith O'Nions “ Let met stick with the facts and then I will try and answer that question. The NAO due diligence that was carried out did not reveal any deficits and in fact, in the year 2006/07, both research councils underspent by a total of £31 million. EYF of some £66 million was taken forward into STFC from the combined councils. We had previously had an independent audit of CCLRC because we were concerned about whether planning was suitably strategic in financial terms and whether they had a management capability to deal with costs that are very easy to get out of control in these very big science and big physics facilities, and basically they got a clean bill of health in planning capability, so there was no particular reason to assume that this was going to carry an impossible situation. Were they carrying difficulties at that time? In some ways, yes. That is one of the reasons why STFC was formed. In big physics and big science, these are complicated things to manage, they are very long term, there are international subscriptions, they are often pro-rata to GDP and so on. So, it does require a level of long-term strategic planning and decisions which may be quite different to what would take place, for example, in EPSRC where they do not own big facilities. We were quite aware that there was the potential for these areas running out of control without very close management and that was our aspiration of STFC, having a very good management control on areas that are difficult to manage in all countries.

Q192 Dr Turner MP “ Where has the management control failed?

Prof Sir Keith O'Nions “ I have not said that the management control has failed.

The majority of respondents to the consultation by Government on the formation of STFC were of the opinion that grant-giving functions of PPARC should not be transferred to EPSRC, so that facility management and grant-awarding powers were not separated (see DTI summary from Sep 06) although some respondents fell that

“ there was a risk that funding may be diverted away from grants to support facilities management and that universities may be disadvantaged in favour of Government-run facilities as a result ”

as further noted in the Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) on the formation of STFC. Read the Forum on The Future of PPARC from Astronomy and Geophysics (June 06) which included the following contributions

In addition, a news item from the magazine from Jun 07 included concerns from PhD students, and quoted Prof Ken Pounds (apparently writing in Research Fortnight from 21 Mar 07)

“ PPARC's `blue skies' research.. was built into its founding mission statement but is now lost within the new STFC. ”

Alas, the STFC budgetary problems have been predicted for some time. Looking back at
Minutes of Evidence given by Prof Mason, then the newly appointed PPARC chief executive, to the House of Commons Science & Technology Select Ctte from 18 Jan 2006 makes interesting reading.

Q41. Brooks Newmark MP “ Are you concerned then that the next Spending Review has been delayed until 2007. What impact has this had on your planning and spending? ”

Prof Keith Mason “ The fact that it is delayed is not as important, because the money would not have flowed until that time anyway, but if there is not an increase in volume in our core programme at the next Spending Review [2007] then we are going to have to take very painful decisions, we are going to have to limit our ambitions, possibly limit the breadth of the activity that we are engaged in. ”

According to Mar_bilateral.ppt released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 , the priorities for STFC facilities at its inception were as follows:

From the 2007/08 STFC Delivery Plan

An important element of our investment plan will be to establish the optimal balance between the exploitation of existing programmes and facilities and new opportunities. In parallel with the development of a new science and technology strategy we will carry out a systematic review of our current portfolio of programmes and facilities. This review will enable us to establish the scale of on-going investment needed in our existing facilities consistent with the new strategy or whether we should run down provision to allow investment in new opportunities which are better aligned to this strategy. ”

Revised priorities were presented in the Programmatic Review 2008 which was implemented after a short Consultation exercise (see Town Meeting slides ). Items at high or medium-high priority will be fully funded, low priority projects to be withdrawn - see Programmatic Review section .

In contrast, the good showing for PPARC at the previous 2004 CSR (albeit also effectively flat-cash) allowed [PPARC] to maintain investment in ground-based facilities, participating in development for second generation ESO and Gemini telescopes, and maintain a capacity in ground-based STP (see Report from PPARC Council from 2 Mar 2006).

For the wider public, 2009 is International Year of Astronomy, for which the UK has a IYA website (see tongue-in-cheek banner ). Perhaps we need to turn to Bill Gates or other philanthropists for investment in specific projects - with Charles Simonyi he has recently invested US$30 million in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) according to a press release from 3 Jan 08, followed up in a full page article On the roof of the Andes, Bill Gates helps to build `the world's biggest digital camera' . in The Guardian on 5 Jan 08

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Section Last Updated: Sept 2008

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) was responsible for funding research councils at the start of CSR 2007 (on 5 Jun 09 DIUS was merged with BERR to produce the Department for Business Innovation and Skills BIS). Details of the Allocations of the Science Budget from Dec 07 are available from the DIUS website. Total UK public expenditure in 2007/08 is summarised here courtesy of the Guardian on 13 Sep 08. Total Research Council allocations of £ 3 billion represented 0.5 per cent of the total £586 billion departmental expenditure in 2007/08, updated for 2008/09 here on 16 Sep 09. The 2009 UK Research and Development budget is compared to international competitors here

Science achieved a healthy 3.5% annual increase above inflation (at 2.5%) overall, in line with the emphasis expressed in the Science and Innovation Framework 2004-2014 and Science and Innovation investment framework 2004-14: Next Steps documents, which proposed the merger of PPARC with CCLRC to improve Research Council's effectiveness, and the creation of SIC's. The subsequent Regulatory impact assessment includes benefits, costs and risks associated with the merger. Risks for the merger of PPARC and CCLRC include:

25. With this approach, there is a risk that funding may be diverted away from grants to support facilities management and that Universities could also be disadvantaged in favour of Government-run facilities as a result. This approach could also lead to the risk of a potential conflict of interest in grant giving for example in the future management of large facilities which are currently operated or managed by CCLRC on behalf of the UK. while the response from CCLRC-PPARC to the consultation exercise included
[18] All this will require a planning budget commensurate with the scale of the UK's ambitions
A Higher Education Funding Council for England HEFCE news item from Nov 06 noted an extra £75m support for science - including physics - given the strategic importance of science to the economy and society (until 2009/10). HEFCE allocations for 2008/09 are outlined in a DIUS press release from 21 Jan 08 involving the annual grant letter from the DIUS Secretary of State, Rt Hon John Denham MP to Tim Melville-Ross (Chair of HEFCE) which notes in relation to research and innovation:

“ Our funding [to Research Councils] will create capacity and reward excellence in different forms in different parts of the Higher Education sector, from blue skies research and international collaboration to locally based knowledge transfer activity. ”

The grant letter to HEFCE continues that a key theme should be the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) - Lord Sainsbury's report The Race to the Top: A Review of Government's Science and Innovation noted that it was essential to raise the level of STEM subjects - for which

“ there has been good growth in applications from prospective undergraduates in these disciplines recently, and our research performance remains strong. ”

The Sainsbury review noted that UK-based admissions to first degrees in physics dropped by 11% between 1994-2005 (versus a 35% increase in STEM subjects overall) and 4% increase in physics between 2002-05 (10% increase in STEM overall), set against a 20 year decline in physics at A-level. (Concerns about course closures in 2004 prompted the government to commission HEFCE to review the position of `strategically important subjects.'

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects are supported through the STEM Network (STEMNET). According to the state of the nation report published on 10 Dec 07 by the Royal Society there is a critical shortage of teachers in science and maths. An article Fall in teacher training numbers from BBC Education news 7 Feb 08 revealed a sharp fall in PGCE applications for physics, down from 185 to 129 - see also commons written answer from Jim Knight MP in 2 Jun 08 revealing only 450 applications to postgraduate Initial Teacher Training courses. On 30p Jun 08 a Supply and Retention of Teachers report on physics in schools from University of Buckingham was released and reported in Physics teachers shortage warning in BBC Education News, Physics teachers dying out in some state schools, report says in The Guardian, Physics teaching under threat in England's schools and comment Physics teachers are not an optional extra in The Telegraph

Physics-based sectors are more productive than the UK average - indeed 5% of jobs in the UK are in sectors dependent on the use of physics-based technologies/expertise. Training the next generation of scientists for industry - who are largely attracted to physics degree programmes through astronomy, cosmology and particle physics - is of clear economic benefit (see Institute of Physics Report Physics and the UK Economy from Sep 07), although one must naturally avoid relying on direct economic arguments for blue-skies research. A Jul 06 report from Peter Warry (STFC Chair) discusses how to increase economic impact without sacrificing research excellence (also see Excellence with Impact response). In Minutes of the 21Nov07 STFC Council meeting, Paul Williams (DIUS) acknowledged that there had been a change in emphasis by the Government in funding science in CSR07, with a higher priority given to translational health and energy related research.

The New Scientist editorial from 19 Jan 08 comments

“ We can only hope .. that politicians will see the value in science beyond a cash return on investment. Astronomy and particle physics experiments probe some of the most profound issues in science. They also generate technological spin-offs and create a highly trained, specialised workforce, but if they had to be justified on purely economic grounds, they could disappear altogether. ”

The same point was made in a speech by Lord Winston in 16 Jan 08 at an event `Science and Society: bridging the gap' (also attended by Rt Hon John Denham MP)

“ science which is purely driven by economic measures is a risky process for our society. Science is much more than that.

It is quite concerning to many scientists that there has been a major cut to the physics budget recently which I hope can be resolved.

While it may be thought that subjects like astronomy and particle physics don't have any immediate value, economically, believe me, they are essential for the welfare of science in our state and actually worldwide and our respect and how we interact with other scientists around the world. ”

Also read the Reaching for the stars article from Prof Steve Eales in Prospect magazine from Jan 08. Ian Pearson MP speaking at the Institute of Physics in Nov 07 noted:

“ Physics makes a key contribution to the UK economy through the one million jobs where the use of physics-based technologies or expertise is critical to the existence of the sector, concentrated in 32 000 businesses. ”

Lord Sainsbury noted in his The Race to the Top: A Review of Government's Science and Innovation from Oct 07 that

“ In today's global economy, investment in science and innovation is not an intellectual luxury for a developed country, but an economic and social necessity, and a key part of any strategy for economic success. ”


“ Politicians, industrialists and economists are beginning to see universities as major agents of economic growth as well as creators of knowledge, developers of young minds and transmitters of culture. The change in the purpose and self-image of the university has been driven by the concept of the knowledge economy, an economy in which ideas and the ability to manipulate them are of more importance than the traditional factors of production. In this economy, a world-class university looks an increasingly useful asset. ”

In Table 2.5 from his Review, the UK ranks as 4th in the world in citation share within physical sciences and engineering in 2004 (2nd in biological sciences, humanities, pre-clinical and clinical sciences, social sciences, business and environmental sciences; 3rd in mathematics). Rt Hon John Denham MP (Secretary for State for Innovation, Universities and Skills until 2009) wrote a letter in The Times on 27 Aug 07 which included:

“ We need to be world class at both basic research and translating the outcomes of that research. However, there should be no suggestion that basic research will suffer as a result of the drive to achieve the more effective use of research for Britain ”

Yet, only recently the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) clawed £68 million back from RCUK to pay redundant Rover car workers (see BBC news item from 22 Feb 07), including £3.1 million from PPARC and £0.5 million from CCLRC, to which Dr Peter Cotgreave, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering reacted with

“ The overall amounts of money being cut from the Research Councils may only be small percentages of their total budgets, but cutting investment in research now is out of line with what the Government says it wants. We will not achieve the Chancellor and Prime Minister's vision of a knowledge-based economy by cutting research. ”

Indeed, in the present Science Budget, it was reported that £92m from the MRC's commercial fund has been clawed back, to which the 21 Dec 07 Royal Society statement responded with:

“ If institutions receiving public funds are not able to keep the extra resources they have earned, a damaging precedent is set. Government should be encouraging entrepreneurial behaviour in publicly funded institutions as well as the private sector. ”

and was further followed up in the 20 Feb 08 IUS Select Committee hearing (read transcript ).

Q244 Dr Harris MP “ You are very keen on knowledge transfer and translation and the entrepreneurial stuff shown by the research councils. Do you not think it is a bit of a negative message to send to research councils that if you do better than you plan, and we all hope to do better than we plan in everything - you will get 20 per cent of it but 80 per cent of it is for the Treasury when it is entrepreneurial work of the research councils?

Ian Pearson MP “ I think it is a good point to raise and certainly we want to encourage organisations to be entrepreneurial and to raise income where it is appropriate.

Q247 Phil Willis MP “ I think the big concern we have here, Minister, is that this £92 million was in fact not unallocated, it was very much earmarked for the St Pancras development and that was built in, and even the Chairman of the MRC knew nothing about it until after the settlement. That seems to be a totally inappropriate way of managing the affairs of what is going to be a major project.

Ian Pearson MP “ I certainly am aware that the MRC very strongly felt that these monies were legitimately theirs and that they had indeed earmarked them for projects. What I can say though is, subject to the business case, that the Government has confirmed that it is very strongly supportive of the UK MCR and other big, exciting projects such as the Laboratory for Molecular Biology at Cambridge, and we do believe that there is sufficient resource in budgets that can be available to make sure those projects come to fruition.

Specifically for physics funding in CSR07, estimates are as follows

according to slides from Prof Ian Diamond presented at a SCCP meeting on 11 Apr 08.

On the present STFC crisis, Prof Carlos Frenk is quoted in a 15 Jan 08 Daily Telegraph article as saying:

“ I cannot reconcile the rhetoric of the Labour government about a knowledge-based society and importance of science with what I see. ”

During testimony to the IUS Select Committee on 21 Jan 08

Q66. Ian Cawsey MP “ I would like to ask a little bit about the headline increase of 17.4% for the research councils which disguises some considerable variation in the amounts received. What do you make of the range of increases that different research councils have been allocated? ”

Prof Peter Main “ It seems to me that the Government has the right to put priority where it thinks. It is the Government; it decides where the priority should be in the science budget. I think it is perfectly reasonable of course to put more money into medical research and perhaps the environment. I do not think we have any problem with that. I think the problem has been the way it has been concentrated on these specific projects and such a large cut was not intended when it made the original plan to allocate the budget as it is. ”

Q68. Ian Cawsey MP “ Do you generally agree with the priority calls they have made? ”

Prof Peter Main “ We would like to see that physics would be at the heart of all the sciences. One of the things about physics is that it is basic nature and I hope that the Wakeham Review will take that into account. I used to be at the University of Nottingham; my colleague Peter Mansfield is a physicist but he won the Nobel Prize for medicine. I think the actual priorities are fine but one has to recognise that the contributions to those priorities will not necessarily always come from medical schools in medicine, they will often be from physics. ”

Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson “ Coming back to this point about unintended outcome, basically the intention was to have a big increase in science spending, tick; the intention was to focus that pretty much on medical research, tick. The unintended consequence was slashing cuts in key areas of physics. That was not intended and that, I feel, was an error somewhere along the line. ”

The (apparently unintended) implications for both physics departments and damage to our international reputation of a flat-cash outcome for STFC were put to OSI, though not necessarily ministers.

According to Minutes from the 02Apr07 STFC Council meeting, Prof Mason presented an overview of the STFC priorities to Sir Keith O'Nions in Mar 07 developed by a joint CCLRC/PPARC team, followed up by a meeting on 4 Jul 07 between Prof Mason, Peter Warry (Chair, STFC) and Sir O'Nions, reported in Minutes of the 25Jul07 Council meeting, where a further meeting on 27 Jul 07 was noted, including concerns over an inherited £40m legacy problem. In these minutes, Council acknowledged the importance of new opportunities (e.g. space exploration) but suggested these should be presented in the context of an overall strategic framework for the Council, and that a significant fraction of STFC's budget was `fixed' due to capital investment, international subscriptions and operational costs for Large (benefiting all Research Councils).

Further correspondence between STFC and OSI was confirmed in CSR07 PW Brief Nov 07.doc paper from 28 Nov 07 released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 - reported in an article in The Guardian plus a news item in Nature on 16 Jan 08 - which notes

“ At the July 2007 bilateral with DIUS, Keith [Mason] again spelled out the consequences of the four scenarios we were being asked to work within, i.e. that in a flat-cash scenario we would

updated in the 12 Sep 07 `bilateral' meeting (referred to in STFC Council minutes from 04Sep07), which included the following for a flat-cash settlement

“ At this level we would have very limited delivery of our objectives and recent investments would be under exploited. We could not operate our facilities at more than the 50% level. Similarly grants would only be funded at 50% of their historic level. Under this scenario, no investment could be made in new initiatives; and exploitation of international subscriptions would be curtailed. ”

The following extract is taken from the draft 7 Nov 07 Delivery Plan (later substantially revised) included in the CSR07 PW Brief Nov 07.doc paper from 28 Nov 07 released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

“ Focus the ground-based astronomy programme entirely on the exploitation of our membership of ESO .. This will mean earlier than planned withdrawal from La Palma and Hawaii, withdrawal from Gemini and ceasing all support for STP facilities;

Focus our particle physics programme on the exploitation of the LHC. This means withdrawing support for a Linear Collider;

Focus our immediate space science programme on key ESA cornerstone missions and on the Aurora exploration programme. ”

repeated in Science Board slides presented at the 3 Mar 08 Town Meeting, and

“ In order to achieve savings of £30 million in year one we will plan to reduce new commitments on grants, studentships and fellowships to around the 50% level, to reduce facilities access .. and possibly to instigate a first tranche of redundancies. This will have a severe short-term impact on morale both within universities and in-house. ”

From comparisons between this draft text and the final Delivery Plan the current situation for UK astronomy could have been much, much worse! Minsters were apparently unaware of such serious implications for STFC, as the only specific reference to STFC in the Whitehall news item from 11 Dec 07 involves the development of Harwell and Daresbury as Science and Innovation Campuses (SIC) (see SIC section).

Learning of the imminent budgetary shortfall for STFC in the CSR07 outcome, the RAS president Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson issued a press news item on 10 Dec 07 which included:

“ I urged O'Nions to ensure a fair settlement for the new STFC Research Council. When Ian Pearson was appointed Minister for Science in the summer, I wrote to him making the same point. I believe O'Nions and Pearson have made a serious error of judgement in not safeguarding Physics departments at a time when Physics in schools and universities is known to be in a critical state. Astronomy has been recognised by the Government as a means of attracting young people to science and engineering cuts of this type send out the wrong message to prospective students. ”

points reiterated in testimony to the IUS Select Committee on 21 Jan 08,

Q44. Mr Wilson MP “ So you think it is going to be a pretty devastating message. ”

Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson “ This is where I think all this is a mistake. I do not think it is an intended cut in this way because basically the impact of astronomy and particle physics is far greater than its actual size within physics. If you look at what draws school children into science in the first place you will find that very often it is things like astronomy, space science and so on. If you ask why students choose physics at university again it is astronomy and particle physics. We have had recent surveys of first year students suggesting that as many as 90% of them came into physics because of those kinds of subjects. When they get there they find out all the wonders of physics and they do not all do astronomy and particularly physics, which is just as well. They are needed in all areas of physics and the economy needs physics as a whole. However, if you hit astronomy and particle physics in the way they are being hit at the moment the impact is going to be devastating to the whole physics programme and eventually the UK economy, the UK science reputation. The knock-on effect is far-reaching. ”

Prof Brian Foster is quoted in an Education Guardian article Academics warn of physics funding crisis on 11 Dec 07

“ The science minister has emphasised his belief in the vital importance of healthy university physics departments. His advisers in the DIUS cannot have made clear to him the contradiction between his support and the setting up of a new research council, STFC, with patently insufficient funds to carry out its core business; they have advised him to accept a CSR settlement that exacerbates the damage. ”

After communication with Vice-Chancellors, Universities UK responded to the CSR07 outcome with the following 11 Dec 07 media release

“ Scaling back STFC funding over the current CSR period throws up some worrying scenarios. It is clear that this situation was not intended, but given its seriousness it is crucial that we can now move swiftly to resolve it. This will require a flexible approach and open dialogue between STFC and DIUS. We would welcome an independent review to assist this process. ”

and letter to the then Secretary of State, Rt Hon John Denham MP.

During a BBC Radio 4 Today program interview on 11 Dec 07 Minister of Science Ian Pearson MP noted

“ Well, we have concerns about the STFC's budgetary proposals and we've been discussing that with them over the last few days and weeks .. although we don't get interfering with the detail ..' ”

According to a DIUS spokesman reported in the 27 Dec 07 Northern Echo article ,

“ There has not been a cut in our overall expenditure on Physics with the STFC receiving a 13.6 per cent increase in funding. Although STFC are reducing grants for astronomy and particle physics in universities they will increase expenditure on prestigious projects such as the CERN laboratory in Geneva, the ESA and ESO. Investment in these areas will rise from £164 million in 2007/08 to £187 million per year in 2010/11. ”

The following question was asked during the 10 Jan 08 Commons debate on Science, Technology and Innovation (transcript available here.)

Phil Willis MP: “ Dr. Brian Cox of Manchester University's School of Physics and Astronomy has said `Scientific research is not a luxury, it is a necessity'. I am concerned that most of the cuts that will occur as a result of the £80 million shortfall will not be to major facilities, but to small grants going to Physics and Astrophysics Departments, not only in the north-west, but throughout the country. What assurances can the Minister give that that bedrock of blue skies research in Physics and Astrophysics, which brought us things such as the MRI scanner, will be protected? ”

Ian Pearson MP: (Science Minister) “ I agree with Dr. Brian Cox that scientific research is not a luxury, but an absolute necessity .. As I said earlier, the budgets of all research councils have grown - for example, the STFC budget has increased by 13.6 per cent and the EPSRC budget has increased significantly. However, it is up to research councils to determine their priorities, based on their best assessment of the science. There will be change because we live in a changing world and difficult decisions have to be taken, but it is best if those best placed to make the judgements are allowed to do so. ”

(FYI: The reference to Dr Cox related to the Daily Telegraph article Physics professors criticise cuts in budget from 11 Dec 07).

A 21 Jan 08 response to the 2008/09 HEFCE funding letter from the then Secretary of State Rt Hon John Denham MP by the 1994 Group of universities included a comment by Steve Smith (1994 Group chair, Exeter Vice-Chancellor)

“ As a group we remain concerned both at the problems emerging in relation to the funding of the Science and Technology Facilities Council and their impact on physics ”

Prof Ken Pounds , writing in a 23 Jan 08 article Two into one don't go in Research Fortnight comments:

“ Ministers are now facing flak that might more fairly be aimed lower down the decision-making chain. Confidential papers obtained last week by particle physicists under Freedom of Information legislation show that officials at DIUS were well aware of the difficulties last July; whether those warnings were passed to ministers remain unclear.

Assuming the government does not share the DIUS view that physics is a lower priority than the other sciences, the STFC must receive additional funding, but a budget re-structured to protect its core sciences from the costs of extraneous research facilities and exchange rate fluctuations in international subscriptions where the Government is signatory. In parallel, the STFC must develop, and fully involve, an advisory structure to separately guide its core science and its campus-based activities. ”

The Wakeham can't save you, physicists told article from Research Fortnight, also from 23 Jan 08, notes:

“ DIUS told Research Fortnight on 18 Jan 08 that it has `no plans' to ask the other councils for any money, a standard Whitehall reply that stops one step short of ruling out such a move. Some physicists may also be encouraged by the fact that ministers have declined to say they were adequately briefed on the consequences of the STFC's budget settlement. ”

According to the University of Liverpool Vice-Chancellor Prof Drummond Bone in a Liverpool intranet item:

“ There are currently intensive discussions between universities and the DIUS over the possible effects of STFC plans for Physics departments. Clearly if these plans are implemented, they would have a significant effect on current research but its important to recognise that there is some way to go before these plans are finalised. ”

The 31 Jan 08 Death of big physics article in New Statesman adds

“ British physics is being decimated by incompetence, with the ministers and civil servants overseeing the budgetary process displaying a failure to comprehend global science budgets and a dangerous misunderstanding of how science makes progress

To understand what has gone wrong we first have to go back to 1998 and Lord Sainsbury's appointment as minister for science. He oversaw a renaissance in British science with rising budgets and high-quality financial oversight. The contrast with what has happened since Sainsbury quit in November 2006 could not be greater. Malcolm Wicks, the jobbing politician appointed as his successor, announced a shotgun wedding between PPARC, and the CCLRC. The resulting body, the STFC, could have been a good idea but Wicks allowed an impossibly short timescale for the merger.

Then, in June last year, came another bombshell. Gordon Brown took over as PM and announced that the science brief was to be taken by another new minister, Ian Pearson, a quintessential policy wonk with an Oxford degree in, you guessed it, politics, philosophy and economics, and a brief to make science research more `applied'

Wicks and now Pearson were asked to oversee causes of great scientific complexity including the search for dark matter, the hunt for the Higgs Boson and the first detection of gravity waves, without having the first clue about such topics or about the historical relationship between pure research and commercial spin-offs.

Neither do Pearson nor his civil servants seem to understand how modern science is funded, especially big physics, where machinery such as telescopes, accelerators and satellites are so expensive that funding is beyond the reach of any one country. This has led to the creation of international consortia such as the CERN particle physics centre near Geneva, ESA, ESO in Chile and the Gemini telescopes.

Britain has flourished under this regime but the commitment to such facilities is maintained by annual fees - vulnerable to factors such as exchange rates and inflation. Such risks need to be anticipated with contingency funds and other financial devices. Wicks and Pearson have failed to do this. In addition they have lumbered STFC with a legacy of financial blunders, especially the CCLRC's failure to calculate the future costs of running the £300m Diamond synchrotron, which opens for business this month at Harwell near Oxford. ”

The cuts were further discussed in the 20 Feb 08 IUS Select Committee session (read transcript ).

Q193 Dr Turner MP “ The evidence speaks for itself in the cuts that STFC..

Prof Sir Keith O'Nions “ Wait a minute, let us talk about cuts. You have fallen into the same statement. It is an £80 million cut on what a research council would have liked to have done. It is not necessarily an 80 per cent cut on what it is able to do. May I put one other fact on record because I am rather troubled by some of the comments around here particularly language like "decimation" because, frankly, if you trot out that sort of language, it is sure to hell going to get us there when there may not be the justification for doing so. Let me put on record some numbers - and I want to get them correct - which may well show you how perplexing it is in what is a budget settlement for science and a problem that most other countries would like to have rather than call it a crisis. Putting the MRC to one side as the Chairman suggests - and we know that this is a big priority for the Government, a big opportunity with the NHS and translational research - there are six other research councils. They are all allowed by the Treasury to plan ahead a flat cash. So, every research council, by definition, must have a plan going ahead for flat cash because that is their planning envelope. In this spending review, they were able to plan ahead a flat cash plus FEC and remember, in this spending review, there is going to be more than £700 million worth of FEC go into the research universities. These are huge numbers: £700 million and £400 million in the last time. So, they were able to plan ahead at both when we look at FEC plus flat cash, the planning assumption for all research councils, and then the settlement. Relative to that, STFC had the best increase percentage settlement of any of the other six research councils: it got a 3.2 per cent increase of the flat cash plus FEC. My advice to ministers was that that is actually as strong a place as we can be in. Just for reference, EPSRC was minus one per cent, NERC is less than two per cent, AHRC is also minus one per cent. That is the reality. It is therefore perplexing, with numbers like that, that you might have out there a crisis - it is the end of the world as we knew it; the universe is over - when actually physics expenditure is increasing overall across this CSR from the five research councils.

Q194 Dr Turner MP “ Does this not bring into focus the fundamental difficulty of combining these two research councils and STFC where you are putting very large, very expensive big kit facilities with all sorts of imponderables together with a council working primarily in response mode and they make some inevitably uncomfortable bed fellows? Was this in retrospect a wise decision?

Prof Sir Keith O'Nions “ I think it is a fair comment and I think it is a fair comment as to what the challenge is and it is fair to say that if you are in the Department of Energy in the United States, actually running these enormous facilities is a big problem. International linear collider has gone there. These are very difficult management problems. I think it is right that, where you have research grants that must be very closely tied to the existence of a big facility - we spent £700 million on the collider at CERN; it would be dumb to spend £700 million on it and then not have grants to go with it. I think it is right to have them alongside, but I would agree with you, this not a trivial management challenge and, when we put STFC together, we were very impressed at some aspects in both research councils where they could manage these very big and difficult projects successfully. So, it is a very big management challenge, however you put this together.

Q195 Dr Turner MP “ Following the precise point that you have been making there, does it worry you that STFC, in making the hard decisions they have had to make, have focused on the large facilities at the expense of precisely the response mode grants which you rightly say need to be associated with them and what deleterious effect has it had on our science reputation in innovation?

Prof Sir Keith O'Nions “ Myself, colleagues, ministers, everybody took very seriously the depth of concern that was present in the astronomy and particle physics community. To remove some of the more shrill remarks that have been made, there are a lot of very sensible people who have expressed very considerable concerns and numbers like 25 per cent reduction in physics across the nation are things that took hold and took root. Now that we have the benefit of Sir Peter Knight's science advisory input to STFC which I think has now been published by STFC, the facts are now on the ground and there are two sets of facts. One is that there are some facility reductions that their independent advisory group have proposed. Astronomy grants, which grew rapidly through the last CSR, are maintained with no more than about a one per cent change during this year. Remember that FEC universities have much more flexibility to manage these, it is not purely a grant issue. There are no changes in particle physics grants this year. The Wakeham Review will add valuable information as to how STFC and indeed the other four research councils that support physics respond. So, we are certainly not in a crisis situation for this year and those grants are well maintained, at least as well as other research councils are able to do it. Just remember that physics overall will be £500 million a year at the end of this spending review.

Ian Pearson MP “ I want to reinforce the point that Keith made about the myth of the £80 million. The £80 million was based on the sort of budget that the STFC might have wanted to have, it was not based on its baseline. I do not know how you do budgets but I tend to base them on what my baseline is, what I am spending at the moment, and the facts which I would encourage you to look at when you come to write your report is that there is 30.6 per cent increase from the STFC's baseline, so we are not talking about cuts in that sense of the word and I would reject that as a characterisation, and the STFC will have an additional £185 million over the spending review period compared with its baseline.

During Science and Engineering week, Rt Hon John Denham MP took part in a Read webchat on 13 Mar 08 including the following Q&A

Prof John Dainton “ How does the government intend to repair the growing damage to the physics base of the country given that, in the first 6 months of DIUS, the mismanagement of research funding by DIUS and RCUK is now reversing rapidly the huge benefits of the new investment in the UK science in the last decade under his predecessors? Having become one of the best places in the world to do science - physics - since autumn 2007, government and research council ineptitude has been such that talented people now no longer wish to come to the UK to work, and young people in the UK are now again turning away from physics. I know for sure that they are because I am losing staff who find what is now happening as no reason to stay, and certainly good reason to no longer contemplate coming.

Rt Hon John Denham MP “ STFC has a budget of £1.9 billion over the next 3 years with an overal increase in funding of 13.6%. It's worth bearing in mind that, including the contribution towards the full economic costs of research in universities spending on particle physics grants will be 43% higher next year than in 2005/6, nuclear physics grants will be 78% higher than in 2005/6 and there will be a 67% increase in overall funding for astronomy grants.

The STFC has to decide the scientific priorities for its future investment but these figures give the lie to claims that British science is being fundamentally damaged. What is more, because of concerns expressed by the parts of the physics community, Professor Bill Wakeham has been asked to carry out a review of the health of physics.

The STFC tell me that, other than some minor changes in the number of astronomy grants, there will be no significant changes in the number of grants given in astronomy or particle physics before Wakeham's report is received. We should also remember that the UK is making a massive investment in major new facilities such as CERN and Diamond which will be used by the British physics community and which will sustain our world position in these disciplines.

Whilst I appreciate the strength of feeling expressed by some physicists, it is important not that the reputation of British science is not damaged at home and abroad by the way in which these concerns are expressed.

Megan (see Blog ) “ Increasing the supply of people in science, technology and engineering is going to be very hard to do when there are such high profile issues as the current funding problems within the STFC. Do you accept that such problems will lead to the perception that there is a low chance of a long-term career in STEM subjects, and therefore both a reduction in the number of students taking these subjects at A-level, and an increase in the number of young, qualified researchers taking jobs overseas?

Rt Hon John Denham MP “ It is important to increase the number of young people choosing to study STEM subjects. There was a very welcome increase in the number of applicants to university this year. It is important that the debates around the STFC programme are not conducted in a way that gives the impression that British science is in anything but good health.

In my view too little attention is being given to the real increases in research budgets across the science disciplines, and the major investments that are being made in new research facilities. Diamond, for example, has recruited 300 scientists and engineers in that past year or so.

Andy Mulhearn “ When Mr Denham said "Whilst I appreciate the strength of feeling expressed by some physicists, it is important not that the reputation of British science is not damaged at home and abroad by the way in which these concerns are expressed."

Was he trying to imply that our complaints about these changes are more damaging than the cuts themselves?

Rt Hon John Denham MP “ I am concerned that the impression is being given that there is a general and sustained cut back in the level of investment in British science. This is of course not true. It is important to debate research priorities, but the debate should be carried out in full recognition of the real increase in investment in science, including in the resources available to the STFC.

In total DIUS will be spending almost £6 billion on research by 2010-11.

On 13 Mar 08 a white paper on Science and Innovation Innovation Nation was published (see press release ) which was discussed in a Innovation `starts in education' item from BBC News which included the following quote from Alan Rhodes (Association for Science Education)

“ Our curriculum is so test orientated that children are being taught to pass tests and you do not innovate when teaching children to pass tests.

I believe in high standards, but there is insufficient time for creativity in the curriculum from primary school up to the age of 18.

On 8 Apr 08 the Prime Minister's Office issued a response to the physics funding e-petition , including

“ Claimed reductions in STFC's budget appear to have been derived from STFC's aspirations for the three-year Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) period (2008/9 - 2010/11). These aspirations never constituted an agreed set of activities or funding for them, and the suggestion that £80m has been cut from its budget is wrong

which contrasts with the STFC Council statement from Nov 2007

“ The consequence [of the CSR settlement] is that with other minor adjustments the STFC is looking at a deficit of about £80m in its existing programme over the CSR period.

See also the analysis trail of ineptitude from Research Fortnight on 23 Apr 08.

According to a letter to RAS members on 28 Apr 08, Prof Rowan-Robinson met the Minister for Science, Ian Pearson, on 23 Apr 08 focusing on the university grants problem.

“ I argued that the rise in astronomy postdocs from 210 in 2002 to 329 in 2007 was justified, partly on the basis of the growth of UK GDP, which has moved the UK from the 4th largest contributor to ESO to the 2nd largest, so exploitation support should also grow, and partly by the growth in the number of astronomy academics in UK Physics departments, from 450 in 2001 to 543 in 2007. he latter growth reflects the desire of Physics Departments to retain their student numbers and try to increase them, in response to the Government's declared goals.

I said that I did not expect that pure science areas of physics like astronomy and particle physics should do any better than other areas of physics, but that I saw no evidence in public statements by ministers that they intended to enforce a severer drop in programme volume on basic science like astronomy and particle physics. I suggested that the allocation to STFC was in error by about 1%, or £20m. That an adjustment of this order would allow astronomy postdoc numbers to stabilize at 300 in 2010-11, and would give parity between PPAN science and EPSRC.

Pearson and Williams made it clear that there was no possibility of an adjustment of this kind at this point. The whole science budget has been transferred to the research councils. However at mid-financial-year (September), at which time Wakeham will also have reported, there would be the possibility of adjustments, especially if there have been underspends.Of course we would have to make a very strong case for this.

The wider economic context was discussed by Philip Esler (Chief Executive, AHRC) in an article 13 Aug 08 A new economy for knowledge article in Education Guardian about the RCUK Mission and Statement of Expectation for Societal and Economic Impact published on 30 Jul 08. Also in Jul 08 DIUS released a vision for Science and Society Strategy consultation website, plus a Higher Education blog.

According to Sir David King (ex-Chief Scientific Advisor) in a `Climate crisis' needs brain gain report in BBC Science News, including

“ It's all very well to demonstrate that we can land a craft on Mars, it's all very well to discover whether or not there is a Higgs boson; but I would just suggest that we need to pull people towards perhaps the bigger challenges where the outcome for our civilisation is really crucial.

Listen to his interview on BBC Radio 4 programme on 8 Sep 08 (see also BA Festival of Science News item). Prof Martin Rees issued a Reach for the stars response in The Guardian on 10 Sep 08 and a BBC Science News item In defence of particle physics viewpoint from Prof David Wark - see also Clouds gather over blue skies research (edited) address from Prof Wark to Festival of Science.

BBC Newsnight on 10 Sep 08 included a discussion featuring Sir David King and Prof Brian Cox (Skip to 41:00 on iPlayer). Alternatively view on YouTube. See also comments following Bad Astronomy blog entry)

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Section Last Updated: Dec 2008

The Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC), one of 7 UK Research Councils, was formed on 1 April 07 to undertake the following roles:

as outlined here, with an advisory structure provided in the Delivery Plan for 2007/08 - Science Board to advice the Council and Chief Executive on high-level strategy (apparently Council itself does not consider scientific choices - see presentation by Prof Mason from 27 Apr 07), which itself will be advised by PPAN covering particle physics, astronomy and nuclear physics and PALS covering the physical and life sciences. In addition, there are three Grants Panels - AGP , PPGP and NPGP and a project peer review panel PPRP - see list of research committees , plus an Education, Training and Careers Committee ETCC . Details of the selection of committee members is provided here.

The Delivery Plan for 07/08 also notes:

One of our highest priorities for this year [07/08] will be to develop a coherent science and technology strategy [by March 08] which will inform our first 10 year investment plan and our priorities. This strategy will be developed by a new Science Strategy team. The team will work closely with the community to ensure opportunities and their aspirations are fully articulated.. ”

This `Science Strategy team' is not formally an Advisory Committee to STFC Council , although its membership includes Prof John Womersley plus other STFC senior directors and scientists plus advisory committee chairs, together with external input University input (e.g. Prof Louise Harra and Prof John Zarnecki, according to a presentation by Prof Womersley from Aug 07).

The strategy team has assessed the strategic importance, impact, competitiveness, level of UK involvement, scientific user base, science output, outreach, training and industrial impact of each project and facility. Its recent focus has been exploring connections with other research councils and exploring how to set up Technology Gateway Centres on the Harwell and Daresbury science and Innovation Campuses (see STFC website and SIC) and involvement cross-council programmes in areas such as energy, security, the environment and biomedical research. (On the topic of knowledge transfer, STFC has a commercial arm STFC Innovations Ltd plus RCUK has a Knowledge Transfer Portal).

Community consultation for STFC's draft Strategy Document began on 19 Dec 08 with feedback possible until 20 Mar 09.

The headline CSR07 figures for STFC were more-or-less in line with most other research councils - from an inspection of the Science Budget allocations the Medical Research Council (MRC) were the clear winners with an average annual 6.4% rise over the 3 year period, versus just 1.6% for STFC. Put simply, the items that had to be done by STFC i.e. running costs of Diamond/ISIS, plus international subscriptions to CERN, ESA, ESRF/ILL and ESO caused a squeeze on everything else, especially research grants, given the flat-cash total allocation.

Apparently STFC failed to demonstrate sufficient `economic benefits' to the Office of Science and Innovation (OSI, now Office for Science) within DIUS to warrant a better outcome in the spending review. According to Minutes from the 02Apr07 STFC Council meeting, Prof Mason presented an overview of the STFC priorities to Sir Keith O'Nions - then the Director General, Office for Science and Innovation - in Mar 07 developed by a joint CCLRC/PPARC team. Details of discussions between Sir Keith O'Nions and Prof Keith Mason on 19 Oct 07, released under Freedom of Information legislation, are outlined in an scenarios.doc attachment , each of which had major negative consequences:

Several scenarios were input to OSI by research councils for the impact on their area of research, as explained during testimony to the IUS Select Committee on 21 Jan 08

Q106. Dr Turner MP “ Can you tell us something about the process of negotiating this research settlement? Were the heads of research councils involved in negotiating this? How did it evolve? ”

Prof Ian Diamond “ Late in 2006 each council was invited to set out priorities in the broadest sense for the then Office of Science and Innovation. These were discussed in a set of bilateral in late 2006 and early 2007. In May or June of 2007 each research council received a formal letter with a template for a draft delivery plan and as part of that each council was invited by DIUS (or it may still have been DTI) to provide four scenarios, each of them after full economic costing: one, how you would manage a 5% cut after full economic costing; secondly, how you would manage flat cash; thirdly, what you would do with an increase of 5%; fourthly, what you would do with an increase of 10%. Each council provided those scenarios by early July. The allocations were then announced, as you know, in October and we were invited by the end of October to submit the final draft delivery plan on the basis of those allocations. ”

Slide 15 from CSR07-Bilateral-v10.ppt illustrates the severe financial constraints to STFC as a result of flat-cash funding, apparently from 12 Sep 07 (bilateral referred to in STFC Council minutes from 04Sep07).

According to the Education Guardian research news item from 8 Jan 08

Some scientists have suggested the STFC did not properly address all its costs in its submission to the spending review. ”

which was denied by Prof Mason according to the report from the 13 Dec 07 STFC Town Meeting by Prof Norman McCubbin and Prof Mike Green, at which the audience were reminded:

“ good the science minister and Government were at supporting science.. ”

and that

“ ..decisions were taken by DIUS in full knowledge of what scale of cuts it would imply.. ”

the latter point is supported by material released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (A New Scientist Blog also provides a brief report), yet during testimony to the IUS Select Committee on 21 Jan 08,

Q86. Phil Willis MP “ This is not the fault of the Government; this is entirely a consequence of your decision making within STFC. ”

Prof Keith Mason “ There are two levels, obviously. The overall allocation of STFC is a consequence of the decision making at the DIUS level; the remaining consequences are a result of the consequences of the decision making in STFC. ”

Apparently, once the funding hole was identified within STFC (the 2007 pre-Budget Report and CSR summary settlement notification was announced on 9 Oct 07), an uplift in funds was requested at meetings with DIUS, all the way up until the ministerial announcement, which was only partially addressed by Government - a loan for year 1 to be repaid in years 2-3 to aid (restructuring) redundancy packages plus the release of a modest £5 million of capital funds for recurrent costs - the latter presumably to offset the 50% cuts in studentships/fellowships/grants in 2008/09 by STFC (see CSR07 PW Brief Nov 07.doc paper from 28 Nov 07) - as reported in a BBC report from 11 Dec 07. STFC Council meetings were held on 2 Nov 07 after the settlement announcement, from which a draft Delivery Plan was prepared on 7 Nov 07, followed by a further meeting on 21 Nov 07 following advice from Science Board , PPAN and PALS, which formed the basis for the final Delivery Plan submission (noted in a further Council meeting on 7 Dec 07) immediately before the Ministerial announcement.

The cuts do appear to to have hit ground-based astronomy and universities very hard, as admitted in an attachment scenarios.doc released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (noting `disproportionate damage to Astronomy'), and noted by Phil Willis MP, chair of the IUS Select Committee in his BBC Radio 4 Today interview on 14 Dec 07:

“ I think it's an absolute mess. Here we have a Government which is committed .. to maintaining access to world-class experimental facilities and yet at the same time it's cutting back - particularly on Astronomy, which is decimated by these cuts ”

Prof Martin Rees in a BBC Radio 4 interview from 14 Dec 07 notes

“ I hope that there can be a pause while these budgets can be reconsidered and as a result of that I hope very much that we can avoid the worst effects. ”

The Royal Society have issued a statement to the IUS Select Committee on science budget allocations (see inquiry section ) noting that the overall CSR07 allocation for STFC seemed reasonable, however

“ the internal distributions within STFC do not properly provide for the recurrent costs, and will impact severely on grants to university physics departments - a matter of special concern in view of the Government's recognition of the need to boost physics at all levels ”


“ cuts would reduce the UK's scientific return from existing world-class facilities, and risk jeopardising our reputation as reliable long-term collaborators. ”

Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson reported in a Research Europe article from 13 Dec 07 has been critical of STFC as well as DIUS:

“ The STFC have not handled this process well, with no briefing or consultation of the community during the decision-making process. The current structure, in which a handful of scientists sit on internal STFC committees, but are not allowed to consult the wider scientific community, is just not acceptable. ”

Despite the very short time involved, there have been concerns expressed about inadequate consultation of STFC's sub-committees Science Board (8 members including Prof Monica Grady and Prof Matt Griffin) or PPAN (10 members including Prof Mike Bode, Yvonne Elsworth, Prof Walter Gear, Dr Dave Barnes and Prof Sheila Rowan) by STFC's Executive (Prof Keith Mason , Prof Richard Wade, and Prof Colin Whitehouse ), without any wider community input. Executive sit on STFC Council (10 members, including Prof Mike Edmunds, Prof Annelia Sargent). On the lack of engagement, the 8 Jan 08 Education Guardian article notes:

“ Physicists are also angry with the STFC for not consulting them before taking initial decisions about where the cuts would fall. ”

accusations previously made at the 13 Dec 07 STFC Town Meeting, to which Prof Mason responded

“ I totally reject that statement ” [on the lack of consultation]

according to the New Scientist blog, repeated while giving testimony to the IUS Select Committee on 21 Jan 08. Apparently PPAN was quickly consulted on a series of `catastrophic' options, albeit not a full, proper scientific assessment of those options (according to a comment from Prof Jon Butterworth during the 13 Dec 07 STFC Town Meeting). This topic was noted in the News from STFC Science Board/PPAN/PALS from 28 Jan 08

“ Science Board concluded that the current financial constraints had led to a large amount of pain in the PPAN science area, although there were also new science projects in the list which had displaced older projects. The Board regarded it as essential that the same level of scrutiny be applied to the facilities and estates and noted that similarly painful cuts were anticipated in these areas. Although greater transparency had been achieved in understanding the funding of the facilities, the Board felt that there was still more to be done. ”

“ Science Board also agreed that, in future, significant `discretionary' spending and investment in facilities should be administered through a proposal and peer review process. The peer review body could either be the PPRP augmented with appropriate experts, or the PALS committee. ”

“ Science Board discussed the concerns within the community regarding the cuts and the process by which an affordable programme was being developed by STFC. The Board expressed confidence in the peer review process and structure that has been set up, and was satisfied that the programmatic review had been conducted by PPAN and PALS in a most conscientious and comprehensive manner. ”

“ Science Board agreed that the disquiet within the community following the announcement of the CSR had been increased by the way in which the news had been broken, and by the accompanying perception of a lack of communication. Science Board spent some time in discussion as to the best way forward in communicating with the community, so that similar problems could be avoided in the future. Science Board agreed that publication of timely digests of news from Committee, Board and Council meetings should be resumed as soon as possible. ”

Indeed, in late Feb 08, minutes of 2007 STFC Council meetings became publically available - 02Apr07, 24Apr07, 25Jun07, 25Jul07, 04Sep07, 19Oct07, 02Nov07, 21Nov07, 07Dec07.

The 7 Feb 08 STFC Programmatic Review: Next Steps news release notes:

“ There will be a consultation period of three weeks following the release of the programmatic review results during which the relevant communities will be encouraged to submit their views. ”

Revised priorities are presented in the new Programmatic Review 2008 which will be implemented after a short Consultation exercise (see Town Meeting slides ). Items at high or medium-high priority will be fully funded, with medium-low and low priority at serious risk, as outlined at the STFC Science Board Town Meeting on 3 Mar 08. According to testimony from 21 Jan 08 by Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson.

“ If you compare STFC with PPARC part of the problem is that STFC had not got around to setting up a proper advisory structure. It created PPAN and it was clear when that was set up that although that committee or panel was supposed to recommend an advisory structure below it - which would have involved far more of the community and I think in the previous council far more of the community were involved at a lower level in the structure - they would have been consulted about bits of the plan and they would have felt some ownership of the plan. ”

During this consultation PPAN were not able to consult with members of the community, as expressed during the testimony to the IUS Select Committee on 21 Jan 08

Q78. Phil Willis MP “ You have two committees set up with your new organisation at STFC and you are saying to the members of those committees that you cannot even speak to your community. That is not consultation, that is something we would find in Russia. ”

Prof Keith Mason “ I disagree. Firstly I think we do consultation extremely well in STFC; I am very proud of the peer review system that we have set up, it is very effective, it does involve the community, it involves people who are able to look across the whole programme and I think it is a very good system.

Writing in Research Fortnight in Oct 05 Prof Keith Mason (then PPARC Chief Executive) - see Transparency is the promise of a man who tried for absolute zero - expressed concern about the opacity of the funding system, in which the peer review system tended to squeeze out long-term blue skies projects in favour of urgent short-term funding needs, reflecting

“ We [PPARC] run a jolly good peer review system, but i think we can build more transparency into it. ”

On the topic of openness/transparency, the Dec 07 DIUS Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees states

“ The scientific advisory committee should establish a policy of what documents are to be published based on principles of openness and transparency... all committees are expected to publish, as a minimum, programmes of work, meeting agenda, minutes, final advice and an annual report. Unless there are particular reasons to the contrary they should also routinely publish supporting papers. Openness from the outset about risks and concerns can sometimes prevent difficult situations arising later on in a committee's work ”

According to the Education Guardian article from 8 Jan 08 notes:

“ The STFC now says a detailed reprioritisation exercise is underway, and it will involve its community. ”

referring to the Programmatic Review 2008. Items at high or medium-high priority will be fully funded, with medium-low and low priority at serious risk, as outlined at the STFC Science Board Town Meeting on 3 Mar 08 (see Town Meeting slides ). The grants-line was considered within this exercise, but the effect upon facilities was judged by PPAN to be too severe to allow an uplift in the 25% cut imposed by STFC Council. This exercise was led by PPAN and PALS sub-committees (sadly not the wider community) and reviewed by Science Board. This will be implemented by STFC Executive after a short Consultation exercise once it is converted into a programme that meets the overall financial constraints and strategy (see News from STFC Science Board/PPAN/PALS.

Of relevance to the UK approach, the American Astronomical Society have issued a 24 Jan 08 resolution on scientific priorities, which includes

“ The AAS .. strongly endorse community-based priority setting as a fundamental component in the effective federal funding of research. Broad community input is required in making difficult decisions that will be respected by policy makers and stake-holders. ”

A single research council such as STFC in which funding for research are dependent upon construction, subscription or operating costs of large facilities is always prone to difficulties (see Britain's scientists are mad as hell by Prof Andrew King in Prospect magazine). Relevant testimony was put to the Select Committee on Science and Technology on 24 Apr 06

Q158. Dr Turner MP: “ Will you ring-fence the current grant awarding budget that PPARC operates because it would be very easy for them to get sucked into large facilities, would it not? ”

Prof Sir Keith O'Nions : “ Let me be clear, the science budget is ring-fenced and the Secretary of State has given assurances on that... There has to be shifts of budget between Research Councils. The advice I give to the Secretary of State has got to be `My advice is that you spend the budget in this way and these will be the optimum outputs we will get from this investment for the benefit of the UK'. To ring-fence anything in a Research Council long-term I think would be foolhardy and I would never give that advice to the Secretary of State. ”

Given the current situation, one would hope future commitments to basic physics research could be maintained within STFC to withstand such financial stresses, or else we will end up with state-of-the-art facilities, but no means to exploit them as Royal Society president Prof Martin Rees notes in a BBC Radio 4 interview from 14 Dec 07

“ it would be absurd to have expensive projects and not have the people to get the scientific spin-off from them .. ”

reiterated in a 25 Jan 08 article from Electronics Weekly

“ the UK will end up with the finest facilities for science in the world ... but empty of scientists. ”

Prof Andy Lawrence comments in an article in The Scotsman on 19 Jan 08

“ Of course, the loss of our role in international projects is a blow, but the really shocking thing is the cut in grants. We need people to actually analyse data and write the papers, and without these grants how are we going to pay them?

The situation seems crazy because it has been shown these subjects are the very ones that attract students to physics at a grass-roots level. Cuts of 25 to 50 per cent are enough to send any department into a downward spiral.

In his 15 Jan 08 Daily Telegraph item, Prof Martin Rees concludes with:

“ Unfortunately, the tendency has been for funds to be more tightly micro-managed from the centre. To get the maximum benefit from the taxpayers' money they are investing in science and innovation, the Government needs to involve the scientific community more widely.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly emphasised the goal of making the UK one of the best places in the world to do science. It would be a shame if the suboptimal management of STFC did anything to scupper this aim. ”

Prof Ken Pounds , writing in a 23 Jan 08 article Two into one don't go in Research Fortnight comments:

Next Steps identified the `need for more highly trained scientists', especially in core disciplines such as physics.. Yet we now find many of our top University physics departments facing the `double whammy' of reduced grant income plus loss of the associated FEC overhead and, for some, the prospect of closure. And already the news is spreading, with evidence that prospective physics undergraduates are reconsidering their options

Next Steps also emphasised the `building of international links' (where incidentally PPARC was particularly strong). It is hard to think how the STFC could have made a worse start to achieving that key objective than by its unilateral withdrawal from world-raking projects such as the ILC, the twin Gemini Telescopes and the EISCAT polar radar. More setbacks in our international relations can be predicted as the STFC struggles to fund subscriptions to CERN, ESA, ESRF/ILL and ESO without the exchange rate protection won by PPARC.

Finally it is unclear how the Next Steps objective `to support science and innovation in the regions' will be helped by focusing `wealth creation' on the Harwell and Daresbury SIC's, development of which will be an additional call on STFC resources. The anticipated announcement of a public-private partnership to run the Harwell Campus is unlikely to allay concerns that wealth creation will become more centrally directed and with a more restricted intellectual base.

I believe that the crisis enveloping the STFC became inevitable once the forced marriage between two bodies with such different agenda was not endowed by initial funding to provide for essential re-structuring consequent on the merger. The make up of the STFC Council, with a minority of scientists, would not have helped its funding bid nor, perhaps, in foreseeing how badly its first Delivery Plan would be received. ”

The 31 Jan 08 Death of big physics article in New Statesman adds

“ Some of Britain's most senior physicists are so infuriated they have called for Mason's resignation. For Britain's normally sober science community such angry tactics are unheard of, but Mason is unabashed. He has also pulled the UK out of a planned £3.5bn particle accelerator, axed high-energy gamma ray astronomy and solar science and slashed research grants by 25 per cent - a move likely to force closure of several physics departments.

Mason's lack of political experience and of `people skills' has not helped matters. When he first arrived at STFC he assembled staff in a large room and addressed them from his office via a video-link rather than in person. He has infuriated senior astronomers and particle physicists by failing to consult or even warn them of impending cuts. ”

A statement from RAS Council released on 14 Feb 08 has expressed a lack of confidence in STFC's handling of the funding crisis:

See STFC Council response to RAS Council.

Changes to STFC senior management were announced to staff in an email on 20 Feb 08, in which Prof Richard Wade becomes Chief Operating Officer (continuing as deputy chief executive), Prof Colin Whitehouse becomes Director of Campus Strategy (remaining as deputy chief executive), John Womersley becomes Head of the Science Programme Office, plus Gordon Stewart (Director of Corporate and Commercial Affairs) and Liz Towns-Andrews (Director of Knowledge Exchange) become Executive Board members.

An Education Guardian article from 4 Mar 08 entitled Astronomers see stars discussed an Investors in People external assessment saying reforms at STFC are needed to ensure

“ a more robust and transparent management process ”

and quoted anonymous interviews with STFC staff including

to which Paul Hartley (STFC, Corporate Services) responded with

“ The STFC is a young organisation and we welcome the Investors in People report. It highlighted strengths as well as areas where we can improve our practices. We are already working to implement the recommendations.

The membership of STFC Council , as of 1 Aug 09:

Prof Richard Wade and Prof Colin Whitehouse resigned from Council on 28 Feb 09 following concern over the large representation of STFC Executive upon Council, while Prof Annelia Sargent steps down on 31 Mar 09. EPSRC Council has 14 members, of which only the CEO from the Executive Board sits upon Council (the situation is similar for MRC Council, BBSRC Council, NERC Council and AHRC Council).

The compositional difference at STFC (until Mar 09) prompted a question during the second evidence session of the IUS Select Committee on 20 Feb 08

Q223 Dr Blackman-Woods MP “ Do you intend to look at all at the structure of the STFC Board? It is constructed in a slightly different way from some of the other research councils. It has got ten members, three of them are executive members of the STFC, so there is quite a small representation from the wider academic community compared to some of the other research councils. Is that the sort of thing that you might consider looking at?

Prof Sir Keith O'Nions “ Obviously we looked at the board quite closely and discussed it at length with Keith Mason when he set it up. The structure that he set up was a rational structure. The sub-board committees and the Independent Advisory Board seem absolutely right. I believe an announcement was made on Monday and Keith Mason is making very significant structural changes in his management of the STFC. Of course we will take a close interest in that and, as I say, there are lessons to be learned here in slower time. I think when you talk to Keith Mason you will discover that he really is responding and getting a grip on some of these issues.

and during the following session

Q323 Dr Blackman-Woods MP “ Do you intend to widen the Council? As you know, you have ten people, three are senior members of STFC, that is smaller than other councils, do you intend to make it more representative because that seems to be the charge that is levelled against you, that it is not fully representative of the community?

Prof Keith Mason “ No, but we are piloting a new model for research councils here and this was something done in discussion with DIUS. I think the structure we have is a Council which concentrates on governance and we have a Science Board which deals with the science strategy, and we also have advisory systems which deal with knowledge exchange and other aspects of the Council. So I think the new slim look Council is actually working very well. It meets more often than typical councils do, it is much more responsive, it is much more engaged. Peter could comment on this but I think it is working much more effectively than certainly the predecessor councils did.

Peter Warry “ I absolutely agree with that. I do not think, because our community is so large, we could actually get representatives of the whole community on to a council and get it sensibly to function; it would be very large to get in all the different aspects of it. Indeed I think it is an advantage that people are not there as representatives but they are there actually to look at the big picture and try and make those decisions. It is a much more effective council in the sense we have had some very difficult decisions to take which I think would have been extremely difficult with a very large council. Because we have had to do these things which affect people's jobs and their careers, the Council has needed to spend a lot of time looking at that - we actually met four times in two months which is probably unique for a council and we stared long and hard at those things because we actually really regret having to make those sort of decisions. We believe we made the right decisions, there is only one pot of money, we cannot spend it twice over. It would be difficult to make it without the sort of council we had, so I think it was very helpful. If I could finish by saying that there is real pain in what we are doing but there are also some big signs we are still going to be able to do it. Our scientists actually have £1.5 billion-worth of new facilities which are coming on line in this CSR that they are going to be able to address, so there is a lot of grief which we feel, and I feel personally, but there is also some science as well.

In a BBC Newsnight film Black hole in funding say scientists , science editor Susan Watts interviews Prof Martin Rees in which he criticised STFC's management:

“ Certainly there was poor management and poor planning and we depend on our high reputation for being efficient in the way we manage as well as the quality of our science and this has been damaged by this ineptitude.

Ms Watts also challenged Prof Keith Mason about STFC's handling of the crisis (see also trail of ineptitude from Research Fortnight on 23 Apr 08). An extended interview with Prof Mason followed on 11 Apr 08 Science cuts: Funding chief has his say from BBC Science News. Newsnight was also discussed in Prof Rowan-Robinson's letter to RAS fellows from 28 Apr 08, in which which he notes that Prof Mason failed to apologise for STFC's handing of the crisis at NAM.

Several of the conclusions from the Science Budget Allocations (SBA) report from 30 Apr 08 specifically concerned STFC management

“ Given the anxiety that grant cuts are causing to the physics and astronomy community, we are dismayed that STFC has been attempting to play down the effects of the cuts on the grounds that reductions in future grants are not problematic. We consider cuts to grants that had already been promised a major problem. We urge STFC to take immediate steps to communicate clearly and comprehensively to its research community the impact of its grant cuts.

We deplore STFC's failure to consult on ILC, Gemini and STP, a failure that has cost it the trust of the scientific community. We conclude that STFC's communications are inadequate, particularly its internal communications, which are deficient both in terms of top down communication (for example, alerting staff to proposed changes) and bottom up communication (for example, engaging the community over decisions). We recommend that STFC pursue urgently the appointment of a permanent Communications Director with appropriate skills and experience.

We do not have any confidence that rearranging the responsibilities of the existing staff will solve STFC's problems. There is, as noted earlier, immediate need for a Communications Director. However, the management failings at STFC go deeper than this. The events of the past few months have exposed serious deficiencies within STFC's senior management, whose misjudgements could still significantly damage Britain's research reputation in this area, both at home and abroad.

STFC's problems have their roots in the size of the CSR07 settlement and the legacy of bringing CCLRC and PPARC together, but they have been exacerbated by a poorly conceived Delivery Plan, lamentable communication and poor leadership, as well as major senior management misjudgements. Substantial and urgent changes are now needed in the way in which the Council is run in order to restore confidence and to give it the leadership it desperately needs and has so far failed properly to receive. This raises serious questions about the role and performance of the Chief Executive, especially his ability to retain the confidence of the scientific community as well as to carry through the necessary changes outlined here.

The Government response from 17 Jun 08 includes the following responses specifically from STFC

“ STFC has recognised that it could have communicated better with its community. STFC has already advertised for a new Director of Communications. It has completed external reviews to identify how best improve its communications structure and capability and stakeholder engagement and are producing an action plan for early implementation. It has also implemented a number of changes to improve internal communications.

The Committee is rightly keen that STFC should do robust peer review and consultation where possible before reaching decisions. However, that puts an onus on the community to treat the process responsibly and to try to avoid fomenting media headlines which undermine the consultation process and damage the presentation of their science.

The Committee repeats criticism made by Professor Chattopadhyay to the effect that the process the CCLRC adopted when setting up the review of its light source strategy was `flawed'. STFC strongly disagrees with this criticism. [...] The Council is concerned that the Committee's remarks may make it more difficult in future to secure the participation of eminent scientists in similar reviews in future.

STFC regrets that, in the case of Gemini, it had to make an early announcement of its intentions for future participation. However, peer review of Gemini, in both 2005 and 2007, concluded that the productivity of the telescopes was such that funding at existing levels was no longer justified. [..]

The independent members of STFC Council have considered the Committee's observations about the Chief Executive, and have publicly stated that Council is determined that STFC continues to move forward in addressing these challenges. It fully supports the Chief Executive and his management team in doing so.

An external review of STFC was announced by DIUS on 21 Jul 08 - see details on Organisational Review 2008, whose panel was chaired by Dr David Grant (V-C, Cardiff University) with a membership listed here. A statement, following the first meeting of the review panel on 28 Aug 08 has been made public. A second statement followed evidence sessions from internal (including Prof Keith Mason, Prof Richard Wade) and external witnesses (including Prof Peter Main) at the meeting on 22-23 Sep 08. This statement noted a third meeting on 3 Nov 08. The was published on 19 Dec 2008, including the Report from the External Review Panel (from Nov 08 chair Mr Peter Hazell, chairman of Argent Group), which included the following recommendations:

See the STFC response and STFC Self Assessment Report

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Section Last Updated: Apr 2008

The first hint of major financial implications from the CSR07 outcome came via the STFC's intention to withdraw from the Gemini Observatory at the 14-16 Nov 07 Gemini Board meeting (read the Board statement), arising from their inability to commit to the Aspen instrumentation programme - apparently 25% of US$70 million over a five year period (£9m in total, with perhaps £4m remaining). This was referred to in minutes of the 21Nov07 STFC Council meeting

“ It was essential to avoid the leaks which led to the recent adverse publicity on STFC's withdrawal from Gemini. ”

According to testimony from 21 Jan 08 by Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson.

“ Basically it was a complete bolt out of the blue. The first hint of it was the leaked announcement about the withdrawal from Gemini to which we reacted of course, not knowing that this was merely one straw in the wind. The second hint we had was the day before the announcement, I was leaked a figure of 25% cuts to grants. That was the first we had heard. Basically I think STFC did consult the panels it had set up, the Science Board, the PPAN Committee and so on; they were in the know. ”

This prompted a RAS press release on 15 Nov 07, subsequently widely reported in the scientific media. In addition, a letter about the planned pull-out was published in The Guardian on 16 Nov 07 written by Prof Roger Davies and 12 colleagues. A Research Fortnight article from 22 Nov 07 by the Royal Astronomical Society President Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson on the withdrawal from Gemini is reproduced on the RAS website titled Clouds on Astronomy's Horizon?, which included the comments

“ Part of the vehemence of the reaction of astronomers arose from the suddenness of the announcement, with no prior consultation or briefing of the community. ”


“ The community needs to engage with this process, though to do so it will also need to be fully briefed... the general principle in deciding the STFC program must remain that of scientific excellence. ”

plus Dr Matt Burleigh wrote a 5 Dec 07 item for Research Fortnight on the topic of Gemini entitled The Sound of Silence, noting

“ It was a huge shock. No warning, no consultation. ”

From the 2007/08 STFC Delivery Plan,

“ ..[ground-based telescopes] priority will be on the development of the Gemini and ESO telescopes. A programme of instrument development for the Gemini has [been] agreed with our international partners... Planning provision has been made for the Gemini/Subaru WFMOS and Gemini's PRVS beyond the design studies phase. ”

In their final 2008-11 Delivery Plan, following letters of protest to Council members, STFC changed its stance to

“ withdrawing from future investment in Gemini, whilst working with international partners to retain access to Gemini North. ”

To date, the UK has invested £70 million in Gemini Observatory (providing 23.8% share of telescope time), half of which has gone towards construction costs. According to Prof Pat Roche in a letter to Oxford MPs from 15 Nov 07 the decision to withdraw from Gemini prior to the end of the international agreement (2012)

“ effectively wastes this investment just as the Observatory reaches its true potential and maximum productivity ”

Figure 1 from his letter to STFC Council, on 19 Nov 07 shows the productivity of Gemini-N and -S with respect to VLT (per year, per telescope). In his Daily Telegraph article from 15 Jan 08, Prof Martin Rees notes:

“ .. having invested in world-class facilities [Gemini, LHC], it is short-sighted to waive the benefits. Indeed, we owe it to the taxpayer to seek at least our share of the scientific credit from all our international partnerships. Moreover, these announcements have sent an embarrassing signal to the rest of the world that we are hard up, confused about our priorities, and potentially unreliable partners. ”

Although Gemini is not explicitly included, the consequences of withdrawal from international subscriptions is admitted in the attachment scenarios.doc released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (`loss of international credibility'). From testimony during the 21 Jan 08 IUS Select Committee,

Q121. Tim Boswell MP “ My next question is something I asked our earlier witnesses about reputation more generally, but specifically about international subscriptions. If we are pulling out of international subscriptions is this going to be damaging to our reputation internationally in a way which will make us difficult to be partners in the future? ”

Prof Keith Mason “ It is part of our strategy to protect the major international subscriptions and we do that because we have a long term commitment to them and they are extremely valuable to the country, not only in terms of science but also in other ways and we are protecting them. We are withdrawing from a couple of relatively minor commitments - minor in monetary terms - but what I look for in international partners for is me is people who tell it as it is. We are being straight with our international partners. We have notified them of our intention to try to negotiate a withdrawal from the Gemini programme. We have told them that we do not believe that the current strategy for the ILC is the correct one and we cannot participate in that. We are being very upfront and very direct. What would be unfortunate in terms of international reputation is if we try and pull the wool over people's eyes and not tell it as it is. Quite the contrary, we are telling it exactly as it is. ”

Q122. Tim Boswell MP “ Is it your judgement that any of these projects will fail on account of our withdrawal? ”

Prof Keith Mason “ In terms of the International Linear Collider you will be aware that the US has also withdrawn funding for the next year and I think this is a signal that we actually need to re-think the future of particle physics and find a more sustainable way to go onto the next stage. That is my own personal opinion. What happens to the ILC project is perhaps debatable, but I am pretty sure at some stage there will be a next generation Linear Collider. In terms of Gemini all the indications are that there are other users who would wish to take up the slack that we leave and I emphasise again our decision to withdraw from Gemini is not that there is anything wrong with Gemini but we are involved in the European Southern Observatory as well. There are four eight metre telescopes in the southern hemisphere - Gemini provides a fifth - and in terms of our overall strategy I think it is clear to the Council that we have to give priority to ESO. I think we have made our rationale clear and I hope people respect us for being open and honest about it ”

On 25 Jan 08, Gemini Board rejected the UK offer of a staged withdrawal from Gemini South, and so considered the UK to have issued notice to withdraw - see Special Session of the Gemini Board Resolves UK Partnership Issue, making the following statement

“ The Gemini Board requests an action from each Parties' NGO or appropriate body to clearly communicate to their constituent base the resolve of the Board to maintain the continuity of operations and the enhanced scientific opportunities of the Gemini Observatory by the remaining Gemini Parties during this period of transition. Furthermore, the Board wishes to convey its continued goal of realizing our shared future science aspirations that are advanced through the Aspen program. ”

and Resolutions although the UK statement notes that formal notification to withdraw from STFC has not been made to the Gemini Board

“ the Programmatic Review has placed access to Gemini at a low priority, so we will not be able to continue our membership of the Gemini partnership. We will therefore be taken steps to issue formal notice to withdraw

Under the terms of the Gemini agreement the STFC will be liable to a penalty payment of c£7m, this being the value of two year's subscriptions. However, this should be seen in the context of potential payments of c£24m between now and the end of the Agreement in 2012, this being the cost of our annual subscriptions and our contribution to the instrumentation programme.

While we sincerely regret the need to withdraw from Gemini, the current circumstances leave us no choice. This is particularly relevant in the context of preserving the highest priority programmes and providing headroom to pursue the next generation of scientific opportunities, for example the ELT ”

In a BBC News item Skies dim for British astronomers from 26 Jan 08 Prof Paul Crowther (UK Gemini TAC chair) laments:

“ To withdraw from the state-of-the-art Gemini facilities leaves the UK ground-based astronomy strategy in disarray. ”

On 28 Jan 08 Royal Astronomical Council (RAS) Council have made a statement, in which the RAS president offers to mediate between the Gemini Board and STFC . The following quote is extracted from an email sent to US astronomers

“ In our view, the unfortunate loss of the UK as a partner does open up significant opportunities for increased access to the Gemini telescopes for the US user community. ”

The Register on 28 Jan 08 reports the course of events, accurately describing British stargazers as aghast at the blackout, succinctly summarising the events as `curtains for Britain's membership of Gemini' (see UK withdraws from Gemini telescope programme ), as does Universe Today UK astronomy community deliberately sabotaged by funding cuts to Gemini Observatories , and UK astronomers lose prime access to northern sky in New Scientist, in which RAS treasurer Paul Murdin says the pullout is `a disaster'. A news item from 29 Jan 08 titled UK shut out of Gemini telescope from Nature. According to Prof Pat Roche, the loss will hamper efforts to follow up on objects spotted in a current UK infrared survey of the northern sky (UKIDSS) and notes

“ Once we lose Gemini, we have no 8-m telescope access [in the North], which is what one needs to see the dimmest objects ”

to which Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson adds

“ We feel the Gemini board ought to look more sympathetically at the UK situation, I still hope that they will reconsider. ”

The 31 Jan 08 Death of big physics article in New Statesman adds

“ To Prof Keith Mason it must have seemed appealing to put out his bad news in a press release near midnight on a Friday. Mason was announcing that Britain was to pull out of two of the world's most sophisticated space[?] telescopes because his research council was running out of money.. It was the latest in a series of blows to British physics... they [Gemini] were meant to remain a centerpiece of the nation's astronomy for years to come. Gemini is just the latest in a series of devastating cuts imposed on British science by the STFC, of which Mason is chief executive.

It is not simple cost-cutting. Rather, British physics is being decimated by incompetence, with the ministers and civil servants overseeing the budgetary process displaying a failure to comprehend global science budgets and a dangerous misunderstanding of how science makes progress.

He [Dr Brian Cox] said `The government and STFC together, after almost a decade of sensible and steady investment, have seriously damaged UK science in one month of madness. It is a kind of vandalism. ”

An item from 4 Feb 08 In the gutter looking at the stars in Education Guardian adds

“ Even if the skies were cloudless and the nights were bible black and the heavens radiant with distant stars, Britain's astronomers would be in the dark. They are around £80m worse off and even when they can see stars, they can't see much of a future.

Recently, they've had to withdraw from a project dear to their hearts and - because they had a quarter stake in it - dear to their wallets: they are pulling out of the international Gemini Observatory, which runs a pair of 8-metre telescopes in Chile and Hawaii, following a decision by the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

There have been cries of anguish from the astronomers, but the leaders of their community and the STFC have lately been negotiating to see how to limit the damage.

Across the channel, European astronomers are compiling an ambitious wish list for the next two decades. The International Astronomical Union has declared 2009 the international year of astronomy, and the 100th state to join the project is Bangladesh, which hopes to have 200,000 enthusiasts peering at the night sky through telescopes. This is a reminder that among the lay community, astronomy is perhaps the most popular, the most enthusiastically followed, and the most admired of the sciences. Why not exploit this enthusiasm by putting a bit more into astronomy, rather than a bit less? What possible harm could there be in encouraging public interest in a historic science? ”

The 6 Feb 08 News from STFC Council following the 28/29 Jan strategy meeting states

“ [Council] confirmed its intention to negotiate a reduction in its investment in Gemini ”

Finally, the 11 Feb 08 Update on UK status in Gemini, ends on a more optimistic note:

“ The Board asks that the Chair and Designated Members, including the UK, meet face-to-face at the earliest opportunity to further discussion of possible continued UK involvement in Gemini. ”

The decision to reinstate 2008A UK programmes on Gemini was further discussed in the 12 Feb 08 Astronomers given Gemini reprieve item from BBC Science News plus Cautious welcome for UK Research Council U-Turn on Gemini Observatory Funding in Universe Today , and a 14 Feb 08 release RAS President welcomes reprieve for UK involvement in Gemini Observatory in which Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson adds:

“ We must ensure that the outcome will give UK astronomers continued access to Gemini North. Although it can be argued that UK astronomers have access to excellent 8-m optical telescopes in the south through its membership of the ESO, the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii is crucial for UK astronomers to remain in the front rank of international astronomy. One example is that the UK is active in a variety of space missions at far infrared, submillimetre and X-ray wavelengths.

These space observatories find exciting new objects over the whole sky that need to be followed up at optical wavelengths. Access to Gemini North will also be important for following up submillimetre sources found in the planned SCUBA-2 surveys, and infrared sources found in the UKIDSS surveys.

The UK has invested about 35 million pounds in the capital phase of the Gemini Observatories, in which we have a 23% stake. To pull out precipitately, as seemed to be happening, would have written this off to make a saving of 4 million pounds a year, at the expense of inflicting great damage to the UK's international reputation. ”

This was further reported on 19 Feb 08 in an article UK still hopeful of participating in Gemini project in Education Guardian . Writing an opinion item Dance to the music of stars in Research Fortnight on 20 Feb 08, Prof Paul Crowther compares the UK's involvement in Gemini to the Hokey Cokey:

“ For 15 years, we were "in"; then we were dumped "out" a few weeks ago, after STFC announced in November hat it was planning to withdraw from the international partnership; now, UK observations at Gemini are back "in" for the next six months; although the UK is currently still "out" in the longer term.

It would be funny, were it not for the numerous PhD theses, young scientists' careers and instrument builders' jobs that are at stake. ”


“ All large facilities involved in blue skies research are both international and long-term in nature. Any yet STFC administrators decided to withdraw the UK from Gemini, ILC and ground-based STP before the council's own science committees could fully consider the options. Some welcome steps are now being taken to minimise the damage over the UK's ejection from Gemini, and perhaps reverse the decision through dialogue with the US NSF. Nevertheless, this sequence of events has been damaging both to the UK's research credibility and its reputation as a reliable, long-term partner. ”

Gemini was further discussed during the 27 Feb 08 third session of the IUS Committee.

Q300 Mr Boswell MP “ Can I turn to Gemini for a moment. It is a seven-country collaboration, as it were the potential for a natural break at 2012 when it can be renegotiated, it is not clear to me at the moment whether we are in or out, so I would like your comments on that. Secondly, whether, quite apart from the HR issues here of the things you have been talking about, the international reputation of the UK is being helped or damaged by this process?

Professor Holdaway: “ In a sense two separate issues. Are we in or not? The answer is, we are in. We were in and out and in and out and now we are back in again. We are in to the extent there is an agreement between STFC, the strategic part and the Gemini Board, that we are back in the programme, have access to data and science in both Gemini North and Gemini South. That is the situation as it currently exists I believe and again Keith Mason will confirm later on no doubt that position will be reviewed over the coming weeks and months. I think there is a longer term issue of how long we stay within the programme and also whether we provide instrumentation for future programmes, which is also a key part of the future of ground-based astronomy. For the moment, we are certainly back in the programme for both telescopes and have access to data from both telescopes. That is really important I think for the community. In terms of reputation, it is a really important issue right across the whole patch of science and technology. The UK has a pretty good reputation internationally because it has been a good partner and - we throw out this phrase regularly but I think it is true - we punch above our weight. However, we do that with a background of integrity on what we do and we need to maintain that integrity and make sure that when we have obligations we fulfil them and at the moment STFC is continuing to do that. My concern parochially at RAL is that with the development of the campus - and there are some incredibly exciting opportunities there, as they are indeed at Daresbury Laboratory - part of the remit there is to bring in not just national organisations but international organisations and we have to make sure they do not see us pulling out of international agreements and say, "What the hell do we want to move on to the site at Harwell or Daresbury if the UK is going to renege on international agreements"? I do not think that is happening but I think there is a danger of that and we have to make sure we get that communication right.

Phil Willis MP “ I am even more confused about Gemini than where we are but we will pick that up with Keith Mason later.

Q389 Dr Turner MP “ We understand that ATC is likely to lose a contract to build an instrument for Gemini. Would you accept that the uncertainty surrounding our participation in Gemini has led to more consequences than simply for astronomers directly using the instrument?

Prof Mason “ Gemini, as all these things are, is a complex situation. I think there is a lot of misinformation going around about Gemini which I can explain to you if you wish but it probably is not relevant. The issue that we were dealing with in Gemini is that when we originally signed up to the Gemini partnership the intention was that both the operation, the current facilities, the development and new facilities would be paid for out of that subscription budget. Subsequently, it has been decided by the Gemini Board that they cannot afford to do that within that subscription so they are looking for extra contributions to build the next generation of instrumentation. Our current agreement is to remain in Gemini until 2012 but the new instrumentation will not come on-line until 2014-2015, so there is an urgent need for us in the UK in particular to decide what our long-term future in Gemini is so we are not building instruments we will never use. This whole Gemini discussion really revolves around the need to have a clear understanding with the Gemini Board about what our long-term engagement with Gemini will be. Yes, there has been a lot of hoo-ha about what our intention was, there was a misinterpretation by the Gemini Board who thought we were withdrawing immediately, which was not our intention, that has created a lot of uncertainty, but we have been working behind the scenes to rectify that and I think we are getting back on track. I think we have to have a serious discussion as to whether this particular instrument forms a future part of Gemini and, if it does, then maybe there will be work for the ATC which will be very welcome and we will certainly be pushing for that. But it is part of a longer term strategic decision about how the future of ground-based astronomy evolves, recognising we do have access in particular to other northern telescopes coming along - Subaru and GranTeCan in La Palma - so we need to have a joined-up picture of what provision we need and how we should invest in it. It is a zero sum gain - if we take money from one, we cannot give it to another - and it is very important we have a long-term plan to inform our strategy going forward, and that is what we are doing.

On Subaru and GranTeCan access in the northern hemisphere, the former is currently dependent upon access to Gemini, and the latter will be through the UK's ESO membership (see ESO webpage) as part of the Spanish ESO accession agreement .

Also on 27 Feb 08, the UK is formally reinstated as a Full Partner in Gemini - see also STFC statement

“ The STFC has reaffirmed the UK's position as a full member of the Partnership under the terms of the current Gemini Agreement. The Gemini Board welcomes this statement. The Board acknowledges the STFC's need to address its budgetary constraints and notes that, under the terms of the Agreement, the UK is entitled to seek to sell some of its telescope time both within the partnership and, subject to the approval of the Board, outside the current partnership. The Board has directed the Observatory to continue the UK as a full partner, participating in all subsequent observing semesters, and all relevant committees and functions of the Observatory. ”

Some UK contribution to the Aspen instrumentation programme is back on again, including GPI and WFMOS although PRVS was formally cancelled at the end of Mar 08.

The RAS President Michael Rowan-Robinson welcomed the development in a new item UK to remain full partner in Gemini Observatory

“ Given the UK funding situation and our strong involvement in the ESO, we have to accept that the UK needs to evolve towards a lower expenditure on Gemini, with a focus on Gemini North.

However, precipitate withdrawal would have been very bad scientifically, a waste of the UK's substantial investment, and very bad for the UK's reputation as an international partner.

This decision gives UK scientists essential access to a large optical telescope in the northern hemisphere and allows us to remain competitive internationally. ”

The latest development was also reported in UK astronomers on 'rollercoaster' from BBC Science News and UK Reinstated as Full Member of Gemini Project at Universe Today. The intention is to sell 50% of the UK Share of Gemini North and South from 2009 (until 2012) according to notes released in the Programmatic Review 2008 since Gemini was ranked in the lowest priority category (`feedback' is here).

Gemini was discussed at the STFC Community Session on 3 Apr 08 at NAM in which Prof Keith Mason stated:

“ I tear my hair out about Gemini, frankly, and this is a case where you were all had, and you were all had by the Gemini Board ”


“ its not the case of STFC flip-flopping, quite the contrary, we've been constant in what we have been trying to achieve. ”

which were followed up in an article trail of ineptitude from Research Fortnight on 23 Apr 08.

On 8 Apr 08 the Prime Minister's Office issued a response to the physics funding e-petition , including

“ There have been concerns about UK access to the Gemini telescopes. Contrary to statements made by the Gemini Board, STFC has never issued formal notice to withdraw from the project and continues to negotiate the terms under which UK researchers have access to Gemini telescopes in future, whilst seeking to reduce its financial contribution... In any event, the UK will still retain access to other 8-10m class telescopes in the northern hemisphere, in particular the Japanese Subaru telescope in Hawaii and the GranTeCan telescope on La Palma. ”

On 10 Apr 08 there was an Update on Gemini from NOAO Currents reporting

“ Discussions that have been reported suggest that the UK will seek to sell 12% of the total Gemini time [half of its 24% allocation] and that Australia would like 4%, leaving up to 8% of the total Gemini time as a possible increment to the US share. ”

Much more information relating to Gemini Observatory can be found via the Gemini Support Group.

UpdateFollowing the release of the UK Ground-based Facilities Review draft report, the Gemini Board met in Nov 2009 and reported that the UK intended to withdraw from the partnership after the end of the initial 20 year agreement in Dec 2012 (see also STFC Statement).

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Section Last Updated: May 2008

The UK's Astronomy Technology Centre (ATC), who design and build instruments for major observatories has been told its budget will be halved over a three year period from April 08 (see Edinburgh Evening News article Observatory jobs go as budget cut from 20 Dec 07). It is only a decade since the ATC was setup to keep instrument development internationally competitive after the closure of the Royal Greenwich Observatory was announced (see RGO to close in favour of Edinburgh site article from May 97 the Daily Telegraph). ATC currently employs around 100 people, and has been asked to save £3.7 million for each of the next three years according to a Prospect union news release from 12 Dec 07 . Prof Ian Robson (ATC director) commented

“ In terms of the UK as a hotbed of science and technology and a leader in Europe, this is all quite tragic. ”

RAS President Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson added

“ Cuts to the ATC in Edinburgh are certainly a blow to astronomical instrumentation in the UK ”

A further ATC report was provided in a BBC 3 Jan 08 article Jobs fears for telescope centre, in with Prof Robson notes

“ Science in general has done quite well compared to other areas of government, but as far as we're concerned this is a semi-disaster altogether - in fact a total disaster. ”

ATC had been looking forward to winning a contract for the Gemini Observatory Precision Radial Velocity Spectrometer (PRVS) instrument, as noted in the 2007/08 STFC Delivery Plan

“ A programme of instrument development for the Gemini has [been] agreed with our international partners... Planning provision has been made for the .. Gemini PRVS beyond the design study phase. ”

The STFC decision to pull-out from future investment in Gemini has apparently withdrawn that possibility (though see below). Prospect union national Secretary Tony Bell reflected

“ These are top scientists in their field. Teams such as these would be impossible to recombine if broken up. ”

a loss of skills admitted in an attachment scenarios.doc released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

A second Prospect news release from 2 Jan 08 quoted plans which could transfer ATC and the Daresbury site out of the STFC, repeated in the Times Higher Education article from 10 Jan 08 involving `alternative options' for running the ATC. Mr Bell commented

“ The cuts have been presented as necessary for the long-term future of STFC but staff feel that the process leading to the Council's decision was secretive, non-consultative and puts their science and sites at risk. ”

The call for voluntary redundancies went out on 3 Jan 08 at RAL/Daresbury/ATC, although it is hoped that no compulsory redundancies will be necessary at ATC. During testimony at the 21 Jan 08 IUS Select Committee, ATC was discussed

Q62 Dr Gibson MP “ Just for the record, this will affect Scotland as well. You cover the work that goes on there and there is a very proud tradition of physics and astronomy. Edinburgh, for example, is very frightened that they are going to lose a lot of facilities which are international. Is that true? ”

Tony Bell “ Just to correct the record, everything is not just in the north west, it is right across the country ”

followed up late in the evidence session

Q136 Dr Iddon MP “ Lord Sainsbury created three leading science and innovation campuses; how many jobs are we losing at each of those? ”

Prof Keith Mason “ I cannot tell you the answer to that because I do not know. What we have done is to put target savings on the costs of running our centres internally and those target savings can be achieved by a number of ways and we are pursuing all those ways. One is certainly redundancies but also by looking at efficiencies in the way we run our operations. There will be reduction in programme and we are encouraging our scientists to look elsewhere for funding. For example, somebody mentioned applying to the MRC, that is precisely what we should be doing because that is part of our mission. The numbers that might have been banded around, with the exception of SRS where there is a well-defined, long ago defined number, the other numbers that might have been banded around are absolutely worse case if we totally fail at these other avenues. We are working as hard as possible and we are consulting and talking to unions and to our other stake holders about how to actually minimise the loss of skills, recognising that in the cases of both Daresbury and Harwell actually we are looking at a situation where the requirement for skilled jobs is going to mushroom in the next few years if our strategy comes off, which I am sure it will. In the case of Edinburgh we are not as far along in terms of our plans for Edinburgh because this is something that has come along with the creation of STFC basically, but again I am very keen to explore the possibility of a wider partnership that makes use of the very unique and useful skills that we have in the ATC in order to apply them to a wider portfolio. I have to say just one other thing in regards to the ATC, that the original concept for the ATC was that it should be a group of about 40 people but because it was very successful in the pre-ESO era in winning contracts for telescope building and operation it has actually turned into an organisation of about 100 people. We have known for a long time - it is nothing to do with the spending review - that the work available to the ATC is going to drop off because we are now a member of ESO. We do not have our own telescopes to maintain and build instruments for so we are always looking at a roll off to a number which is not far from the one we first thought of, about 40. As part of the strategy of that roll off we do not want to lose those skills so we are exploring how we can use them in the wider context. There is not enough work for those people in building telescopes any more but they have skills that are generic and can be applied in other areas which are very valuable. As I said, we are beginning a process of working with the local universities and local funding agencies to explore how we might use a similar model to Daresbury and Harwell up in Scotland. ”

An item from 6 Feb 08 Minister takes fight to save observatory to Westminster item in the Scotsman notes that Jim Mather MSP (Scottish Enterprise Minister) adds

“ The proposed cut will inevitably impact on research in Scotland's universities and research facilities, and the economy of Scotland more generally. In Scotland, the cuts will have an immediate impact on the world-leading UK ATC at the Royal Observatory. The Royal Observatory is world renowned, making a huge contribution to astronomical innovation and design. The cuts would also damage world-leading physics research in our universities ”

to which John Barett MP adds

“ Any cutback in research and development is short sighted. These are areas where we ought to be committing additional funding. It is vital that we leave no stone unturned in the search for a solution to this funding crisis. A debate in parliament will force Ministers to face up to their responsibilities not to let the current confusion over funding rob us of a world-class facility. ”

The 11 Feb 08 Gemini Board statement , in which UK 2008A programs have been reinstated notes the possibility of continued UK involvement, further discussed in a BBC News item Astronomers given Gemini reprieve which notes

“ The ATC in Edinburgh had been well-placed to pick up the main contract for building a next generation instrument at one of the Gemini sites called the PRVS.

When the STFC signalled its intention to withdraw from the consortium, the contract "turned to dust". But observers now wonder whether it could now be back on the table, with the potential to safeguard jobs at the centre. ”

Following the announcement of the UK Civil Space Strategy 2008-2012 (download here), Prof Ian Robson commented in the Scotsman article Sky's no limit for British astronauts in new phase of space race on 15 Feb 08

“ The amount and quality of the science that can be achieved is doubtful. Human space flight was more about "exploration rather than delivering hard science".

While potentially important to the aspirations of a nation, it should not take money from the science budget, which is already very hard-pressed. Scientists in the US have seen the NASA budget redirect funding from science into human spaceflight with the resulting loss of scientific missions and hence the extreme caution with which this topic is viewed by many in the UK. ”

The IUS Select Committee visited ATC on 5 Feb 08 having already visited RAL on 31 Jan 08 plus Daresbury on 18 Feb 08, prior to their second evidence session on 20 Feb 08 as part of their inquiry into the Science budget Allocations, at which ATC was discussed

Q215 Phil Willis MP “ In terms of the ATC in Edinburgh, would again there be any objection in principle for the ATC to be subsumed within Edinburgh University and the excellent department it has in terms of astronomy?

Ian Pearson MP “ My understanding of the situation with regard to the ATC in Edinburgh is that the STFC are at early stages of discussions with the ATC about their future. One of the options that they are discussing is whether there should be closer links and a tie-in with the University of Edinburgh. There is the example from BBSRC of the Roslin Institute which has moved into the University. It is my understanding that people working at the ATC have different views about what their future might be. I am keen that the STFC listens to those views and comes up with a satisfactory outcome.

This response was followed up in a Minister puzzled by AHRC bid to cut research grants item from Times Higher Education in which Steve Chapman (Edinburgh vice-principal) responds to the minister's comments:

“ I just don't recognise this. We are trying to be as helpful as possible and are offering advice to the STFC on request, as we consider the ATC to be critically important for UK astronomy.

The ball is in the STFC's court, and I believe that its officers are doing their very best in a difficult situation.

Read transcript . A third session followed on 27 Feb 08. Listen via Parliament TV or MP3 . ATC was discussed at this final IUS committee session

Q392 Phil Willis MP “ In terms of ATC, are discussions actively being carried out with Edinburgh University about an approach to that?

Prof Mason “ Yes.

On 27 Feb 08 it was announced that the UK has been reinstated as a full partner in Gemini, so a UK contribution to the Aspen programme is back on again, although PRVS was formally cancelled at the end of Mar 08.

On 3 Mar 08 a question on ATC was asked by Nigel Griffiths MP (Edinburgh South) in parliament - see Q&A - to which Ian Pearson MP responded with:

“ The STFC is looking at the future of ATC in relation to the potential demand for its services and the council's science budget allocation. STFC is exploring the possibility of a partnership that makes use of the unique skills in the ATC and applies them to a wider portfolio, and it will look to work with the local universities and local funding agencies in taking that forward. It is too early to say what the outcome of these discussions will be. ”

Another ATC-related question by David Hamilton MP was answered by Ian Pearson MP on 6 Mar 08 - see Q & A.

One of the conclusions from the Science Budget Allocations (SBA) report from 30 Apr 08 specifically concerned ATC

“ We welcome news that STFC, ATC and the University of Edinburgh have entered talks about a possible transfer of ATC from STFC ownership to the University. We anticipate that ATC would be able to retain its identify as a world class technology centre and continue to thrive within the University. ”

ON 9 May 08, Prof Ian Robson was quoted in the Scotsman article Royal Observatory can focus on a future without job losses highlighting the fact that ATC posts would only be lost through natural wastage and voluntary redundancy, so long as the outside work (for other Research Councils, private sector, government initiatives) increased from 15 to 25 per cent, adding

“ It means we won't have any compulsory redundancies this calendar year and if we get things right, we won't have any full stop. As long as we get extra work in, we should be okay.

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Section Last Updated: June 2008

Dr Jim Wild reflects on the withdrawal from ground-based Solar Terrestrial Physics (STP) in a Times Higher Education item on 10 Jan 08 Lights out: funding changes raise fears for the future of Aurora

“ This is an area in which the UK is world-leading, but the cuts and the closure of our facilities effectively means the withdrawal of the UK from this area of space research. They haven't said they're going to kill off any of the spacecraft, but there's really only one mission at the moment and it's within a year of the end of its life. When that dies naturally, they'll have killed all the ground-based facilities, and we will have no tools left and that will be it. The technical expertise will leave, research students will leave, and this will effectively kill a community. The feeling is that this is the death of solar-terrestrial physics in the UK, at a time when the rest of the world is getting into it in a big way ”

According to the STFC website ground-based solar terrestrial physics Facilities now facing withdrawal include

Apparently, new grant applications dependent upon facilities that are no longer supported will be deemed to have failed on technical grounds (also true for existing grants, although exploitation of existing data will be taken into account) - on this last point Prof Walter Gear reported a PPAN statement at the 3 Mar 08 Town Meeting

“ PPAN considers it an outrage that it is forced into a position where it will recommend withdrawal of previously peer-reviewed and announced grants to Universities for excellent science, as it believes this completely undermines the relationship between the research council peer review process and Universities and damages the confidence of University administrations in making investments in Physics ”

followed up at the 3 Apr 08 STFC community session at NAM by Prof Gear

“ Members of PPAN, as you do in these circumstances, discussed whether the only option was for to us was to resign, and again we felt that would achieve nothing... we were the only thing between random chaos(!) and destruction. ”

STP was mentioned during testimony at the 21 Jan 08 IUS Select Committee hearing

Q64. Phil Willis MP “ we have been told that solar terrestrial physics is going to be removed totally from the UK's portfolio. What is going to be the effect of that? ”

Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson “ Just to make clear, it is ground-based solar terrestrial physics facilities, it is the ground-based radars but there are still space missions doing solar terrestrial physics. The key point about the ground-based radar is they complete the picture of the interaction between the sun and the earth. If the sun is active in solar storms and so on it can trace them through space and then you see the impact at the earth with the ground-based radars. As an aside, they also track debris from the Chinese satellite destruction so they have a value for society basically. These solar storms, of course, disrupt electrical networks and cause potential harm. ”

Resolutions in response to the STFC Delivery Plan were passed on 24 Jan 08 by the MIST (Magnetospheric Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial) community, which was followed up in a 29 Jan 08 Space weather science rues cuts BBC news item, in MIST expressed concern over a `lack of transparency' to which Prof Stan Cowley adds

This decision appears perverse in view of the existing and future potential [of this] high-impact world class research. ”

An item from 4 Feb 08 NERC deal could rescue ground-based solar physics in in the Times Higher Education suggests that Phil Willis MP has floated the possibility of NERC taking over funding of the research, having approached the Chief Executive Alan Thorpe about the possibility. According to Mr Willis

He [Alan Thorpe] indicated that he would in principle and certainly Keith Mason has also indicated in principle that he would be happy for this to happen. ”

The 6 Feb 08 News from STFC Council following their 28/29 Jan strategy meeting adds

[Council] reaffirmed its previous decisions to .. cease remaining support for ground-based Solar-Terrestrial Physics ”

An item in the Daily Telegraph from 19 Feb 08 titled Ghostly phenomenon of the Northern lights discusses a STP result based upon the Astro-Grid virtual observatory, which is also under threat due to the funding crisis.

STP was further discussed during the 20 Feb 08 IUS Select Committee hearing (read transcript ),

Q205 Dr Harris MP “ Let me tell you what Professor van Eyken, who is the Director of the Scientific Association of EISCAT, said in a letter to you: "I would like to emphasise the implications of the UK withdrawal from all ground-based Solar Terrestrial Physics which was announced - seemingly with no warning or consultation whatsoever - in the first Delivery Plan to be issued by the FTSC last week." (The letter is dated 21 December) He says: "... I would like to make some comment on the reputation of the UK scientific community, and their trustworthiness in international collaborations. The prospect of the UK belonging, for several more years, to an international association, namely EISCAT, which it does not then exploit, is very damaging to its credibility as a competent research nation. That the UK would not honour its commitment, thus also destroying its reputation as a trustworthy partner for international collaboration, is presumably quite unthinkable." That does not sound like potential damage to the UK's reputation; it sounds like damage. I have to take the car into the garage when there is damage, not potential damage; it is damage.

Ian Pearson MP “ You talk and quote about the issue of solar terrestrial physics. My understanding of the situation is that the STFC's predecessor took the decision to withdraw from ground-based solar terrestrial physics in the last Spending Review SR04. My understanding also is that that was taken as a result of peer review which said that ground-based solar terrestrial physics was a low priority activity. I understand that since then there has been a subsequent peer review process conducted which also confirmed that ground-based solar terrestrial physics was a low priority activity

Q206 Dr Harris MP “ That is not my question; I just want to ask you about the reputation.

Ian Pearson MP “ And said that we should continue to withdraw from it. For a number of years the STFC has announced its intention to withdraw from ground-based solar terrestrial physics. I would also point out that ground-based solar terrestrial physics is actually funded through the EPSRC as well as through the STFC. As far as the STFC is concerned, and it makes decisions on its priorities based on peer-reviewed research

Q207 Dr Harris MP “ That is not my question. My question was about has there been an actual dent in the UK's reputation. If there has, how is it that they think there has been no warning if you are saying this was a decision that was made or presaged four years ago?

Ian Pearson MP “ You are quoting from a letter from an eminent Professor, and he has not drawn attention his letter to you the fact that the STFC have looked at ground-based solar terrestrial physics and whether they should fund it over a considerable period of time. He has not drawn to your attention the fact that for a long period it has been known that the STFC was withdrawing from that activity. You should not necessarily believe as gospel the pleadings of one individual in a letter.

Q208 Dr Harris MP “ That is not my point. My point is that our reputation is the view of people like that. You cannot say his view is not that view because it is up to him to say that is his view. I think you are a great guy; you cannot say that I do not think you are a great guy because it is for me to say. Is that not evidence that the UK's reputation is damaged?

Prof Sir Keith O'Nions “ Can I just point out that there are representations from many other areas of physics that come to DIUS and come to ministers that do not reflect that these decisions are damaging, and what ministers have to balance is views from some other physicists that are really rather indifferent to this plight. I think the overall damage to physics in reputation terms is not great. There is a serious point in this particular area but not every physicist would agree with the letter.

STP was also discussed during the third IUS Committee session held on 27 Feb 08, in which the previously cited PPARC decision to withdraw from all ground-based STP, rather than some facilities was put under further scrutiny. According to the 2 Mar 06 News from PPARC Council , the intention was to:

“ maintain a capacity in ground-based solar terrestrial physics.

The third (and final) Select Committee evidence session on 27 Feb 08 (see transcript) also included discussion on STP.

Q301 Dr Harris MP “ Have you seen the letter we have received from van Eyken, the director of EISCAT?

Prof Holdaway “ Yes I have, Tony van Eyken.

Q302 Dr Harris MP “ What did you make of what he said about the impact on the UK's reputation in terms of not just Gemini but going wider and the commitment they now think the UK has to this area of physics?

Prof Holdaway “ I believe the situation is that approximately two years ago the UK agreed to continue subscription for another five years; five years from two years ago. However, I think it is actually a five-year rolling programme so if you want to withdraw you have to give five years' notice. So we are still in the EISCAT project from that point of view. The issue for the community of course is then access to data information and the support for the EISCAT programme as well as for other parts of ground-based solar-terrestrial physics. STP is in a very different position from EISCAT. STP is a truly cross-disciplinary programme and the system, whatever the system maybe, does not really know how to handle yet cross-disciplinary programmes. So part of the STP programme is relevant to STP's core programme including the planetary programme, the potential new planetary programme coming up, but STP is also relevant and increasingly relevant for space weather and climate change, to the NERC Agenda, and it is relevant in some ways even more importantly for operational reasons to the Ministry of Defence and for industry which operates sat nav systems, telecoms satellites. So there is that whole programme there that is truly cross-disciplinary. At the moment, STFC is, to be frank, lumbered with paying the whole cost of that.

Q304 Dr Harris MP “ We have had lots of letters from people both within your vicinity, your department, and outside saying that is a bad idea in terms of what the policy aims should be of UK science - as you mentioned yourself, climate change, satellites and communications, space weather which relates to both of those. Do you share that view?

Prof Holdaway “ I certainly share the view that it does not make sense for UK plc and the national capability to stop the whole of that programme. There are parts of that programme actually which it would not be unreasonable for STFC to continue to fund but it certainly should not be funding the majority of the programme, it needs to find other people to do that and maybe act as a co-ordinating point.

STP was followed up later in the session

Q380 Mr Cawsey MP “ Professor Mason, when you appeared in front of this Committee earlier in this inquiry you told us that the decision to withdraw funding from ground-based solar-terrestrial physics facilities was a decision taken by PPARC and that the STFC was simply implementing it now. In fact we understand the decision was to close the facilities but to maintain a capacity for ground-based STP. Would you accept that with the benefit of hindsight your earlier comments were perhaps misleading?

Prof Mason “ I think they were spot on. PPARC two years ago made the decision to withdraw from ground-based STP facilities, but as in all cases that does not mean we will not accept grant applications in those areas and they will be judged on their merits. The point was made earlier, I think by Evan, did we suddenly pull the plug on these people or did we consult with them and give them time to find a new way forward? Given the decision was made two years ago - actually it was made before I took over as CEO - I can nevertheless remember going to a community meeting of that community and telling them exactly why that decision had been made, because they were not being competitive in peer review and advising that they needed to seek a broader base.

Q381 Mr Cawsey MP “ Are you saying therefore that you agree with the original PPARC decision but you want to maintain a capacity for ground-based STP?

Prof Mason “ Personally I think that would be a very welcome thing to do because ground-based STP has a role to play, but in a much broader arena than just STFC science. I think the way forward for STFC, and I will say it quite clearly, is that they need to be developing a broader base, so we have mechanisms for dealing with broad cases but they need to come forward with that case, and that will receive a sympathetic hearing.

Q382 Dr Harris MP “ I did not understand your answer to Ian Cawsey because the decision and the outcome of the programmatic review paper published in April 2006 was, "Although PPARC wishes to maintain a capacity in ground-based STP, it has become necessary to close some of the facilities", and your latest plan says you are going to withdraw from all. There is a difference between "some" and "all", is there not?

Prof Mason “ There certainly is but the two are not incompatible.

Dr Harris MP “ This will be interesting!

Q383 Phil Willis MP “ This is very strange science to us!

Prof Mason “ Welcome to my world, is all I can say.

Q384 Phil Willis MP “ Right.

Prof Mason “ The thing is, we could not withdraw from EISCAT because we had just recently entered into a five-year commitment, as has been indicated earlier. So essentially the PPARC statement was meant to reflect the fact we would withdraw when we could without breaking international agreements. We remain in EISCAT for another three years.

Q385 Dr Harris MP “ You are just reading in words. It does not say that.

Prof Mason “ I am telling you what the situation is, which is that the plan was to roll down at these facilities but maintaining our international agreements, and we have done, and we continue to do that because we are still in EISCAT.

Q386 Mr Cawsey MP “ There have been some criticisms anyway about the way in which PPARC decisions have moved across to STFC because you work under very different remits, as I understand it. What have you done since you set up as your organisation to actually review those decisions as they are going to apply in the future but under the remit you now have?

Prof Mason “ In the specific case of STFC, the remit has not changed and, as I said, my advice to that community is that they should be making applications against a broader remit than either PPARC or STFC, but the remit in terms of STP is the same as it was under PPARC. The general point is that one of the main jobs of our Science Strategy Board, the Science Board, is to do exactly that and to be continually reviewing the rationale and the case for the decisions which have been made and will be made in the future, and that is what they did in the context of the ground-based STP. Basically their conclusion was that the situation is the same as it was two years ago and in the financial circumstances they could not see a case for reversing those decisions.

On 7 Mar 08 a report Arctic spectacle may remain mystery on Sky News includes interview with Dr Lisa Baddeley in Svalbard and Dr Jim Wild. See full story at you tube including an interview with Prof Alan Aylward

We can probably keep things going for a certain amount of time, on what few resources we have at the moment, but eventually they will need significant investment./

The worry for me is that gradually, they'll fade away and our science will die out altogether. ”

plus Prof John Womersley who confirmed a commitment to EISCAT through to 2011. See also Northern Lights Science 'May Fade Away' .

The STFC Delivery Plan Scorecard from 1 Apr 08 notes "Complete plans for the withdrawal of support for ground-based STP facilities and adjustment for associated exploitation programme by Mar 11).

One of the conclusions from the Science Budget Allocations (SBA) report from 30 Apr 08 was

We find Keith Mason's explanation for the withdrawal of funding from ground-based STP facilities to be inaccurate, unconvincing and unacceptable. PPARC did not decide to cut funding to all ground-based STP facilities, but intended to maintain a reduced capacity in this field. We urge STFC to suspect its decision on ground-based STP so that the issue can be revisited with proper peer review and in full consultation with the community, including NERC.

See also the Government response to the SBA report from 17 Jun 08

UpdateA partial transfer of funds from STFC to NERC took place in late 2009, including grant funding and EISCAT support - see STFC Announcement

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Space Exploration

Section Last Updated: Mar 2010

Against this backdrop, the STFC Delivery Plan strategy intends to maintain investment in the ESA Aurora planetary exploration programme at the current levels (see Annex I from STFC Science Board minutes from Nov 07). The first Aurora mission is ExoMars, whose UK science budget is subject to approval by PPAN/Science Board/Council.

The UK is the second largest contributor to Aurora, having had the broad support of the UK planetary science community and industry, benefitting from substantial Government support in the 2004 CSR, namely an augmentation of £10 million per annum to the baseline [PPARC] award (see summary of the Dec 2005 ESA Ministerial from BNSC/DTI, noting a €108 million contribution to Aurora). The RAS wrote a statement strongly in support of Aurora in Jul 2004, although it noted

It is a large scale programme and cannot be funded properly simply by altering priorities within existing science themes. Much of the funding for Aurora most come from new funding sources ”

(see STFC Aurora homepage). The Space and Technology Committee 2007: A Space Policy Report Jul 07 noted

We welcome the UK's involvement in the Aurora programme and recommend that the STFC ensure that the UK maintains its strong role in this programme ”

to which the Government's response was

STFC hopes to maintain a strong role in the ESA Aurora programme subject to its settlement in CSR07 ”

Further background is provided in an Office of Science and Technology document from Mar 2006 on UK civil space activities (Feb 2008 update here) and the PPARC Annual Delivery Plan Report 06/07 from Jun 07.

After the initial injection of cash, long-term funding was always going to be problematic for Aurora, as predicted during the 18 Jan 2006 witness interview of Prof Keith Mason by the Select Committee on Science and Technology (further details here)

Q12. Phil Willis MP (Chair) “ Where is the money [for Aurora] coming from? Is it coming from the Treasury, is it coming from the Office of Science and Technology, is it coming from other science projects, where is it coming from? Is it new money in other words? ”

Prof Mason There is new money from the last Spending Review; £40 million has gone in to support the programme up until 2007 when we get the next Spending Review. Beyond that we have a planning provision for the money that we need, but of course we have to make that case within the Spending Review context. ”

Q13. Phil Willis MP (Chair) “ This is what worries me and, to be honest, it worries the Committee, that there is some secure funding roughly until 2009, but thereafter there is real uncertainty. The Chancellor [Gordon Brown] tells us that it is going to be very difficult at the next spending round and perhaps we cannot expect the same level of funding support for science and technology which, to be fair, has been very generous over the last two comprehensive Spending Reviews. How essential is it that you get a long term commitment to the Aurora project rather than working on these relatively short term cycles? ”

Prof Mason It is absolutely essential, you cannot do a programme like this unless you know how much money is in the pot and you can plan it properly, otherwise you risk not reaping the benefit. This is a perennial problem, of course, you need to make that long term commitment to do these long term programmes, but virtually every country has a shorter approval cycle than that. All I can say is, yes, it does depend on making a strong case at the next Spending Review and beyond that, at subsequent Spending Reviews. We have a very strong case to make is what I would say, so I am very hopeful that we can be compelling in the need for doing this. If we do not get new resources, of course, we will have to take very hard decisions with regard to our existing PPARC programmes and the place that Aurora has within those. ”

Key benefits of space exploration according to the final slide of CSR07-Bilateral-v10.ppt released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 are:

A BBC science News item from 8 Feb 08 titled Makeover for Europe's Mars robot discussed recent changes to the ExoMars mission. According to Jean Jacques Dordain (head of ESA)

“ In 2005, it was mostly a technological mission with some scientific passengers. But the interest in Mars, and specifically exobiology, meant that I had a queue of scientists wanting to go on board ExoMars.

Now we have a scientific mission as much as a technological mission, meaning that the ExoMars 2008 is heavier, is more complex and is more costly. ”

According to the news item, the UK now faces having to find tens of millions of euros extra to maintain its position on the project which is intended to nearly double the original € 650M budget, although the UK contribution is not automatically scaled, as it would be in the mandatory ESA space science programme (extra costs were referred to in Minutes of STFC Council from 25Jun07). A further report on ExoMars on 7 Jul 08 UK Mars rover hopes face set-back in BBC Science News noted the 25% cut in UK investment in ExoMars resulting from the final outcomes of the STFC Programmatic Review announced on 3 Jul 08. This was followed up on 15 Aug 08 in a further Mars robots begin test campaign article about ExoMars in BBC Science News (see also UK scientists unveil a Mars rover called Bradley in Guardian)

Discussions about a potential ESA Centre at Harwell (RAL) were reported in evidence by Prof David Southwood and Jean-Jacques Dordain to the Commons Science and Technology Ctte in Mar 2007 (see link). In addition, the 24Apr07 STFC Council minutes noted the possibility of developing an ESA centre, which was expanded upon in minutes from a Council meeting on 25Jun07 in which Prof Keith Mason noted the following

Such a facility could be approved at the ESA Council meeting on 25-26 Nov 08 (Recall the STFC Delivery Plan). Aviation Week announced the €350M increase in budget in a 12 Nov 07 article Europe Delays ExoMars Start. Mr Dordain added:

“ The UK is the second richest country in Europe and the sixth [largest] contributor in ESA

And this is all the more an anomaly because there are a lot of capabilities in the UK; there is a fantastic scientific community, there are good industrial capabilities and it is a pity that the British government is not taking more benefit from these assets. ”

The proposed ESA facility is discussed in the 14 Feb 08 UK carves out its place in space, but hopes for Britons on moon dashed article in the Guardian

“ Under the plans Britain will become home to a major new ESA facility based at Harwell in Oxfordshire. It will be dedicated to understanding climate change from space and developing robotics for space exploration. Britain is the only major contributor to the ESA that does not yet have its own facility.

In the short term Britain will focus on its major role in the ESA's Aurora programme, which aims to launch a robotic rover, ExoMars, to the red planet in 2013. The mission will pave the way for a future attempt to bring samples back from Mars in 2020, and a long-term goal of landing astronauts on the planet.

Britain is the biggest funder of the Aurora mission, but has withdrawn from any aspect of it that involves human space flight. The government has also refused to participate in the international space station. Around 65% of Britain's £207m space budget is channelled through the ESA.

Separately, Britain will also be looking to conduct space missions outside of the ESA by linking forces with Russia and emerging space-faring nations such as China, Brazil and India. ”

The STFC Delivery Plan Scorecard from 1 Apr 08 notes to `Confirm UK funding to next phase of Aurora programme, through ESA' and `Develop UK position for C-min concerning ExoMars, NEXT mission and the core technology programme' by Sep 08. The potential ESA facility was noted in an ESA News Item ESA prepares for November's Ministerial Meeting

On the general topic of the UK involvement in space activities, 2007: A Space Policy Report of the Science and Technology Committee published in Jul 07 which noted

“ If current levels of expenditure in space persist, the Government should not establish a space agency. If expenditure is substantially increased, the question of an agency should be reviewed. ”

also agreed by Government (as were recommendations to establish an an ESA center in the UK), plus

“ We [Science and Technology Ctte] welcome the creation of the STFC and were pleased to hear assurances from the Chief Executive [Keith Mason] that the STFC will not favour funding for large facilities over basic science. We recommend that the STFC work with NERC and EPSRC to ensure that there are no gaps in funding for research in space science. ”


“ We [Science and Technology Ctte] acknowledge the BNSC's work in encouraging collaboration with other countries such as China and welcome the recent joint statement of intent with NASA. However, the development of new opportunities must not be undertaken if there will be a reduction in scientific quality. ”

The 25-26 Nov 08 ESA Ministerial included a speech by Lord Drayson (Science Minister) and formal approval for the Harwell ESA Centre, as reported in Europe's 10bn-euro space vision from BBC Science News, Britain's first space facility will monitor the health of planet Earth from The Guardian, an ESA News item and a STFC Press Release European Space Centre at Harwell, which included

“ STFC welcome this significant announcement, as I'm sure the UK space community will. The development of an ESA centre at the Harwell Science Innovation Campus is a direct result of the UK's strong record in space, both within industry and in academia. The proposed space centre will place an emphasis on exploiting the benefits of space to terrestrial users, and knowledge exchange and development to support the future ESA programme, including planetary exploration and understanding the changing climate of the Earth. It will take full advantage of the unique environment being created at the Harwell Science & Innovation Campus where state-of-the-art publicly funded scientific facilities will operate alongside industrial R&D. ”

STFC also plan to develop additional, non-ESA technology programmes, commencing with MoonLITE (Moon Lightweight Interior and Telecoms Experiment), a £100m UK-led robotic mission to the moon with NASA (see Britain plans first Moon mission from 10 Jan 07 on BBC Science News, or from Jun 07). STFC Council minutes from 24 Apr 07 noted the Memorandum of Understanding between OSI and NASA had been signed on 20 Apr 07 with the possibility of establishing a bilateral programme focusing on robotic lunar exploration. Further details are provided in a NASA-BNSC Joint Working Group Report on Lunar Cooperation published in Feb 08. The Feb 08 A&G includes a report from a Sep 07 Open University meeting titled Exploring the Moon: A UK perspective authored by Dr Ian Crawford notes:

“ Keith [Mason] outlined the prospects for UK participation in space exploration and presented the conclusions of the UK Space Exploration Working Group which recommended increased UK investment in this area and to which STFC is clearly sympathetic. ”

The UK Space Exploration Working Group, was set up as an ad hoc committee in Jan 07 and published a Report in Sep 07, based on science input from Prof Monica Grady, Dr Ian Crawford, Prof Jenny Thomas, Prof Peter Wilkinson and Prof John Zarnecki. As of Spring 2008, MoonLITE has not yet been subject to the normal peer-review process since technology development is its prime motivation, namely Such missions are sold to the Treasury as a stimulus to UK industry, with any scientific aims and payload piggy-backing aboard, and so has strong political support from industry. Specific science goals of MoonLITE include investigating MoonLITE was criticised in the Nature editorial from 20 Dec 07

“ The withdrawal from the linear collider and from Gemini reflect badly on Britain's readiness to stand by international collaborations, and will disappoint partners who had long held the nation and its research councils in high esteem. Moreover, grants are being cut in fields where Britain has traditionally excelled, even as the STFC proposes new projects for which a strong scientific case has not been made - such as a joint robotic Moon mission with NASA. ”

According to Prof Mason, the amount to be invested during the current CSR is small. The 2008-11 STFC Scorecard aims to

“ Confirm budget for Phase A studies related to the proposed BNSC-NASA small satellite programme and undertake required studies. ”

by May 08. The bulk of funding would be sought in the next CSR period. According to slide 14 from CSR07-Bilateral-v10.ppt from Sep 07 released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, a bid of £35m for CSR07 was requested (or considered for request) for `Lunar Exploration' involving a means to: `leverage commercial opportunities', but apparently not supported by OSI. An Education Guardian article from 4 Mar 08 entitled Astronomers see stars further discussed these Freedom of Information Act 2000 documents, for which £87.4m was sought for space science in the STFC CSR submission (the largest single bid out of a total of £151m requested for additional research over three years), something Prof Ken Peach said he was

“ Surprised at the disproportionate emphasis on space exploration and technology. ”

The MoonLITE concept was developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) and Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL). SSTL is currently owned by the University of Surrey, but is to be sold to EADS Astrium according to a Apr 08 press release (see also article DIY satellites take smaller and smaller steps for mankind in The Guardian on 7 Jul 08). MoonLITE was featured in the Mar 08 BBC Sky at Night programme Return to the Moon which included interviews with Sir Martin Sweeting (SSTL) and Dr Ian Crawford discussing how MoonLITE would help to develop the UK planetary science community.

The Seventh Report of the Science and Technology Committee published in Jul 07 includes the following testimony from Prof Mason

“ Every other major European country, in addition to supporting space through ESA, has a large domestic programme, which feeds ESA programmes and also develops capabilities that the ESA programme does not. The UK is alone in not having such a domestic programme, and that is what puts us at a disadvantage because it is that sort of early stage investment nationally that positions us to win international contracts. ”

The UK has a deficit in the industrial return from the ESA subscription, as noted in the PPARC Annual Delivery Plan Report 06-07 . Indeed, during the same witness testimony session

Q203. Dr Turner MP: “ What impact do you think that [STFC] is going to have on the development of the UK space programme?

Prof Keith Mason: “ This is an opportunity. You know the STFC will primarily be a merger between PPARC and CCLRC. PPARC is already the largest funder of civil space activities in the UK, and CCLRC has the largest infrastructure in terms of non-industrial, international space capability. So I think putting the two together clearly creates an opportunity for a better unit and a more complete unit for taking the space agenda forward. To be specific, we have already discussed earlier today the possibility of an ESA centre coming to the UK, and one of the things that makes that possible is the infrastructure we already have in place. As has already been discussed, a prime site of that might well be the Harwell Science and Technology Campus.

The 14 Feb 08 Ministers consider UK astronauts BBC Science News item notes that NASA is due to give its formal backing to the moonLITE mission, describing it as `inspirational', although the report concludes

“ There is a question mark over whether the UK could afford the mission.

Even though the estimated cost is cheap by space exploration standards, the current state of the Science and Technology Facilities Council's finances might make it difficult for the UK to fund its share of the mission.

A NASA-BNSC Joint Working Group Report on Lunar Cooperation ) has been produced, involving UK members Dr David Parker (Director of Space Science and Exploration, BNSC) and Prof John Zarkecki (STFC Science Strategy Team), in which the JWG has identified potential elements of collaboration:

“ The implementation of a UK-led robotic lunar mission, such as the MoonLITE mission, and the development of enabling science and technology needed for midterm robotic and human exploration activities.

In the BNSC Lunar exploration - Potential UK and US collaboration press release, Prof Keith Mason commenting on the JWG report:

“ This joint report represents a milestone in our co-operation with NASA whilst building upon our longstanding collaboration in such highly successful science missions as Swift, Stereo, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Cassini. The proposed missions provide an opportunity to harness the UKs world-class expertise in small satellite, communication and robotic technologies focused on exploration of the Moon

This joint report between the UK and NASA, coupled with the UK's major role in ESA's Aurora programme of planetary exploration and our involvement in helping to shape a Global Exploration Strategy, means the UK is fully exploiting and strategically maximising its technological and scientific strengths in space exploration.

However, according to Prof Alan Smith in a 15 Feb 08 `Pessimism and anger' over science funding crisis article in the Daily Telegraph

“ The issue is that in the STFC's existing budget, there isn't the capacity to pay for moonLITE ”

to which a BNSC spokesperson adds:

“ The BNSC-NASA Joint Working Group offers the UK space sector significant international collaboration opportunities, of which MoonLITE is just one of several potential projects. Before a decision is made on whether to go ahead with MoonLITE, international scientific peer review and a more detailed technical study will need to be undertaken.

With the STFC's budget rising by 13.6 per cent to a total of £1.9 billion over three years, the council will consider funding for MoonLITE against other priorities in its programme. ”

Finally, there is a feature MoonLITE: A UK-led mission to the Moon in the Jun 08 A&G, and the STFC Scorecard from 1 Apr 08 notes investment in the Planned Phase A study of MoonLITE - see also 24 Nov 08 BBC Science News report Final hurdle for UK's Moon shot, followed up by a 5 Dec 08 STFC press release MoonLite mission gets green light for next step, including

“ The proposed MoonLITE mission provides a great opportunity to focus the UK's world-class expertise in small satellite, communication and robotic technologies on lunar exploration. It is also a chance to strengthen our relationship with NASA, enhance international collaboration between UK and US scientists and engineers, and answer fundamental questions about the make-up of the Moon. ”

according to science minister Lord Drayson. On the wider question of UK support for manned missions, the 20 Feb 08 We are not going to the moon editorial from Research Fortnight adds:

“ The government has lately been sending out mixed messages about science policy in general and its approach to space science in particular. On the one hand, well-publicised cuts at the STFC will leave UK astrophysicists bereft of access to facilities with which they have been involved for 15 years [Gemini]. On the other hand, science and innovation minister Ian Pearson is telling the BBC that it is time for Britain to revisit its eminently sensible 1986 decision to get the hell out of manned space flight. That decision has relieved Britain of 2 years of direct involvement in the International Space Station, perhaps the largest white elephant in the history of space flight - which is saying something.

Pearson, the STFC chief Keith Mason, and the rest of government science apparatus should meanwhile, concentrate their limited resources on areas of genuine national excellence, such as ground-based astronomy, and elave the `final frontier' to those with money to burn on it ”

to which George Fraser (Director of Leicester's Space Research Centre) adds in a Research Fortnight news item Scientists wary of costly human space flight plans that physicists who would support human space flight under different circumstances are unlikely to give their blessing to such an expensive endeavour unless the government can come up with extra funding to support it, adding:

“ I think in the current climate it's very crass to say we are going to put £100m into anything when £120m is going out and will not be replaced. At the moment it seems that it's difficult to make any positive decisions for human space flight because of the dreadful things that may be happening elsewhere. ”

The US astrophysics community too, is not without its difficulties in the balancing act between expensive space missions and other programmes. The NASA administrator Michael Griffin in a Keynote address at the Austin AAS meeting on 8 Jan 08 announced that the US would not be able to fund the Space Interferometric Mission (SIM PlanetQuest) on a similar timeframe to the other flagship mission JWST - which consumes 60% of the astrophysics budget - without major cuts elsewhere in astrophysics, noting

“ The Fiscal Year 2008 Congressional direction for NASA `to begin the development phase' of SIM is quite clear. It disregards the community-based recommendations of the NRC and NASA's other advisory committees for maintaining a balanced portfolio of large and small missions, along with basic research and technology investments.. If it stands, then the mission will be executed, and the remainder of the astrophysics portfolio will suffer. ”

Given HST/SOFIA/grants currently use another 25% of the NASA budget, initiating SIM now will mean a delay to JWST, GLAST or cancelling Explorers to fund it, as further reported in a Nature news item on 15 Jan 08, in which CalTech (which operates JPL that in-turn manages SIM) apparently lobbied Congress very effectively. Griffin advises

“ In future Decadal Surveys, the community should prioritize the science and missions from previous Surveys that have not yet entered development against each other and against any new initiatives. ”

In the light of this, the American Astronomical Society have issued a 24 Jan 08 resolution on scientific priorities, which includes

“ The AAS .. strongly endorse community-based priority setting as a fundamental component in the effective federal funding of research. Broad community input is required in making difficult decisions that will be respected by policy makers and stake-holders. ”

which is also relevant to the current STFC funding crisis. Subscriptions to ESA and ESO cost £82m according to scenarios.doc released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, representing approximately 60% of the total astronomy programme.

A 14 Feb 08 BBC Science News item Ministers consider UK astronauts notes that a review of whether British astronauts should take place in space exploration will take place. Prof Martin Rees, in a 14 Feb 08 article Let's forget NASA's fancy ideas , discusses the governments new UK Civil Space Strategy 2008-2012 (download here)

“ In economic and intellectual firepower, Europe is fully a match for the US. But the activities of Europe's Space Agency (ESA), though successful and generally cost-effective, have been more modest.

Even by European standards, space has not figured highly in our national priorities: France has been far more committed. However, we have achieved successes in space science, and in important niche markets as well - for instance, the University of Surrey's commercial micro satellites. But it is now time for the UK, which has been a minor player even within Europe, to raise its game.

Everyone has heard of NASA, many have heard of ESA, but few have heard of BNSC (the British National Space Centre). That is why the Royal Society has urged a higher-profile UK space agency so that we can seek cost-effective collaborations with India, China and the US, as well as within Europe, and promote and develop our nation's success in the cost-effective use of space, and the associated cutting-edge technologies.

Today the Government publishes a new strategy for space. This is an opportunity to increase our leverage in high-tech developments that are becoming ever more pervasive in our lives - and to recover some of the inspiration of the open frontier. ”

(though see response on 21 Mar 08 titled Brits in Space by UK-born NASA astronaut Dr Piers Sellars in Guardian Science Blog and article Situations vacant: applicants should be fit, fearless - and have a head for heights in The Guardian ). The Campaign for Science and Engineering welcomed the new strategy, though>

“ The Government needs to keep investing in basic physics research to make it visions for space exploration a reality. The proposed cuts to the STFC's budget if implemented would have serious implications for training the highly-skilled people needed to work in this growing sector. ”

According to a BBC Science News item British space policy gets revamp from 14 Apr 08 the BNSC is set to move to Swindon to bring organisational and programmatic benefits, which followed a 2007: A Space Policy Report of the Science and Technology Committee published in Jul 07 which expressed

“ disappointment that the BNSC failed to take advantage of the opportunity to establish a performance management system offered by the implementation of the UK Space Strategy 2003-2006 and beyond. ”

the spirit of which was accepted in the Governments response

On 16 Apr 08, Prof Martin Rees repeated his calls for Europe to concentrated on unmanned space missions in a BBC Science News article Demand for Europe space rethink

“ For historical reasons connected with superpower rivalry, space is one of the arenas where America and Russia have a bigger budget for space than Western Europe.

Whereas in everything else, Western Europe is fully a match for the US. We can be more effective in space if we focus all our budget on miniaturisation, robotics, and fabricators and avoid manned spaceflight. ”

a view criticised by Dr Ian Crawford on 18 Apr 08 reported in a Flight Global news item Royal Society president's anti-astronaut comments sparks UK backlash citing a recent European Science Foundation report on European Space Policy from Dec 07.

On 8 May 08, the ESA European Astronaut Selection programme was featured in an article 'No bias' against UK astronauts in BBC Science News noted that Europe has contributed five billion euros to participate in the International Space Station (ISS) so far, quoting Alan Thirkettle of ESA

“ What would be very good would be to have a situation where the UK came into the human spaceflight programme; and there are discussions ongoing. ”

Dr Jeremy Curtis (UK delegate of International Space Exploration Coordination Group) added

“ There isn't actually a formal policy not to do manned activity; it's merely that the government has never found a programme of activities it felt was worth the money to want to do it. The UK has a huge skill in robotics and the question is: should it continue to keep this divide on robots versus humans, or should we now widen our ambitions? We're doing an official review which will give government the information it needs to answer that question. We hope it will be done by the end of the year. ”

The european astronaut recruitment programme is featured in a Guardian article High hopes from 13 Jun 08, including an interview with Prof John Zarnecki

The incoming science minister Lord Drayson contributed to the debate on UK manned space flight in a 10 Oct 08 article Minister wants astronaut 'icon' from BBC Science News, reported in Let's put a Brit in space, says minister in The Times. See also interview with Lord Drayson on BBC Radio 4 Today on 10 Oct 08 - listen here

On 17 Oct 08, a news item Europe delays its ExoMars mission in BBC Science News reported a launch delay - from Nov 2013 until 2016 - since ExoMars' leading contributor Italy is not prepared to put any more cash into the €1.2 billion mission (see also The UK's search for life on Mars article about ExoMars in A&G - link password protected)

On 10 Dec 09, science minister Lord Drayson announced the formation of a UK space agency - see BNSC and STFC announcement, and response from RAS. The creation of a space agency was reported in UK to have dedicated space agency from BBC News (plus brief item 23 min into Radio 4 BBC Six O'Clock News), UK space agency is go from The Guardian, from The Telegraph. The announcement coincided with publication of Space Exploration Review from BNSC highlighting role of bilateral MoonLITE mission.

On 23 Mar 10, the UK Space Agency was formally launched - see New space agency and new international space centre for UK from BNSC and STFC welcomes the launch of the UK Space Agency from STFC. UKSA is reported in `Muscular' UK Space Agency launched from BBC Science News, UK Space Agency launched in London from The Telegraph, UK space agency launches in Swindon with Minister of Ohter Space, Lord Mandelson from The Times, Lift-off for new space agency which aims to rocket UK out of recession from The Guardian, UK launches space agency from, UK space agency and ISIC created from The Engineer and UK creates space agency from The Great Beyond (Nature blog)

The Space Agency launch coincided with the Government response to the UK Space Innovation and Growth Strategy 2010 to 2030 from BIS. An interview with Lord Draysonfeatures in A new name and a new logo for Britain in space from Spaceman (blog from BBC reporter Jonathan Amos)

UKSA provided updates on the Space Science and Exploration Programme in Sep 10 (read PDF

Top of page

Science and Innovation Campuses

Section Last Updated: Aug 2008

The Science and Innovation investment framework 2004-14: Next Steps document set out the Government case behind the creation of Science and Innovation Campuses, repeated in Lord Sainsbury's report The Race to the Top: A Review of Government's Science and Innovation which noted:

“ In 2006, the government took a strategic decision to locate its large-scale scientific and technological facilities at Daresbury and to develop the Harwell site .. The government has turned the sites into major Science and Innovation Campuses with the potential to become the centres of high-tech clusters and important growth points for their regions. ”

The STFC Delivery Plan noted a wider political dimension of their space exploration programme:

“ This [space exploration] programme also has major potential to stimulate and add momentum to the Campus development at Harwell, and will leverage the planned ESA centre. ”

The Harwell Campus is of strategic importance to government and STFC Council, through development of the economic case for investment in `PPARC science'. Rt Hon John Denham MP, in his Secretary of State's Science Budget statement notes that

“ The allocation to STFC supports the Government's vision for Harwell and Daresbury to be developed as Science and Innovation Campuses (SIC's) ”

Prof Ken Pounds expressed concerns about these in his facilities in his 21 Dec 07 Times Higher Education Supplement article

“ Further concerns surround the creation of the new Harwell and Daresbury science facilities, which aim to improve performance in knowledge transfer and graduate training. These will absorb substantial STFC resources. Yet experience tells us that the discoveries on which knowledge transfer is based come mainly from university groups benefiting from a flow of ideas and new talent. The limitations of focusing publicly funded innovation in just two centres must be a further concern. ”

According to the Liverpool Daily Post article from 4 Jan 08, Daresbury Laboratory will be cut hardest by STFC, down from 500 to 140 staff (see Save Our Science @ Daresbury campaign), due in-part to the forthcoming closure of the Synchrotron Radiation Source ( SRS), and is facing £20 million cuts over the course of the Spending Review (details in Prospect union news release from 12 Dec 07.

A 11 Dec 07 article from The Register entitled Boffins slashed in big-science budget blunder bloodbath on this topic concludes with

“ According to the BBC report, DIUS mandarins refused extra cash when the scale of the cost overruns became apparent. The STFC then suggested that, now it had Diamond, it could close its older synchrotron near Manchester earlier than planned. However, that was stymied by Labour MPs from the area who were concerned about job losses among support staff, leaving the STFC with no option but a boffinry bloodbath. ”

The Daresbury Synchrotron Radiation Source (SRS) will now close as originally planned on 31 Dec 08, with SRS jobs relocated to Diamond at Harwell. The proposed 4GLS (4th Generation Light Source) project for Daresbury has now been cancelled by STFC, following the recommendations of Science Board and the recent UK Light Source Review. An alternative light source `Sapphire' (to be located adjacent to Diamond at Harwell) also failed to be put forward for the Large Facilities Capital Fund (LFCF) following the Review panel report from Nov 07, noting:

“ 4GLS and Sapphire are two very different ideas for fourth generation sources which cover a wide range of wavelengths, and access ultra-fast timescales. In the committee's opinion, however, neither proposal is yet appropriate for approval ”

See also Section 2 of the minutes of 19 Oct 07 STFC Council meeting at which Prof Colin Whitehouse advised Council that

“ This decision could have an adverse effect on staff morale generally. He stressed the need to communicate sensitively with the staff involved, especially as it was understood that redundancy notices were about to be circulated t the Daresbury Laboratory staff in relation to the SRS closure. ”

Nationwide, it is believed that up to 600 jobs will be lost unless further efficiencies or non-STFC funding can be identified. See Liverpool Daily Post article from 4 Jan 08 about Daresbury Lab which has its own Save Our Science @ Daresbury campaign and is facing total £20 million cuts over the CSR period.

Apparently, Daresbury is to lose 150 jobs this year, plus 30 next year (see 12 Feb 08 More jobs `to be lost at Daresbury' in Liverpool Daily Post). Much depends on the future of Energy Recovery Linac Prototype (ERLP) accelerator now renamed ALICE (Accelerators and Lasers In Combined Experiments) and add-on EMMA (Electron Model for Many Applications) for the future of Daresbury Laboratory - indeed 305 staff received `at risk of compulsory redundancy' letters on 6 Feb 08, despite assurances made by STFC Council in a 7 Feb 08 statement on its commitment to the development of the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus, through

“ retaining key scientific and technology expertise at Daresbury in high performance computing, accelerator and detector research, development for next generation facilities, and underpinning technologies. ”

At the IUS Select Committee testimony on 21 Jan 08 it was alleged that funding would focus on the Oxbridge-London `golden triangle', to which Prof Mason responded:

“ Daresbury is a shining example of this [new model], where we are planning huge, additional investment. ”


“ The number of jobs which are going to have to be sacrificed [at Daresbury] will be dwarfed by the number of new jobs coming in, within a very short timescale. ”

Also see the Liverpool Daily Post article from 22 Jan 08. Sir Tom McKillop (ex-Chairman, Royal Bank of Scotland) is leading a review of the Daresbury campus, to assess how the Government's commitment can best be achieved - see press release from 11 Jan 08 from the Northwest Regional Development Agency. Alas, the financial sector turmoil has led to problems at RBS - see article Contrite, full of humility from 23 Apr 08, which is likely to provide an unwelcome distraction from his review - due in Summer 08 (see STFC Council statement).

Daresbury prompted a question in the Commons on 10 Jan 08 during the debate on Science, Technology and Innovation (transcript available here )

Dr Brian Iddon MP: “ The noble Lord Sainsbury of Turville created three important science sites in Britain at Harwell, near Oxford, where the diamond synchrotron project is now operating, and one at Daresbury in Cheshire, which serves all the northern universities. Is my hon. Friend aware that 300 to 400 jobs - three quarters of the staff at the Daresbury site - are at risk due to the £80 million shortfall in the STFC budget? I recognise what my hon. Friend says about significant increases in the STFC budget, but it appears to have been badly handled in this financial year. ”

Ian Pearson MP (Science Minister) “ The Government remain absolutely committed to developing Daresbury and Harwell as sites and innovation campuses. Figures have been quoted in some of the press in the north-west about potential job losses, and I say in response that for a number of years there have been plans to close the second generation light source, or SRS), and some redundancies will be associated with that. Because of the difficult decisions the STFC has had to make, it has announced a voluntary redundancy programme for all its sites, not just Harwell, but Daresbury and in Scotland as well. It will be some time before the pattern of voluntary redundancies becomes clear. I do not think that it is right to say that there is a definite figure for job losses at Daresbury or anywhere else. The Government will, of course, continue to monitor the situation closely. ”

An STFC adjournment debate on 15 Jan 08 (read full transcript ), included a more extended response by the Minister:

Ian Pearson MP (Science Minister) “ Harwell and Daresbury will develop into prime locations for world-class research and development. Harwell will be a scientific and high-technology commercial cluster and provide the opportunity for the public sector to work alongside businesses exploiting research. We are close to announcing the commercial partner selected to take forward the development of the campus, by means of a joint venture company that will be formed between the STFC and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority , representing public sector interests at the Harwell and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory sites and a private sector developer. The commercial developer has been selected on the basis of its sharing the Governments vision for Harwell and of its relevant expertise and its commitment to financial investment in the development of the campus on a 50:50 basis. ”

A question about Daresbury was put to the Prime Minister during PMQ on 16 Jan 08

Mike Hall MP “ Daresbury laboratory in my constituency has been carrying out world-leading scientific research for 46 years. The science and innovation campus at Daresbury is a huge success, attracting science and high-tech businesses and creating high-quality jobs. Two reviews are about to take place - the McKillop review and the light source review - both of which will have an impact on the future of Daresbury laboratory. The knee-jerk reaction of the STFC Council to cut research grants by 25 per cent. and staff by 25 per cent. to meet an £80 million shortfall in its £1.9 billion budget is a cause for concern ”

Gordon Brown MP (The Prime Minister) “ Daresbury is a world-class facility. I am proud that we have such a facility in our country and in the north-west region, as well as an innovation centre that is world beating and path breaking in its research. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are two reviews. The [Sir Tom] McKillop review will consider how best we can meet the future needs of Daresbury. We have increased the amount of money to be spent on the STFC Council by 13 per cent. during the spending review period. I hope that we will be able to see an expansion of the work done at Daresbury, which will benefit the whole country. ”

The Economist editorial Newton's law of funding , on 19 Dec 07 included this item on the implications of CERN budgetary increases:

“ On December 14th, for example, the British delegation to CERN .. abstained from a vote to increase the budget to make best use of the LHC. A vote for a rise, British delegates said, would be a vote for job losses elsewhere in physics. The budget was carried nonetheless and Britain is obliged to pay up. ”

confirmed in the statement from Prof Richard Wade during the Open session of CERN Council.

The second evidence session in their Science Budgets Allocation enquiry was held on 20 Feb 08, with a great deal of discussion of the viability of Daresbury Laboratory (read transcript ),

Q167 Phil Willis MP “ What does world-class science mean at Daresbury?

Ian Pearson MP “ firstly, if you look at the STFC's delivery plan and if you look at their published statements about Daresbury as a science and innovation campus, they talk about developing the Cockcroft Institute which will have world-class accelerator science; they talk about the Hartree Centre which we anticipate will have world-class computational science and they talk about setting up a centre for detector systems as well. As you will be aware, Daresbury has been working on SRS and the next generation light source.

Q168 Phil Willis MP “ They are all going, Minister. They are all going. You are not making a guarantee for any of those. All that science is disappearing. It is just hot air.

Ian Pearson MP “ It is not true to say that all that science is disappearing. The fact that SRS was going to close has been known for a considerable period of time.

And there are redundancies associated with that which have already been announced. As you will see from the STFC's press release on this matter, apart from the SRS closures, there are not intended to be any compulsory redundancies certainly before the McKillop Review reports and one of the things that the Government have done, as I am sure you will appreciate, is that we have asked Sir Tom McKillop to conduct a review about the future of Daresbury. I actually believe that Daresbury has a very bright future indeed and I expect that, over the next few months, we will be able to see some positive announcements about Daresbury, but it is undoubtedly a fact that, as a result of the decisions on Diamond which were taken a number of years ago and the decision that was taken last year on 4GLS, there are problems in the interim and I cannot deny that.

Dr Brian Iddon MP “ I am sure you are aware that the formation of Cockcroft Institute on the Daresbury site was a combination pulling together Liverpool University, Manchester and Lancaster Universities. They were attracted to come on to that site because of the world-class accelerator and work that was going on there, some of which has moved now and some of which is uncertain. The Director told us on Monday when we visited the site that he was attracted to come to Daresbury all the way from the United States of America and indeed three other people came on the reverse brain drain because of the creation of Cockcroft on that site and because of the facilities there: the computational facilities, the fact that there were engineers there who could build advance instruments that the world has not seen before, because there was a world-class library on the site which we hear is going to close or it has potential to close. He told us frankly on Monday that he is clearing off and other people who were attracted on the reverse brain drain will also clear off unless some definite decisions are taken about the future of Daresbury. The general feeling on the Daresbury site on Monday was that a decision has been taken behind the scenes by the STFC to concentrate basic science at the Harwell site and to develop Daresbury as a technology park and we heard also that three major new companies were coming on to the site to join the others. I put it to you: do you believe that world-class companies will be attracted to the Daresbury site if the basic science there is being run down as it clearly is at the moment?

Q170 Phil Willis MP “ That is the key point, Minister

Ian Pearson MP “ Clearly, there are decisions that follow from the closure of SRS which has been known, as I say, for some considerable period of time and following the review on the next generation light source where it was decided that neither 4GLS nor Sapphire were likely to be appropriate. Let me very clear on this. Let me quote from the press release that the STFC issued. It says, "At its meeting on 29 January 2008, the Science and Technologies Facilities Council confirmed its commitment to the development of the Daresbury science and innovation campus as one of two national science and innovation campuses that it will develop". It goes on to say, "The Council is committed to retaining key scientific and technology expertise at Daresbury in high performance computing, accelerator and detector research development for next generation facilities and underpinning technologies and is looking to expand expertise on this site as its plans develop". There is undoubtedly a period of change going through which is very difficult for those who are working at Daresbury, but the STFC have stated on the record and through their Council that they are committed to developing Daresbury and that is exactly what we want to see as a government.

Q171 Dr Evan Harris MP “ You do not believe everything that is in a press release, even your own, do you? It is not a statement of fact, it is an aspiration and, if that aspiration comes to fruition ---

Ian Pearson MP “ This is a decision that has been taken by the STFC Council and it is confirming its commitment to this which is exactly what the Government have said they want to see because, as a government matter of policy, we want to see the development of Daresbury and Harwell as campuses.

Q172 Dr Evan Harris MP “ Let me tell you what the Cockcroft Centre actually said to us. "Are the plans to make Daresbury a Science and Innovation campus?" and that is a term you used. "We fear the answer is 'no'. Lack of support of the STFC leadership for scientific flagship facilities on the Daresbury campus by design renders such a plan incredulous. The Cockcroft Centre by itself without .. Daresbury Laboratory will have no reason to be on the site and will retreat to the universities failing the lofty goals.

The Select Committee evidence session prompted an article 21 Feb 08 Top scientists at troubled Daresbury campus threaten to quit article in Liverpool Daily Post which cited leading scientists at the troubled Daresbury science research campus are threatening to quit and return to the United States, unless the Government quickly guarantees its future. Key staff at the Cockcroft Institute - a national centre for accelerator science - revealed their disillusionment at the running down of the laboratory, near Warrington, to visiting MPs this week According to Prof Swapan Chattopadhyay (Director, Cockcroft Institute)

“ If what the STFC is proposing [for Daresbury] takes place, then we are in great danger of losing real talent. The reverse brain drain that has taken place over the last five years, that brought over ex-patriates from throughout the world, will definitely go into reverse again. Those scientists need to hear that Daresbury campus will be a facility that does science that can compete on the international stage. A scientific laboratory, not a technology park. ”

According to the report some scientists left prestigious jobs at Harvard and Stanford as part of a `reverse brain drain' triggered by the astonishing success of Daresbury in recent years.Their devastating threat to go home adds to growing pressure on the Government to rethink plans for £80m cuts to three laboratories run by STFC. The MPs, who have launched an inquiry into the science cash crunch, told Mr Pearson his pledge that Daresbury had a rosy future was simply `hot air'. Committee chairman Phil Willis said: `All those scientists are going, minister'.

The Liberal Democrat MP accused Mr Pearson of not understanding the need for cutting edge science in order to attract leading scientists, who would not come to another science business park. But the science minister while admitting there was low morale at the campus insisted the impact of the spending squeeze was exaggerated. Another report on 21 Feb 08 titled Don't sacrifice basic science for research, say MPs in Education Guardian reports testimony:

“ There are clear rumours that the STFC plans to close down basic science at Daresbury, and develop it [instead] as a technology site ”

See also Minister admits that Daresbury faces a long slog after 350 job cuts from Liverpool Daily Post.

The third (and final) Select Committee evidence session on 27 Feb 08 (see transcript) also included considerable discussion on Harwell and Daresbury, including witnesses Prof Swapan Chattopadhyay (Director, Cockcroft Institute) and Prof Richard Holdaway (Director, Space Science and Technology, RAL). Listen via Parliament TV or MP3 .

Q290 Ian Stewart MP “ What would the Daresbury science campus be for without a new facility?

Professor Chattopadhyay: “ Daresbury had a facility, which was the synchrotron radiation one, before that there was a synchrotron for nuclear physics, there has always been a facility which is the engine which drives science. Even if you have technology centres, you need scientific facilities on which to develop the technology.

Q291 Ian Stewart MP “ So what happens if they do not have the new facility at Daresbury?

Professor Chattopadhyay: “ Then it will cease to be a scientific campus.

Q292 Dr Iddon MP “ If I could follow that up a bit more bluntly, if we lose ALICE (there is some doubt about ALICE), 4GLS has been postponed, there is some doubt about EMMA, and we heard that the Daresbury Library is closing, my blunt question is, can basic science survive on the Daresbury site if all those things come to happen?

Professor Chattopadhyay: “ If such a thing happened to Daresbury or the Rutherford Lab, no lab can survive with that kind of diminution of capacity. It is a very flawed vision for a site.

Q294 Phil Willis MP “ Sat in your seat last week was the Minister who gave a commitment that there would be world class science on the Daresbury site. Do you have any indication from where you are sitting, as the Director of the Cockcroft Institute, that following the closure of the major facilities there will be any world class science available on that site?

Professor Chattopadhyay: “ Given this plan, if it is true, I doubt it. However, I must record for your sake that I think Her Majesty's Government did not probably intend such a consequence for any laboratory, not just Daresbury or Rutherford. I think there is a mixed message coming to me from the highest level of Government, that there is a commitment to the Daresbury site for science and operational facilities but that stands in stark contradiction to what I have been hearing from STFC in the strongest possible terms. Under those conditions there has to be a very critical review of the managerial capacity and vision of STFC and one must not hide behind foreign principles.

which was followed up later on in the session with

Q308 Graham Stringer MP “ Swapan, you said earlier there was a possibility that Daresbury would end up being a business park. Do you believe that is the policy of the STFC to move everything out of Daresbury and leave it as a science business park?

Professor Chattopadhyay: “ I can tell you what the perception is both within the Laboratory and in the international community, and I tend to agree with that perception, it is that STFC still does not really know exactly what it wants to do in terms of the future portfolio. The two organisations, the CCLRC and PPARC, which came into being are still not integrated in one. The primary functions of the senior management will be to make STFC first of all an organisation, a functional unit, and then to determine the future, and that has not taken place. They do not have an adequate understanding of their business needs, and the vision espoused by the two campuses and international science is considered to be incomplete and a reflection of the fact they are coming to grips with the future. Keith actually admitted that STFC management is coming to grips with it, which is reflected in the restructuring of his own management and staff. Given what I have heard, that it is going to be three centres of technology - computational science, further science and technology and possibly science instrumentation - and nothing else, I would think that if that is by design by STFC then there is a flawed vision there. It is not for me to tell you whether that is really intended by STFC or not, but since I am getting mixed messages from the Government which expects me to deliver on science and knowledge exchange I think there should be scrutiny of the vision put forward by STFC for the two sides.

Q309 Graham Stringer MP “ So you are really saying it is a sin of omission rather than commission; it is ignorance rather than a direct objective of turning it into a science park?

Professor Chattopadhyay: “ I think it is a flawed vision. I came into this situation as the two agencies were merging. I had a meeting with the most recently appointed CEO in the first week of my appointment and I had a hint of this vision coming from him. I was dismayed by that and I registered my concern with him at the end of April last year.

followed up later in the session with

Q353 Dr Harris: “ In respect of the investment in Daresbury, your Science Board in a note to your Council meeting on 21 November said that its view was, "to minimise overheads and maximise synergies, Science Board felt that there is no alternative to closing the Daresbury Laboratory in the current budgetary climate." That is pretty clear actually. Yet your decision does not appear to be that, I think, because ---

Peter Warry “ Our decision is absolutely not that.

Q354 Dr Harris: “ Our decision is absolutely not that.

Peter Warry “ No, it is not. That is the Science Board giving the Council some advice about how it should manage its overall budget. The Council has responsibilities which go beyond science. We have a responsibility to provide facilities to make economic impact and so on. So I can well understand that if you look at this purely from maximising science, then let us focus everything on to a single point, but we have wider responsibilities.

Q355 Dr Harris: “ So the job of your executive officers is to take on board the science but to take into account in their advice to Council some of these other issues you have mentioned. You would rely on your chief executive to do that?

Peter Warry “ Or the Council.

Q356 Dr Harris: “ Or indeed the Council. The chief executive said in his note, before the Science Board put in their view, that his proposal was to "... concentrate most if not all core in-house capability on the Harwell campus and plan for all future national large facilities to be located there. This would mean ....", second bullet point, "... working with the private sector and the NWDA to develop the Daresbury campus primarily as a private sector venture with some core scientific and/or technology expertise retained either within the STFC or transferred into a university or private sector company." Your press release of 21 January and perhaps other notifications do not even seem to back the advice of your chief executive either.

Peter Warry “ No, they will not. What you are seeing there is the on-going Council discussion. Because we have had to pare back the programme, it is absolutely appropriate that we should look long and hard at doing some of the drastic things and you have mentioned one, we looked also at getting out of a major subscription such as CERN, we looked at all these extremely unimaginable options before we actually came down and said, "That is wrong." You are just picking on a point in the debate.

Q357 Dr Harris: “ We are interested in scrutinising your decisions. I cannot see, and maybe we have not got it all - perhaps you could send it - the documentation, the advice you got, which was so convincing that it persuaded your Council to ignore the advice of the Science Board and indeed to reject the recommendation, as you describe it, of the chief executive. I have not seen that and we have been seen a lot of stuff. Was there something or did it just emerge in discussions? Was there perhaps a phone call from the Government?

Peter Warry “ There was not a phone call from the Government, let me tell you that.

Q358 Dr Harris: “ A fax, email?

Peter Warry “ No, not even that.

The Science Board recommendations discussed here were noted in Minutes from 15 Nov 07 released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

This session reported in Science research council under fire for cuts in Education Guardian and Daresbury cuts 'mean it must close' say scientists in Liverpool Daily Post in which Evan Harris MP, read out a Science Board memo, which warned:

“ There is no alternative to closing Daresbury in the current climate. ”

and a separate note from Prof Keith Mason suggested

“ all future national facilities to be located at Harwell [..with Daresbury..] primarily a private sector venture ”

Professor Mason said those proposals had now been decisively ruled out, insisting:

“ That advice was made at a time when the financial situation, believe it or not, looked worse than it currently is. predict that, in five years' time, Daresbury will be a shiny success story, with thousands more jobs on the site. ”

This offers some reassurance as the north-west region cannot afford to lose such centres of expertise as those at Daresbury according to an editorial Expertise we must not lose in Liverpool Daily News

On 11 Mar 08 STFC announced the launch of the New UK Light Source Project. According to Dr Frances Quinn (NLS project manager

“ This is a great opportunity to develop a world-leading facility in the UK that builds upon the considerable expertise we have at the Daresbury and Rutherford Laboratories, Diamond Light Source Limited and the universities.

During Science and Engineering week, Rt Hon John Denham MP took part in a Read webchat on 13 Mar 08 including the following Q&A

Lee Jones “ Given the Government's often-stated position on the apparent bright future of Daresbury Laboratory, and the excellent work being undertaken there by the Accelerator Science and Technology Centre on the ERLP/ALICE prototype 4th generation particle accelerator light source, what comments will the Minister make on the abject lack of funding available from the STFC to even complete this facility. Furthermore, how can Government and the STFC continue to claim that the Cockcroft Institute model is a success when neither party appears prepared to commit the funds required to permit any form of long-standing prosperity at Daresbury through the completion and exploitation of the ERLP/ALICE facility, or to guarantee the long-term future of Daresbury Laboratory as the centre-piece of the Science & Innovation Campus by guaranteeing that the UK's Next Generation Light Source Facility will be built there, where the expertise to design and operate electron accelerators has resided for the last 45 years?

Rt Hon John Denham MP “ The Government is committed to the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus and this commitment is repeated in today's White Paper. The decision of the STFC not to proceed with the 4GLS was taken after a scientific review but I am pleased that the STFC has just initiated a new light source project which will draw on the substantial scientific expertise and technology capability of the Daresbury laboratory. The STFC will complete the ERLP as a technology demonstrator for accelerator science. Because the 4GLS project had been part of the future vision at Daresbury I have asked Sir Tom McKillop to review how best to take forward the science and innovation campus but there should be no doubt about our commitment to future success and our desire to see further investment in Daresbury as a Science and Innovation Campus.

During MP questions on 26 Mar 08, Daresbury was discussed (see Hansard report )

Helen Southworth MP “ As science is so important to the north-west and to the UK economy, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the science research council retains key scientific skills at Daresbury laboratory so that we can continue to produce world-leading science there?

Gordon Brown MP (The Prime Minister) “ I can tell my hon. Friend, who has fought hard for all the investments made at Daresbury science park, that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is committed to creating a science and innovation campus at Daresbury. That was announced in the Budget of 2006 and confirmed in December 2007. The next step is that Sir Tom McKillop, the chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, has been asked to include Daresbury in his north-west review. We are committed to additional investment in science and technology in my hon. Friends region, and to all the jobs that flow from that, making it possible for the north-west to continue to increase employment during a difficult period for the world economy.

Better news for Daresbury was announced on 14 Aug 08 in a STFC press release Goodman, UKAEA and STFC link up to establish world-leading location for science and innovation (see also STFC Gateway Centre update)

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Section Last Updated: Apr 2008

There have been assurances from both STFC and Diamond from 21 Dec 07 that capital (construction) costs of Diamond and ISIS TS2 are not the origin for the current financial difficulties, since the shortfall is in cash allocations rather than capital.

Indeed, the Sixth Report of the Science and Technology Committee published in Mar 07 notes in Section 5 that

“ The STFC will have significant funds to expend... There were concerns that the STFC would be hampered by CCLRC liabilities, but we have been reassured by the Minister of Science [Malcolm Wicks] that these will not be transferred to the STFC. ”

(see also Shortfall for big science from Research Fortnight on 21 Mar 07). Nevertheless, these large facilities remain of concern to many astronomers (and the IUSS Committee). Overall (capital + cash) increases for STFC reported in Parliament to questions over the £80 million shortfall mask the flat-cash allocation for CSR07.

According to the National Audit Office report on Big Science: Public Investment in Large Scientific Facilities from Jan 07 Diamond Phase I and II cost £263 million and £120 million (as of Autumn 06) in capital investment, respectively, of which the majority was obtained from the Large Facilities Capital Fund (LFCF, £308.6 million), supplemented by the Welcome Trust (£53.6 million) and CCLRC capital funding (£21 million). The LFCF supports large-scale, strategic infrastructure projects in UK universities and Research Councils, with an annual budget of approx £100 million. Reporting in the Oct 07 Sixtieth Report of the Select Ctte on Public Accounts,

“ Phase I of the Diamond Synchrotron had cost £10 million more than its business case budget, which had however included no element for contingencies ”

while Phase II was reported as being £20 million over [capital] budget, as at Mar 07 when CCLRC merged with PPARC to form STFC. However, according to testimony from the Science and Technology committee from 17 Jan 07

Q333. Dr Evan Harris MP “ .. I asked that the CCLRC was currently in deficit and would that have an impact on the overall grant-giving budget when it was merged with PPARC. ”

Prof Sir Keith O'Nions “ .. the answer that I give now is that the budgets of those two councils have to be left without any legacy difficulties at the time the new council [STFC] starts in April [07]. ”

which was confirmed in a written answer from the Minister, reproduced in the Science and Technology committee's report, i.e. STFC will not inherit a deficit from CCLRC.

Increases in operating costs at ISIS and Diamond, plus the requirement to pay circa £10m in VAT on running costs, have been admitted as relevant to the STFC shortfall in CSR07, since no special increase for their running costs were provided, so these have to be absorbed in the budget, with impact upon the grants-line, ATC and Gemini etc. See 22 Nov 07 seminar womersley.ppt by Prof John Womersley

“ While the settlement will enable the Council to pursue much of our planned programme, the costs of running the STFC will increase not just with inflation but also due to the increased costs of operating some new major facilities. ”

Specifically, according to the National Audit Office report .

“ the costs of operating the Diamond Synchrotron .. are predicted to be in the region of £32 million per annum when the first seven beamlines are operational which should be in 2007. When the second set of beamlines become operational in 2011, the project team predicts that the cost of operating the facility .. will rise to around £46 million. ”

This agrees with the £30 million cost of Diamond operations to STFC in 2007/08 [STFC funds 86% of Diamond], according to the 21 Dec 07 Diamond news item. Annual total operating costs for Diamond Phase I and II represent a 89% increase [at 2006/07 prices] compared to when it was originally approved - rising from £24.4 million to £46.1 million (once Phase II becomes operational in 2011) as noted in the Sixtieth Report of the Select Ctte on Public Accounts which indicate

“ The Research Councils are forecasting significant increases in operating costs for five of the six most mature projects, for two of them more than 80% over the figure appearing in the original business case [Diamond and ISIS]. The Public Accounts Facilities Council will bear most of the impact totalling about £27 million per year. The Research Councils will have to bear the cost of any increased spending. ”

prompting the opening question from the chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Public Accounts on 9 May 07 as detailed in the Minutes of Evidence

Q1. Edward Leigh MP: (Chair) “ .. the Diamond Synchrotron at Harwell .. is certainly a fantastic piece of science.. Having said that, if you look at .. Diamond Phase I and II .. and the forecast operating costs and the percentage change, you will see 89%. It is not very good, is it? I wonder why these forecast operating costs for these large scientific facilities are so consistently underestimated. ”

Sir Brian Bender: (Permanent Secretary, DTI) “ It is not satisfactory... in the case of Diamond the early estimates were based on the running costs of the previous machine at Daresbury and those doing those estimates had not taken sufficient account of the greater scale of sophistication of Diamond. ”

Q2. Edward Leigh MP: “ You would have thought that would have been fairly obvious, would you not? ”

Sir Brian Bender: “ They should have done it. Cutting straight to the chase, we absolutely accept the NAO findings that we need to improve our understanding of how the operating costs might grow in proportion to more realistic estimates of future demand. ”

However, according to Prof Mason in the 21 Dec 07 Diamond press release

“ The actual costs of operation have been known for a long time [2003] and have not changed. ”

- see report from Prof Norman McCubbin and Prof Mike Green at the 13 Dec 07 STFC Town Meeting. This apparently explains why the Diamond operating costs represent only a minor contribution to the current STFC financial difficulties (increases in ISIS operating costs are apparently more substantial). Still, Prof Ken Pounds summarised the view of many astronomers and physicists in his 21 Dec 07 Times Higher Education Supplement article

“ Ring-fencing those [Diamond and ISIS operating] costs within its allocation made the emerging damage to the council's core science inevitable, with scientists' frustrations increased by the knowledge that their own disciplines make little use of Diamond or ISIS. If the operational costs of these facilities remain ring-fenced, and with the exchange-rate protection for the UK subscriptions to CERN, ESA and ESO set to be lost from next year, the longer-term threat to UK research in astronomy, particle physics, nuclear physics and space science is all too clear. ”

Diamond operating costs came up during testimony to the IUS Select Committee on 21 Jan 08

Q79. Phil Willis MP “ The big issue here - you will pardon me if I and members of the Committee have got information from other sources which may be wrong - is that this is really a cock-up. In reality, if we take the Diamond Light Source, for instance, you have failed to calculate the costs of actually running that once it goes into full operation ”

Prof Keith Mason “ That is simply not true. The costs of running the Diamond Light Source were established when Diamond Light Source Ltd was established in 2003. They were correctly determined at that point and they have not changed so these numbers have been known for a long time. ”

Q80. Phil Willis MP “ To stop you there, two years ago you had a £10 million overrun overrun on Diamond; last year it was a £20m overrun on it; you have suddenly been presented with a £10.5m bill for VAT on it. Are you saying that all those were planned deficits? ”

Prof Keith Mason “ Forgive me for not having these numbers immediately to mind, but in terms of the capital phase of Diamond it was essentially on budget and on time with a minor variance. ”

Q81. Phil Willis MP “ Are you saying £10 million and £20 million is a minor variance? ”

Prof Keith Mason “ Ten million on a budget of approaching £300 million is not a bad outcome for such a major project of that sort of complexity... ”

Q83. Phil Willis MP “ The final bit on Diamond is that on your Delivery Plan submission on light sources there was this final sentence which says: `Our ability to fully exploit the facility will depend on the success in making the savings elsewhere in this plan' so there is a clear statement there that in order to now run Diamond you really have to slash and burn elsewhere. ”

Prof Keith Mason “ It is true to say that the baseline budget allocation to the ex-CCLRC was not fully raised to compensate for the running costs of Diamond and ISIS Target Station II. Of course there are savings which come in from closing the SRS and that was factored into the calculation. It is true that we are in a situation with flat cash settlements, the buying power of the budget is eroded and yet we are doing more things. Diamond is a great thing, ISIS Target Station is a great thing but they do require more running costs which means that we have to restructure the programme in order to pay for them. ”

The NAO report Big Science: Public Investment in Large Scientific Facilities from Jan 07 states in paragraph 2.16:

“ By autumn 2006, five of the six most mature projects had revisited their approved business case estimates of annual operating costs and were forecasting significantly increased operating costs. The most significant impact will be on the CCLRC which is hosting both the Diamond Synchrotron and the second ISIS target station. The anticipated total increase in its operating costs is in the region of £25 million per annum at 2006-07 prices or around 12% of the Council's current annual operating expenditure. If the Council does not secure additional resources, this degree of cost growth could exacerbate existing constraints which, for example, limit the number of days the Council operates the existing ISIS target station to 180 days. ”

The Minutes of the 25Jul07 STFC Council meeting referred to concerns over an inherited legacy problem of £40m (item 4.1), also referred to in Science Board minutes released to Prof Mike Green under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 , and made publically available on 2 Apr 08 (see update ).

In response to a question by Eric Martlew MP on the cost of Diamond operations for 2008/09, Science minister Ian Pearson MP answered on 14 Mar 08 that STFC plan to spend £27m (see Q&A ) On 1 Apr 08 a debate on the Future of Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus took place in Westminster Hall, initiated by Mike Hall MP (debate starts 1:30 into stream - read transcript ). On 2 Apr 08, Minister of Science, Ian Pearson MP visited Daresbury Laboratory, and announced a major new office and laboratory space (at the innovation centre), although he was unable to announce continued funding for ALICE. This was reported in an article Ministers announcement of £25m laboratory expansion and hope for 1,000 jobs fails to calm fears in Liverpool Daily Post.

Several of the conclusions from the Science Budget Allocations (SBA) report from 30 Apr 08 concerned legacy issues

We remain concerned that the former PPARC community has been saddled with a £75m (at 2006/07 prices) funding deficit derived from CCLRC to meet the additional running costs of Diamond and ISIS TS2, despite assurances from the Government that STFC would be formed without any legacy issues. We conclude that the combined budget of PPARC and CCLRC was never going to be sufficient for STFC to manage Diamond, ISIS TS2 the other large facilities and all the PPARC research programmes. This was noted by the NAO in Jan 2007, and therefore the Government should have known and should have acted upon it. The fact that it did not has had unfortunate consequences. We believe that the Government should ensure that its original commitment to leave no legacy funding issues from the previous Councils is honoured.

and Daresbury Laboratory

We do not see a major distinction between Keith Mason's proposal of 2 Nov 07 to move major facilities from Daresbury to RAL and the situation in which Daresbury currently finds itself. SRS is closing, 4GLS has been postponed and the future of ALICE is uncertain; the establishment of a computational science centre - important and welcome as this development is - and the influx of industry R&D teams do not amount to the presence of a national facility.

It is clear that Daresbury's future under the current vision is as a technology and business park. This cuts across previous Government assurances and pronouncements about the importance of Daresbury in Britain's overall strategy of scientific excellence. We urge STFC either to commit fully to science at Daresbury, which would include confirmation of at least one large national facility and a concrete programme of future activity and scientific excellence at Daresbury, which can then be the subject of proper scrutiny and review, or to make an honest assessment of, and statement on, the future of Daresbury as a technology and business park.

We have no doubt of the desire of the Government to see a thriving Daresbury campus and we note from previous announcements that this would include major science facilities. However, the Government must make clear, in line with previous commitments, how it intends to deliver future large-scale science facilities on the Daresbury campus.

We recommend that STFC install a Campus Director at Daresbury and RAL

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International Linear Collider

Section Last Updated: Sep 2008

For particle physicists, the biggest shock was pulling out of ILC, for which the UK has been invested more than £30 million since 1991 - see response from UK Linear Collider Collaboration on 12 Dec 07. The STFC Delivery Plan states it does not foresee a practicable path towards the realization of ILC as currently conceived on a reasonable timescale. According to Prof Brian Foster (European Director ILC) in a 13 Dec 07 Daily Telegraph article:

“ For the UK to withdraw from the ILC at this crucial stage would be like refusing to refuel the lead racing car at the last pit stop before the finish line due to concerns about the cost of petrol. ”


“ It is scientific vandalism to throw all this away in order to make a small dent in a much larger STFC financial shortfall substantially brought about by the merger of two earlier research councils and totally unrelated to particle physics research or the merits of this project. ”

To stop you there, two years ago you had a £20 million overrun on it; you have suddenly been presented with a to which Prof Albrecht Wagner (chair, Intl. Ctte for Future Accelerators) adds

“ This represents an extraordinary waste of the investment and leadership established by the UK in this truly international project ”

Writing in a 14 Dec 07 Times Higher Education Supplement article , Prof Ken Peach said

“ The decision to cease investment in the International Linear Collider particle accelerator made neither strategic nor scientific sense ”

and added that the Delivery Plan was

“ a truly appalling document which gives little idea of the depth of the financial crisis caused by the underfunding of STFC. There is already, today, damage to physics at home, where young researchers are afraid for their careers, and to our reputation abroad, where this abrupt change of attitude has been noticed by our international partners. ”

According to the PPARC Annual Delivery Plan Report 06/07, £3 million funding was provided for Linear Collider R&D effort. The ILC was referred to during the 10 Jan 08 Commons debate on Science, Technology and Innovation (transcript available here ).

Adam Afriyie MP (Shadow Science Minister): “ .. Ann Winterton and other members have demonstrated the effects around the country of the £80 million deficit in the science budget. The problems are also manifesting themselves internationally through our potential withdrawal from the linear collider project among others. The Minister, given his responsibility, must have some interest in our embarrassing withdrawal. Doubtless, he shares some of the embarrassment, but does he accept any responsibility for the problems that are affecting our international reputation? ”

Ian Pearson MP (Science Minister) “ I have a deep and abiding interest in science and the ability of our science base to contribute to our economic prosperity and social well-being in future. I passionately believe that it is vital to continue to invest in science. That is one of the reasons for the Governments doubling the science budget in the past 10 years. It will triple by 2010-11. I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at some of the facts: the STFCs budget is increasing by 13.6 per cent. and the overall science budget is increasing from £ 3.4 billion to £ 4 billion. Yes, difficult decisions must be made. On particle physics, the STFC says that its priority is CERN - I believe that that is right and that it will be recognised as such by the scientific community. ”

ILC was mentioned during testimony at the 21 Jan 08 IUS Select Committee hearing

Q65. Phil Willis MP “ The other point we have received a lot of information on is really the International Linear Collider and the abandonment of any involvement in that programme. Surely the fact that we are continuing to invest significantly in the Large Hadron Collider demonstrates a commitment to this area of particle physics and therefore we do not need, given tight resources, to actually involve ourselves with the International Linear Collider. ”

Prof Peter Main “ The International Linear Collider of course is much further down the line. I think the biggest criticism we would put forward there is that the decision was made with very, very little consultation with the people involved. The people who have been involved - Brian Foster at Oxford is the European leader of the ILC programme - were not given any opportunity to present their case before the project was terminated. It is not useful at this sort of meeting to get involved in the ins and outs of whether it is a good thing; they are very complicated issues. It is really a question of the time available for the decision and the lack of consultation. ”

The decision to withdraw from ILC was confirmed in a STFC media release on 7 Feb 08, which was further reported in an article UK confirms withdrawal from ILC from Physics World. According to Prof Brian Foster

“ At no time has council or any of its subsidiary bodies, or the chief executive, seen fit to discuss this ill-informed decision with me or our international partners, but has instead presented it as a fait accompli.

While I am grateful that various STFC officials are working constructively with me to try to rescue some of the world-leading work in the UK, I can never accept the legitimacy of the deeply flawed process that has led to the STFCs withdrawal from the ILC. I will continue to make the case for this vital world project in the hope that STFC will rejoin in the future ”

Indeed, the US is also recoiling from a poor physics budget, with very serious implications for ILC as noted in a Nature editorial Don't Panic from 10 Jan 08. Congress cut its ILC contribution for the financial year by 75 per cent, and since the other 25 per cent has been spent already, work on the design by the US has temporarily ceased. The close timing of the UK and US decisions was picked up in the 19 Jan 08 New Scientist article Physics reels as the financial axe falls under the `coincidence or conspiracy?' banner, which quotes Prof Peter Littlewood

“ It's an accounting cock-up and bad management. It could have been seen coming six months ago. There is clearly something broken in the system because i don't think the Government believes that they were cutting the science budget. ”

According to a 15 Jan 08 interview of Raymond Orbach by Science magazine on whether the Department of Energy is still committed to building the ILC in the US, he responded:

“ We are committed to high-energy physics. ... We have no intention of moving away from the basic R&D in the ILC, but it will have to be delayed... here was never, never, a suggestion in my comments [at Fermilab] or my actions that we were somehow moving away from the ILC. In fact, just the opposite. I was trying to include it under the rubric that we [use for] all of our construction projects. ”

The UK/US funding problems for ILC was discussed in a 18 Feb 08 BBC Radio 4 Today programme item from the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston - listen to mp3

Read slides presented by Prof Jenny Thomas at the STFC Science Board Town Meeting on 3 Mar 08. The timescale for a 500GeV ILC is predicted as mid-2020's, with a full costing of $13.5 billion, for which the UK government would not be forthcoming with the required £300m given other priorities. To date, detector R&D effort has cost £1m/yr for 5 years, and accelerator R&D effort has cost £3m/yr (pre-FEC) since April 2004. See also Unscientific American by Tim Watkin writing in Guardian's Comment is Free on 20 Mar 08

A Commons Question by Dr Blackman-Woods about the implications of the ILC withdrawal was answered on 31 Mar 08 by Science Minister Ian Pearson MP - see Q & A . Indeed, according to a summary of the 1 Apr 08 HEP Town Meeting (from John Fry) the UK's official withdrawal from the `current ILC' is a Council decision, and will stand, but generic Linear Collider R&D can and will be supported (the STFC Delivery Plan Scorecard from 1 Apr 08 notes "to withdraw support for the ILC specific activities by Oct 08).

On 8 Apr 08 the Prime Minister's Office issued a response to the physics funding e-petition , including

“ Some existing programme areas, including the International Linear Collider (ILC), will not be funded by STFC. The US Congress seems to share this sceptical view of the prospects for the ILC, and has cut US investment in it by 75% this year. The STFC's decision ensures that the UK's substantial investment in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN is exploited before embarking on a further facility of such scale. These decisions have been taken on the basis of peer-review evidence.

prompting the following reaction from Prof Brian Foster's in an article Peer review informed ILC pull-out in Physics World

“ `I think the statement about [ILC] peer review is government spin at its worst'.

plus a related analysis trail of ineptitude from Research Fortnight on 23 Apr 08. ILC was discussed by Prof Brian Foster in his First a tragedy, then farce forum item in Physics World from 1 Sep 08 (requires IOP subscription - view PDF). Following the successful LHC launch in 10 Sep 08, there followed an article Sit tight, a bigger bang is coming about ILC in Sunday Times

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Section Last Updated: Mar 2010

To date, the following statements, questions, debates and Early Day Motions in parliament have considered the outcome of CSR07 for STFC:

Ministerial responses from 10 Jan 08 involved restating the Department's award to STFC, but deferring to STFC to sort out their own priorities and deal with any difficult decisions themselves. Specifically,

Ann Winterton MP: “ Is the Minister aware of the potential damage that will be caused by the Governments reduction in support for academic research in science and its impact on Manchester university's school of physics and astronomy, including Jodrell Bank observatory, one of the worlds leading astronomical centres, which last year celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Lovell telescope? Will he review urgently the £80 million shortfall in research funding to prevent damage to the UKs research capacity and effectiveness in physical science, and to its international reputation? ”

Ian Pearson MP: (Science minister) “ It might help the House if I put a couple of facts on record. The budget of the STFC is going up over the next three years by 13.6%, an increase of £185 million over the budgetary period. The STFC will spend £1.9 billion during that three-year period .. Like other research councils, the STFC has to make some difficult decisions, and it has to decide what its priorities should be. The Government are concerned about the health of all the disciplines, which is one of the reasons we have asked RCUK to undertake a series of reviews of the health of the disciplines, starting with physics. Bill Wakeham will lead that review, and its terms and references have been scoped out. ”

A transcript of the debate is available here . This topic was followed up later in the debate:

Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods MP: “ I know that my hon. Friend is aware of the concern in the science community, in particular the physics sector, about the allocation of science funding, not least from the volume of questions asked by hon. Members this morning. I am sure that many will welcome the review of science funding announced by the Secretary of State. I am not certain that institutions that have invested heavily in physics, such as Durham university in my constituency, will be comforted by simply referring the matter to the research councils. Is there more that the Government could do to protect physics research in those excellent institutions, so that they remain economically competitive in terms of international research? ”

Rt Hon John Denham MP: (Secretary of State) “ I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. It is important to make a big statement of principle on this issue. The Haldane principle, established many years ago, says that Ministers should not intervene directly in the funding decisions of research councils. That is to protect the autonomy of research councils in deciding where research should take place. When the STFC made its proposals, despite its above-inflation increase in grant, to reduce certain areas of physics expenditure, it would not have been appropriate to breach the Haldane principle, to step in and to take money away from the MRC and give it to the STFC. However, because of the concerns, I did my job by asking Professor Bill Wakeham, the vice-chancellor of Southampton university, to produce a report on the health of physics as a discipline, which will consider our overall funding of physics, including those areas that have attracted controversy. ”

The following statement opened the adjournment debate on the topic of STFC on 15 Jan 08 in Westminster Hall (read transcript )

Ed Vaizey MP “ It is with some consternation that we learn that the STFC has circulated a letter to employees at Rutherford Appleton asking for voluntary redundancies, and the same has happened in Daresbury and at the Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh. As a result, certainly at Rutherford, between 300 and 600 scientists could be made redundant.
That is not the only crisis facing physics. There will also be a 25 per cent. cut in university research grants, which amounts to £20 million. In addition, there will be cuts to nuclear physics research programmes in the same week that the Government have announced their commitment to nuclear power. Finally, the STFC has withdrawn from major international projects, such as the Gemini Observatory and the ILC.

One might ask how on earth we have reached such a position. The STFC says that it has an £80 million deficit, so it is looking to make savings of £120 million and it is making scientists redundant. At the same time, the Minister is going around saying that he has increased the STFC budget by 13.6 per cent. We know that is what he will say again today because that is what he said at departmental questions last week. The attitude of the Minister and the Government seems to be that there is nothing that they can or should do. They are nowhere to be seen during this crisis and they say that they are not responsible for its effect, they are saying, Crisis? What crisis?

Indeed, the Minister has gone further. Apparently, the media were briefed before his now infamous appearance on the Today programme on 11 December that his Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills would not give in to complainers. Unfortunately for the Minister, the complainers are some of the country's most eminent physicists. If anything is more complicated than a comprehensive spending review, it is probably particle physics, so I am indebted to those physicists, who have put their intelligence to use analysing how the STFC's deficit has come about at a time when the Minister is going around saying that he has given the council a 13.6 per cent. increase.

If we analyse the extra £185 million in funding to the council, we find that £11.6 million, or 6.8 per cent., represents the increase in capital, £81.7 million, or 52.4 per cent., represents the non-cash increase and £91.9 million, or 8 per cent., represents the near-cash increase. Non-cash represents the provisions on the balance sheet for things such as future liabilities and depreciation, and the important point is that it cannot be spent as cash at all. What matters is near-cash, which can be spent on facilities, university grants and subscriptions. As I have shown, the annual rate of increase for the next three years is 2.7 per cent., which in effect constitutes a flat-cash settlement and is far below the 17 per cent. average given to other research councils. Of the so-called increase in funding, £40 million has already been eaten up by redundancy costs at the synchrotron radiation source at Daresbury and £35 million will go to meet the additional costs of running Diamond and ISIS 2. The important point, which has had to be teased out through freedom of information requests by some of our scientists, is that the STFC has been telling Ministers about the problem since July and painting clear scenarios of what will happen, depending on which settlement it was given.

Other factors that have come into play include the fact that money previously channelled to university research through the Higher Education Funding Council is now being channelled through the research councils. Although it looks as though the research councils have had a cash uplift, they are in fact spending not new money, but old money that was going towards research costs. That money is certainly welcome, and we welcome the reforms that the Government have made in terms of meeting full economic costs over the past few years, but the money that is being channelled through the research councils is not new. There is also the ongoing problem, not caused by the Government, of the growing cost of our international subscriptions, which are linked to GDP growth.

So the STFC is saying that it has had a flat-cash allocation, while the Minister is telling Parliament that it has had a 13.6 per cent. increase. It will be interesting to see how the Minister squares that circle. ”

subsequently followed up with

Ed Vaizey MP: “ I do not entirely blame the Government. There is great frustration in the relevant community at the way the STFC has gone about its business. However, at the heart of the matter lies the fact that the Government have told the scientific community that there has been a generous settlement, when every fact tells us that it is a flat-cash settlement, which is the reason why there must be cuts. ”

to which firstly Dr Evan Harris MP added:

“ If there are to be cuts, there is no doubt that cuts are planned there is a need to plan them coherently, instead of sending out redundancy requests, a scatter-gun approach that will not allow the science community and people who plan research programmes to work out the priorities. I hope that there will not be cuts. I entirely share the view of the hon. Member for Wantage about the figures. The Government cannot stand for panic cuts on their watch.

I spoke at a debate on science teaching in this Chamber earlier today, and it is important to recognise that we are short of home-grown physics graduates. The impact of the cuts on some of the relevant areas, for people who planned a career in physics and were looking forward to studying for a doctorate or to post-doctoral work, will be devastating. It will mean a flight of science and scientists from the area in question. I shall pursue the matter at Monday's Select Committee sitting, but I hope that the Minister will acknowledge not only the figures that he has been given, but also the likely impact of the cuts, even before we consider who is to blame. ”

continued by Sir Peter Soulsby MP

“ it is not good enough to have to wait for the Wakeham review, which will be too late to save the programmes that are under immediate threat. We need to know how the STFC got into the present mess. We need processes to ensure that its decision making is in future transparent, rational and responsive to the research community that it is supposed to serve. Above all else I hope that the Minister will be able to give an assurance that the immediate threats can be lifted, and that it will be possible to buy time to continue those essential programmes while the entire STFC funding situation is reviewed and assurances are established to prevent similar situations from threatening vital research in the future. ”

(referred to in Parliamentary Concern Over Funding of Physics Projects news item from University of Leicester ). The Science Minister, Ian Pearson MP, in response, noted

“ Any new organisation inevitably experiences a period of transition, and like all research councils the STFC faces challenging decisions to determine its priorities in the light of the resources available to it.

The STFC's delivery plan for the three years reflects its assessment of priorities across its activities, allowing it to manage its resources within the budget increases allocated to it... The Government are fully committed to the Haldane principle, which protects the autonomy of research councils in deciding what research should be pursued. On occasion, I get the impression that the hon. Member for Wantage has not looked in detail at the STFC's delivery plan, from which I shall quote two short sentences to give a flavour of what I mean. The plan states `The implementation of our strategy will require us to think in new ways about how we focus our investments.' That is right. The STFC's mission is to promote and deliver world-class science and to achieve a step change in the economic impact that the UK derives from its science through knowledge exchange and the training of skilled people.

However, that does not mean that nothing should ever change. The STFC has determined its highest priorities. The delivery plan states `To accommodate the major facilities coming on line and create sufficient financial flexibility to enable us to pursue some existing high priority planned programmes and new opportunities, we will implement a substantial programme of organisational restructuring.' I accept that point. The STFC is making its own decisions in its delivery plan about its new and highest priorities. We believe that, based on its assessments of the science, and in accordance with the Haldane principle, the STFC should make those decisions. ”

The Minister concluded with

“ Looking ahead, the STFC's mission - to deliver world-class science, to increase the UKs influence in the international arena, especially in relation to large facilities, and to achieve a step change in economic impact through knowledge exchange and the training of skilled people - is fully aligned with its new strategy. The STFC is well placed to contribute to cross-cutting priorities, which address some of the major, long-term challenges that we face; for instance, in energy, STFC research into fuel cells, photo-voltaic devices, renewable energy sources and technology for clean-burning coal offers potential for breakthroughs. ”

The 18 Feb 08 Early Day Motion on STFC by Sir Peter Soulsby MP states:

“ That this House notes with concern the recent STFC grant reductions to physics and astronomy research in UK universities and cuts to important programmes such as the Gemini Telescopes and the SPEAR radar; is further concerned at the impact that will have on the UK's international reputation in advanced physics; and calls for a change in the structure and leadership of the STFC ”

EDMs are formal motions submitted for debate in the House of Commons used to draw attention to specific campaigns, and demonstrate the extent of parliamentary support, and received 56 signatures as of Jan 09. According to Sir Peter Soulsby MP, reported in a Research Fortnight article Researchers and politicians demand changes at top of facilities council on 20 Feb 08

“ I don't think its for me to say who should go or who should replace them but I know that the people who are heading the STFC will find it very difficult to recover from this crisis of confidence. What has been so appalling has been the inability of those involved to get straight answers to reasonable questions about what has led to this situation, and the criteria used to reach what appear to be arbitrary decisions ”

A second EDM by Adam Afriyie MP from 29 Feb 08 notes:

“ That this House notes with concern the impact of the science budget on particle physics and astronomy in the UK; regrets resulting job losses in university physics departments and major UK facilities, including the Daresbury Laboratory, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the Astronomy Technology Centre; and calls for the Government to include in the Wakeham review of physics an assessment of the impact of the current funding crisis on the capacity and international reputation of UK science. ”

This EDM has attracted 68 signatures as of Jan 09. The following reports from Commons' Committees are relevant to the current crisis:

Top of page

2008 IUSS Inquiry

Section Last Updated: Feb 2009

DIUS Secretary of State Rt Hon John Denham MP gave evidence to the Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee about DIUS itself on 16 Jan 08 - listen to minutes 40-50 of this broadcast,

Dr Evan Harris MP “ .. if a problem arises between CSR's it is quite possible for you or the Government to take money from one area and put it in another. That is not affecting how it is spent; it is just money, because you could take it from the MRC's Innovation Fund and stick in the LFCF, and no-one is arguing that you have that power so you cannot say you are powerless not to ensure that a problem arising is not funded, like the STFC, arguably. ”

Rt Hon John Denham MP (Secretary of State) “ That is probably technically true, but it is important that we try to limit how we do that, and if a problem arises it is very often the case that my response is going to be to say, `Look: there is a problem here that I am concerned about and it would be good if this could be addressed', rather than me stepping in and saying, `I think this is a solution'. Let us take one particular example. Because of the implications of some of the decisions that were taken I was concerned about the possible implications for the health of physics as a discipline across the system as a whole, but obviously, talking about STFC and some of their decisions, I did not feel that it was my job, given that lots of physics is supported very healthily within this budget, to step in and say, `I think this amount of money should be taken from the MRC and put in to plug this gap'. For a start I would not have known which piece of research I was changing in the MRC. It seemed to me that the appropriate level of my intervention was to say, and I think this was initially done to Ian Diamond, the Chairman of RCUK, `Can we have a review of the health of physics as a discipline?', so that if there are consequences of these decisions which are wider than whether just this particular research project is going ahead but are about the health of the subject that is highlighted to us. ”

On 11 Mar 08, the IUS Committee become the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee . The Government rejected the inclusion of the term `science' in the name of the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills on the grounds that it would not be a good use of public money (see the government's response to the Last Report of Science and Technology Committee).

As noted above, the IUSS select committee have undertaken an inquiry into the Science Budget allocations - see IUSS parliament website . The purpose of the inquiry was to consider the consultation process that had led to the Delivery Plan; possible effects on universities and STFC establishments and their staff, plus possible damage to the UK's international reputation. The Committee will issue a report, to which the Government must respond, and would like to include a proposal for a way forward.

Phil Willis MP commented in his BBC Radio 4 Today interview on 14 Dec 07 that

“ .. my committee's going to examine .. who is responsible, where the fault lies, and indeed what can be done to save physics and particle physics in the UK ”

A Royal Society spokesman reported in the Education Guardian article from 8 Jan 08

“ A mistake was made somewhere, and it would be a good start if someone were to own up. DIUS does not always listen to what it is being told by the research councils, so an independent committee is needed to act as a middleman. ”

The Royal Society have released a statement to the Select Ctte, with the following comment on STFC:

“ When the formation of the STFC was first proposed 18 or more months ago, the Royal Society identified a number of issues that had to be addressed for the new structure to succeed. One of these was the interplay between providing the capital costs of building a major facility and the recurrent costs involved in enabling researchers to use it to best advantage... We also believe the cuts would reduce the UK's scientific return from existing world-class facilities, and risk jeopardising our reputation as reliable long-term collaborators. We .. suggest that money is used from the capital budget to cover the shortfall. ”

The RAS and IoP have issued a 11 Jan 08 joint statement for the IUS select committee, with the following key issues: Other interested parties, such as the Standing Conference of Astronomy Professors (SCAP) have also written to panel Members prior to the witness testimony - Listen to archival testimony from the following individuals from the first evidence session on 21 January 08

From testimony to the IUS Select Committee on 21 Jan 08

Q19. Phil Willis MP “ You just think that the rational explanation is that it has been a movement of funds from science which the Council no longer wishes to do to science which the Council wishes to do.

Q20. Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson “ I do not see it quite that way. I think that having completed Diamond and the ISIS II they felt obliged to fund the running costs of those facilities fully and I think the £80 million deficit is a deficit against continuing the programme as it stands at present. It is a cut, I think, against a level programme. The STFC feels they have to do certain things; they have to run Diamond and ISIS II fully having only just built them; they have to invest in the campuses which they made a big feature of in their Plan. Having done that they then have to look around at what else there is and that is where the blow has to fall; it has fallen both on the labs and on the universities. The universities are facing potentially 25% cuts.

Q23. Dr Brian Iddon MP “ Are you suggesting that the running costs for Diamond have not been budgeted for and that the outturn is greater than was in the original budget? Could you be specific about figures?

Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson “ I think you have to press the STFC about that. It is hard for us to have clear visibility about that.

Q25. Dr Des Turner MP “ I find it very difficult to understand why the difficulties with funding running costs of Diamond and ISIS should be a surprise; they should have been predictable. Were they not planned for?

Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson “ I think there have been some misunderstandings along the way and perhaps this is something that the Committee can pursue. I do not know for sure but my feeling is that there were two errors really one is in the allocation so basically the IUS wanted to focus the big increase in science especially on medical research which is an entirely justifiable thing to want to do. However, they went a little bit too far. The amount involved compared with the total budget is small; it is just that they overdid it. They did not appreciate that they were leaving STFC with a huge problem. I think that was an error.

Q26. Phil Willis MP “ So it is the Government's fault.

Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson “ Yes, I believe there was an error in the allocation. I do not think it was their intention to hit astronomy and particle physics in the way they did. The second part of the error though was at STFC. I think that STFC, having been given this budget, could have managed it in a slightly different way. I think that they almost provocatively set this headline figure of 25% to all university grants which immediately feels like a catastrophe for all the departments concerned. If it had been 10% or 12% or something then it would have just been regarded as bad weather, but 25% sounds like the first step in closing the fields down.

Q28. Mr Tim Boswell MP “ I have a quick question about reputation in two respects. Obviously science at this level is an international business. Has this damaged the reliability or the reputation of reliability of British science? Secondly, in terms of the participants - your scientists at the coal face of this - is the credibility of STFC itself and the system to deliver a reliable flow of funds also impaired?

Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson “ Absolutely, I think you have hit the nail on the head. UK physics, UK astrophysics and astronomy and particle physics have a very high international reputation. They are a key part of why the UK score so highly in science ratings. If you look at citations and publications these are areas with the highest international reputation and real harm is being done by the news of this level of cuts. In the Royal Astronomical Society we have many overseas fellows and I get e-mails all the time from them wondering what on earth is going on.

Prof Main “ We went to the trouble of contacting many of the people who did take part in the international review of physics just two years ago now and they made very similar comments. As a member organisation many of our members contacted us and I think it is fair to say that STFC has lost some of the confidence of the community.

Q29. Dr Gibson MP “ How would you like to resolve this situation? If you had a clear piece of paper from this morning, how do you think you can get it to some kind of compromise situation?

Prof Main “ We have spoken to DIUS, we have spoken to STFC and we have spoken to our community and all three of them seem to regret the current situation. No-one seems to have intended it but it is very difficult to unravel, as we have said. I think that what is important is that while Wakeham is spending the best part of this year reviewing physics and deciding what the medium term funding is according to the terms of reference we saw today, then I think we need to have something in place to prevent irreversible decisions being made in that period, decisions that later on we will not be able to unravel.

In a 24 Jan 08 from the Institute of Physics, Prof Peter Main explained

“ A number of major decisions were made with very little notice which is why the delivery plan has caused such an outcry. We are calling for a more considered approach. We want the Wakeham Review to explicitly take this issue into consideration and be given time to feed back to Government before irreversible damage is done.

In contrast, Prof Keith Mason maintained that the decisions to cut specific programmes had been made with the appropriate level of consultation, and questioned whether anyone is to blame, reiterating his view that the CSR outcome was reasonable but that difficult, strategic decisions had to be taken. Prof Mason was quoted in a 22 Jan 08
UK physics has 'brighter future' BBC news item

“ We have had to constrain some investments (particularly in the particle physics and astronomy programme), we've had to restructure our in-house research effort and we've had to withdraw from some lower-priority activities - but our programme remains extremely competitive

There are many good news stories out there and this particular issue is just one of the rocks on the road to a brighter future.

Prof Mason also dismissed claims that physics departments would be more likely to close because of the cuts

“ Full economic costs give them a huge extra resource to manage their budget. I don't see any reason why physics students or postdocs should be demoralised

as reported in a 24 Jan 08 Physicists fail to stall cuts despite subject review article in Times Higher Education. Panel chair Phil Willis MP called the recent events `a cock-up', while another panel member Des Turner MP noted it has been a `PR disaster'. In response to the BBC news item about the `unhelpful doom and gloom being spread about the state of UK physics', Prof Ken Peach has made the following response .

During witness testimony, Committee Member asked about future career prospects for those about to lose their jobs, appreciating that it wasn't straightforward for an astrophysicist to retrain in biophysics.

Q57 Phil Willis MP “ Just to follow this point up, Tony [Bell] said earlier in this conversation that this is not a loss of funding to STFC, this is a redistribution of £80m - possibly £120m - into this area. One of the big beneficiaries will be space which actually requires physicists and astrophysicists to actually go into that area. There will be a lot of new work for academics; there will be new work for scientists. Why are you not looking at this as a glass half full?

Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson “ In astronomy we have our subscription to the European Space Agency, we have our subscription to the European Southern Observatory so ESO will select the missions and the UK will try to get involved with instruments on that but they will be doing so with a budget that is 25% lower. The number of post doctorate researchers available in the universities will be 25% lower in three years' time. The possibilities of significant involvement in these space missions that ESO selects will be reduced. I think the net result will be that whereas currently the UK has a presence in most fields of astrophysics, solar system science and so on and is a major force in European astronomy, that will slowly disappear and we will find that all the opportunities have been taken by France, Germany, Italy or Spain and we will not be able to compete across the full range of science.

followed up later in the evidence session with

Prof Ian Diamond “ There are a number of research councils, for example EPSRC, who have things called discipline hopping grants which enable people to retrain. It happens an awful lot. One of the things also is that many particle physicists have found careers in the city, not doing particle physics but using their skills to be able to apply them in particular areas. People are prepared to re-train in those arenas. I think it is the case that re-training is part of a career in some instances.

Q133. Dr Evan Harris MP “ This is a vital point, may I say. You cannot be serious in saying that the solution to wrecked careers, of dead-end careers - whatever the reasons for it - is to become a stockbroker. That cannot be what you are saying.

Prof Ian Diamond “ I am not saying that.

Q134. Dr Evan Harris MP “ Before you answer that, I understand that when one does collaboration - as one does collaboration with other fields - I can understand that someone can develop an interest from those collaborations and seek to go into it. Do you accept that there is a difference between that voluntary interest-led approach and the suggestion to say to somebody that unless you go right back to an area you know nothing about - let us say you are involved in solar terrestrial physics - there will be no future in your career for you.

Prof Keith Mason “ I cannot agree with virtually anything you have said because I think that the sort of training we give to people both as students and post-doc level is more widely applicable than in the field. This is one of the reasons we do it. We train far more students than can ever go into particle physics and astronomy, for example, because the skills that they pick up in doing those subjects have a very broad range of applicability. Similarly, as was referred to earlier, we need physicists in the bio-medical area, we need physics for bio-medicine, we need people to discipline hop and to apply their skills more widely. It is the way of the future in terms of driving the maximum benefit from the investment we put in science. We need to think across the whole patch and not just think as a solar terrestrial physicist but look at the whole climate system.

Prof Ian Diamond “ One of the excitements across the piece is people broadening and going into areas, looking in new areas and not just ploughing the same furrows. Those opportunities are essential and that is why, right across the research council base, the training of PhD students is to include the broad base of transferable skills which enables people to transfer, not only into a career in research. When you undertake a research studentship you do not say "I am going to spend the rest of my life in research" - although many people do - there are many avenues that people with PhDs have ended up in, some of them sitting to your right. The skills they learn are entirely useful in those arenas.

Q134. Dr Evan Harris MP “ I am just astonished at the spin you put on this because I thought that our world leading researchers had a publication record in their field. Some of them need laboratories and have senior people below them able to teach because they are specialist in that area. My understanding was that you could only teach specialism as a specialist.

Prof Keith Mason “ There is no reason why you cannot change your specialism and there are many people, as I said, who have a broad range of specialisms

On the topic of FEC, according to a Universities UK spokesman, reported in a University of Liverpool intranet item:

“ Much of the additional funding provided in this and previous spending reviews has been given to meet more of the full economic costs of projects undertaken in universities. UUK strongly supports this agenda and we believe this commitment will help secure a strong and sustainable research base in universities.

We are, however, still extremely concerned over the levels of investment for the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), as in reality this will represent a significant reduction in funding over this spending period, due to a number of unforeseen factors.

There is also a Guardian Education item from 29 Jan 08 on the topic of FEC , where Prof Robert May (ex Chief Scientific Advisor) notes

“ It is absolutely crazy that the government brought in the FEC regime without carefully defining what it means. They didn't know what they were doing. No other country has an FEC system like ours. It is burdensome, bureaucratic and includes things that are not appropriate. A proper review of how the indirect costs of research should be remunerated is needed and it should ask if academic salaries are a legitimate charge. It could undo a lot of damage.

In a 4 Feb 08 NERC deal could rescue ground-based solar physics item in the Times Higher Education, Phil Willis is quoted as describing Prof Mason's evidence as

“ Hugely unsatisfactory


“ The whole session left a lot of questions unanswered

adding that there were contradictory messages from the community and the STFC on the level of consultation.

The second evidence session in their Science Budgets Allocation enquiry was held on 20 Feb 08, with testimony from

Listen via Parliament TV or MP3 (or read transcript ).

Q158 Phil Willis MP “ One of the fundamental concerns of this Committee is of course the preservation of basic science. There is a strong belief amongst the Committee - and I am sure that it is shared by Sir Keith [O'Nions] - that, unless we maintain the highest quality blue skies research, there is very little to translate in the future, and there is a suspicion that this CSR in fact is moving in the direction of greater emphasis on translational research in terms of wealth creation and best guessing basic research and that that is being downgraded. What is your response to that?

Ian Pearson MP(Minister of Science and Innovation) “ I think that that suspicion is misplaced and, as a government, we have always believed that you have to do both: you have to have world-class basic research and you have to have research that does translate some of that basic research into potential new discoveries and inventions that are going to benefit humankind in the future. What any government will have to do is to strike the right sort of balance between those two elements of research. In many ways, these all come together.

Q159 Phil Willis MP “ Are you aware of that criticism?

Ian Pearson MP “ I am aware that there are people out there who say, "You are moving too far in the translational direction". There are others who say, "You are not moving far enough in the translational direction" as well and, when I listen to a variety of views, as I do as Science Minister, I actually think that the balance is about right. We have seen big increases in both basic research and in more translational research over the last ten years and again I hope that the Committee, when it comes to write its report, will reflect the fact that we have put huge amounts of additional resource into basic research as well as putting more money into translational research and wanting to focus more on economic impact as well.

The question of accountability was discussed later in the session

Q183 Graham Stringer MP “ What I am interested in is democratic accountability. If basic science at Daresbury goes to the wall, if, as is happening, solar-terrestrial physics is decimated, astronomy is decimated and particle physics are decimated, whose head do I ask for? Who is responsible for those policies? That is the basis of democratic society. I do not want those things to happen. Who is responsible for them happening?

Ian Pearson MP “ May I say first of all that I do not accept any of the "ifs" and let me say something about that in a moment. In terms of accountability, it is the Government that decides at a high level overall strategic priorities at the start of a budget allocation process and it is the Government that will make the final decisions on allocations according to those broad decisions and based on our understanding of delivery plans for the research councils. It is not our responsibility to make a decision about how many telescopes we should have, where they should be located, what the priority is between research on an ILC or subscription to the ESO or subscription to the ESA or to CERN. Those are decisions that have to be taken by science.

Q184 Graham Stringer MP “ What I am trying to get at is that there is a fundamental change taking place in the fundamental science that is being undertaken at the moment. Is that or is that not government policy? Do the Government support those huge changes in basic science and in physics that are taking place? Is it ministers who are pursuing that policy? Is it an accident or should we be asking for the head of the STFC?

Ian Pearson MP “ May I put some facts on record. Firstly, if we look at the issue of research grants where there has been a lot of press coverage over the last few weeks and there has been an impression out there that swingeing cuts are taking place, the fact is that when you include the impact of full economic costing, overall funding for astronomy exploitation grants will have risen by 67 per cent in this coming financial year compared to 2005/06 and again, for particle physics, when you include full economic costing, the amount of funding in this area will be 43 per cent higher in 2008/09 than it was in 2005/06. So, there is significant extra funding going in to university research departments for these activities. The STFC have confirmed that this year, which has seen a big increase in astronomy grants from 278 to 329, will, in the coming financial year, see 323 grants awarded, so a broadly flat position. I also asked officials to compare the three years of the SR04 period with the three years of this CSR07 period and, from the figures that I have had, 854 astronomy research grants were awarded through the SR04 period and it is anticipated that there will be 855 during this CSR period. So, no net decrease in astronomy research grants at all.

Q185 Dr Ian Gibson MP “ How many were turned down?

Ian Pearson MP “ I do not have the figures for how many were turned down under the SR04 period over the last three years and obviously I do not know how many applications there will be for research grants in this coming financial year. If you look at the volumes for astronomy grants, the volumes over the next three years will be exactly the same, according to the latest figures that I have, as they were in the previous three years and, as we have heard elsewhere which we discussed at the start of this meeting, the situation is that, in other research councils, there will be some reductions in volume because of full economic costing.

Q187 Dr Turner MP “ A much more representative measure is percentage success rate of alpha plus rated projects. Are you able to give those figures?

Ian Pearson MP “ I do not have those figures to hand for previous financial years and obviously they are not available for the future as well. If the Committee would like that, I would be happy to write to them with details.

The question of reputation was also discussed in the session

Q198 Mr Boswell MP “ I want to come on to the issue about reputation briefly. I am troubled - and we had evidence on this matter - about the implications of this for the wider community, the international community. We have had representations, for example, from the Institute of Physics in Australia. Is it your view that these consequences which are clearly concerning are simply a matter of, as it were, professional persons scratching each other's back and backing up their own position or is there something that we should be worried about both in terms of the withdrawal of subscriptions to international organisations and also the implications for the personnel science workforce?

Ian Pearson MP “ Let me begin and, Keith, who has obviously been immersed in the science community for many years, will obviously have additional insights. I want to begin by saying that I appreciate that the way that this science budget settlement has been portrayed in the wider community has been unfortunate. I do not think that it has been realistic. I think that some of the facts that I have put out today, which I hope will be reflected in the Committee's report, demonstrate that there are overall increases in funding and that physics overall will actually see an increase in funding over the next three years

Q199 Phil Willis MP “ May I bring you back to the question that Tim asked.

Ian Pearson MP “ What I am saying is that there should not be reputational damage because internationally the UK is seeing increases in funding across the science base over the next three years. When people look at the figures, I think they will understand that. Obviously, a couple of the decisions that the STFC have taken in terms of large facilities can cause problems in some quarters. I happen to believe that when you look at the detail of the decision on the International Linear Collider for instance, it seems to me as a lay person to be a sensible thing.

Q201 Mr Boswell MP “ Just for the record, I think from some earlier exchanges that you had with my colleague, you indicated that as part of your general responsibility for science policy that issues of reputation and, as it were, international relations would be within your remit and I would like you to comment that whatever the means or the outcome, in that sense, you are regard yourself as responsible for safeguarding the reputation of British science and its international credibility.

Ian Pearson MP “ I want the UK to be seen as a place where we conduct world-class science and innovation, and so our ability to conduct world-class science, and our reputation internationally to do that is something that is very important. That is why we need to ensure that all the scientific disciplines are in a healthy condition. It is one of the reasons why we have set up the Wakeham Review.

Prof Sir Keith O'Nions “ Can I say I think you are absolutely right to bring to attention reputation and reputational damage, and I think it is a proper and sensible point to focus on. The UK is really quite pre-eminent in science; we must not forget that. We are second only to the United States and our position globally is still improving in basic science and basic science output and we are getting better at translation. We have been extremely attractive to other scientists around the world with our universities which have proper infrastructure, so reputation is immensely important. On this settlement, we all know no matter how much money you have got you will never have every bunny happy at the same time and you expect some criticism. What was totally unexpected to me was that we would have such an uproar in this particular part of physics. That is a problem because there are a lot sensible people that have expressed these concerns. I have no doubt that there is a very significant degree of orchestration and that also is unsurprising given the depth of concern that a lot of sensible people have. It is also my belief that now we have got all the facts on the table about the overall increase in physics, the real state of astronomy and research grants in STFC, and the fact that the Wakeham review - reviews tend to be inflationary in my experience - is likely to be making sensible and supportive recommendations about physics in general is a situation, that very few other countries could identify that as a crisis but, instead, rather a nice problem to have. I suspect that it is going to take some time in those particular areas, I suspect, to repair that reputation. It is unfortunate but I do not think ultimately the facts justify the damage that has been done. It is very fair of you to identify it.

Q203 Dr Harris MP “ Would you [Minister] agree with Sir Keith that there has been damage (if I got you right Sir Keith) to the UK's international reputation in respect of being a partner for international collaborations? Has there been damage, is my question to you, Minister?

Ian Pearson MP “ I agree that there has been potential damage in the short term as a result of the way the science settlement in the particle physics and astronomy community has been perceived. When you get the facts on the table, as Keith has said, then I do not believe that we should be in a situation whereby we are challenging the extremely strong reputation that the UK has for conducting world-class science.

Turning to the often cited `Haldane principle' by Ministers

Q250 Mr Cawsey MP “ So are you confident that these lines of independence that the Haldane principles hold up and they are still in place and the relationship is not being tested in that way in any respect?

Ian Pearson MP “ What I can say is that as a Government we clearly need to take a view on what the strategic research priorities are for our future. I think there is a debate that we will continue to have about to what extent we want to focus research spending on some of the big challenges facing society and our economy today. That is why we have talked about the grand challenges such as environmental and climate change, energy, global threats to security, aging, and it is why those are reflected in the programmes of the research councils. However, if you look in that broad area you would say that it is right for government to say we want research done in this these areas because they are strategically important; it is right for the government to say things like the digital economy and nanotechnology are areas where we want to see research being done. It would not be right for us to say that that particular nanotechnology research project should be funded and that one should not. That is where the Haldane principles and the peer review process need to strongly come in. I think we have got the right sort of balance but we need to continually review this.

As hinted at during the second session, a third (and final) Select Committee evidence session was arranged for 27 Feb 08 (see transcript, including testimony from:

Listen via Parliament TV or MP3 or read transcript .

Q267 Phil Willis MP “ Swapan, there is a peer review system which looks at funding the best science. The peer review system says we need to make particular cuts because this is not the best science. What on earth is wrong with that? This is how science should operate.

Professor Chattopadhyay: “ I have two observations to make. There has been an active request made to the STFC stakeholder representation in the Cockcroft Institute not to share any information about the decision-making process of the STFC Delivery Plan. There was some level of secrecy until the very end of November when it all came out despite my requests to get information out. I am not an STFC employee. First of all, on this whole business of communication, transparency and the review process, I have brought it to the attention of STFC senior management multiple times through electronic messages and discussions with people directly, but I regret to say that there has not been the inclusion of Cockcroft's concerns in this regard in terms of protecting the skills base in accelerator science and technology for the UK. Secondly, as for the so-called peer review process that people talk about here, which I am taking to be below the level of PPAN and PALS, for the last 35 years I have been used to a very inclusive process where the community that is being reviewed knows they are being reviewed and the people that you choose as the committee members of the review committee are chosen with input from the community about the most respected scientists that could judge the field. Eventually, when the report comes out, you share the report with the community for factual accuracies and courtesy and to ensure there are no political, parochial and scientific conflicts. There have been three reviews that I have partially participated in or been asked to give input to: one was the light source review, one is an ongoing accelerator science and technology review and one is a particle physics review. I think the committee members were handpicked by STFC despite my pointing out to them that at some point --- In the case of the light source review, I even wrote a letter to the committee that chose that so-called peer review committee which was judging on the light source about the incompleteness of that committee.

Q268 Phil Willis MP “ The Chief Executive has said to this Committee that he is very proud of STFC's peer review system. Obviously you do not share that view.

Professor Chattopadhyay: “ From where I sit the due process has not been followed, the process has been flawed and hence you cannot expect anything but flawed recommendations from such peer reviews.

Q270 Phil Willis MP “ Do you share that view?

Professor Holdaway: “ My concern is not about the nature and the make up of the peer review panels themselves. They had a very difficult job to do and I think they have done it perfectly adequately. The concern of the community, which I share to a certain extent, is how hey get their advice. I think the communications and the advice there has not been what it should be and I am confident that that will be rectified for the future, but it has not been that way in the past.

Q272 Dr Gibson MP “ Did you know who the peers were going to be? Who chose them?

Professor Holdaway: “ They were chosen, as far as I know, by the Chief Executive. You can check that in the next session.

This session was reported in an article Facilities Council admits problems in management and consultation in Research Day UK and Science research council under fire for cuts in Education Guardian in which Prof Swapan Chattopadhyay is reported as saying

“ The STFC's peer review process is flawed, so you can't expect anything but flawed recommendations

On the question of consultation,

Q319 Dr Blackman-Woods MP “ Professor Mason, the last time you were in front of the Committee you said, "I think we do consultation extremely well in STFC; I am very proud of the peer review system that we have set up, it is very effective ...". I have to say from our visits and evidence we have gathered so far not everyone shares that opinion. We have spoken to people who have immense international standing in the physics community who simply do not agree there was proper consultation about these cuts or that the system is working effectively. How do you account for that divergence of opinion?

Professor Mason “ I think we are talking about several different things actually. I was speaking about our Science Strategy Board and the sub-committees we have underneath it - PPAN, particle physics, astronomy and nuclear physics, and the physical and life sciences committees - which are new structures we have set up under STFC which actually do the peer review and which actually conduct things like the programmatic review. These are very difficult exercises to go through, particularly over such a wide remit as STFC has, and I am genuinely proud of how these committees and how the people on these committees have actually responded to this huge challenge. You heard earlier some discussion about the challenges of peer review. Peer review is not easy, peer review over such a broad range as we have is doubly, trebly, difficult, and the fact we have within ten months been able to arrive at a system which can integrate physics and physical and life sciences and the particle physics, astronomy and nuclear physics requirements into a single set of recommendations to the Science Board and then onwards to Council I think is something to be proud of. There was some, I think, confusion in the discussion earlier about the various peer review bodies and the issue of consultation is one which I take very, very seriously, and it is an area which we are actively working on in order to improve things for the future.

Q320 Dr Blackman-Woods MP “ Would you accept that parts of the science community, in particular the physics community, have been really affected by the decisions which have been made by STFC? Do you feel they have not been adequately consulted and that something has to be learned from this process?

Professor Mason “ Yes, indeed, and we are actively learning that lesson. Again there is a misunderstanding of the process and what the effect of consultant would have been. If we are talking about the PPAN area now, which derived from the old PPARC, we had consultative panels in that structure which reported on strategy only a few months before programmatic review. So the reality is, had we had such a structure in STFC from the beginning, it would not have made any difference to the delivery plan output because we were not missing that element because it is carried over from PPARC. One of the tasks that the PPAN committee was set at its inception was to derive and devise a better system of community consultation which is an exercise which is not yet completed because, for one reason, its business has been dominated by the delivery plan and the programmatic review so it just has not had the time to put the thought in. But this has always been on our agenda and it will be put in place in the future. In terms of the current programmatic review, this is an exercise we went through two years ago in PPARC and following the programmatic review the next stage was an unofficial consultation with the community. We intend to do exactly the same thing but this is now an official consultation period just to make it absolutely clear that we are taking people's views on the outcome, we do not just take the outcome of the programme as reviewed and say, "It is cast in concrete", we want to hear what people think about it simply to optimise the science we get out. We have a certain amount of money that we can spend, we want to get the maximum amount of science from that, we rightly always have and always will involve the community in doing that, and it is really just a question of time.

Q321 Dr Blackman-Woods MP “ I think the community would accept that peer review is difficult, what we are not seeing is confidence in the peer review system across the sector. Are you clear the changes you are bringing in are going to lead to a greater confidence in peer review?

Professor Mason “ Well, if they do not, we will change them again. It is absolutely clear that we need to have this confidence. I have to say we are living in a situation where two research councils have been merged, there were many people who had doubts about that merger and are waiting to see the proof of the pudding, and are rightly putting us under very close scrutiny. But actually, if you look objectively at what we have done in the ten months we have been in existence, I think we have done pretty well actually in getting these structures together, in conducting a very comprehensive exercise, and we have to see what the outcome of that will be.

Q324 Dr Blackman-Woods MP “ However, the accusation which is often levelled against you is that you do not have the full breadth of knowledge you should be drawing on in your strategic advice and your peer review panels. Are you taking that on board and are you going to do something about it or are you going to continue to say that everything is fine and this is a bit of pain that we are managing quite well?

Peter Warry “ Keith has already said that the proposal is that we are going to introduce advisory committees which are effectively sub-committees of the Council to pick up that point. So, yes, we recognise that and it is an important point to take on board and we will be doing that.

Professor Mason “ To finish off, one should not forget that even with the top level committees we have, not to mention grants panels and all the other structure we have below, we are talking about 30 people or so, so it is not a handful of people in a room, it is a lot of people and they are spread across the whole range of expertise that we cover.

The IUSS Committee published its Fourth Report of Session 2007-08, Science Budget Allocations on 30 Apr 08 (see also Oral and Written Evidence ), whose conclusions and recommendations include some criticisms directed to Government: plus others specifically involving STFC STFC issued two responses, the first from the Chief Executive Prof Keith Mason

“ A number of issues highlighted by the report have already been recognised by STFC, and I have taken decisive actions to address them over the past few months. The merger of two organisations, coupled with a challenging spending review, has, as the committee point out, been difficult. This is now in the past. I intend for STFC to look forward, though we will take account of some areas where we could have done better. I would hope that the difficulties will not overshadow the considerable advances and successes that we have achieved during our first 12 months.

The report calls for changes to STFC's management structure. This was addressed in February when our new executive board was announced. A restructuring of STFC is being implemented by Prof Richard Wade, STFC Chief Operating Officer.

The STFC is currently engaged in a major consultation on our science programme we received more than 1200 submissions to our consultation on our Programmatic Review in March. We expect our draft science and technology strategy to be out for community consultation in the summer and STFC's overall vision will also be circulated for community comment. Internal consultation with staff and external consultation with our scientific community are areas where we need to do better. This is one of my top priorities. ”

which was followed by a supportive statement from STFC Council

“ Council believes that the executive and its new peer-review structure did a good job in developing a forward-looking and affordable programme within its allocations. Prior to the publication of the report, Council and the executive recognised and accepted the need to strengthen the management team, to consult more widely on its future programme and to improve its communication with staff and its research community.

Actions have been taken in each of these areas and plans are being put in place for future improvement. Council will review progress on implementing these plans in three to six months. Council is determined that STFC continues to move forward in addressing these challenges. It fully supports the Chief Executive and his management team in doing so. ”

The Particle physics action group responded their own Press Release , including

“ The Select Committee has done a thorough job and has reached the same conclusions as the particle physicists. I believe that the Chief Executive's position is now untenable. ”

according to Prof Mike Green. Listen to MP3 of interview with Prof Brian Cox, MP3 of interview with Phil Willis MP on BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 30 Apr 08. Another press release was issued by MIST Council, and the Institute of Physics also issued a press release , quoting Prof Peter Main

“ It is now up to DIUS to clarify whether the Wakeham Review will address the issues affecting STFC, and for DIUS and STFC to agree arrangements which will allow substantive changes to be delayed.. Only with real honesty about events since the formation of STFC and more considered methods for consultation in the future, will we be able to reconstruct prosperous working relations. ”

The report was widely reported in the media, including Science cuts 'hit UK reputation' in BBC Science News, quoting

“ There is a recognition that some things could have been done differently and that the programme could have been communicated differently to the scientific community. I think the issue now is actually moving on from that and the STFC showing over the next couple of months it has the ability to address the issues raised in the report.' ”

from Rt Hon John Denham MP and Report slams UK's leading physics funding agency in Physics World. According to Phil Willis MP

“ It is very rare and rather sad that an individual or organisation comes under such strong criticism in a report like this - So serious is the damage that appears to have been done to STFC that committee members took nearly four hours to agree on the wording. ”

Other media reports from 30 Apr 08 and 1 May 08 included Top physicist is urged to quit over failings, flaws and secrets in The Times, plus Commentary, MPs report blames Government and a quango for science funding crisis in The Telegraph, MPs criticise handling of research funds in The Guardian, UK science looks 'incompetent' after funding fiasco from New Scientist (plus editorial How to wreck a nation's scientific credibility from 7 May 08), MPs decry government influence on budgets in Times Higher Education, UK government slammed for underfunding research in Nature, Of budgets and black holes in The Economist, plus web publications UK physics chief next for the chop in funding bloodbath? in the Register and Facing the Black Hole comment in The Engineer, and other reports focused on regional issues: Report slams observatory job cut threat in The Scotsman, Government has left Daresbury `hanging in balance' warn MPs in Liverpool Daily Post, Jodrell decision slammed in Manchester Evening News and Hopes of saving observatory rise in The Scotsman.

In contrast, according to an article MPs wrong on STFC, say 'forgotten' physicists from Research Fortnight on 7 May 08, Richard Nelmes (senior condensed matter physicist) wrote:

“ The report completely neglects the ex-CCLRC community, and its interests and concerns. For all the committee's criticism of Keith Mason, he has done a better job than the committee in grappling with, and caring about, the whole large scope of the STFC programme.

to which Prof Don Paul added

“ There is a big asymmetry of funding in STFC: one side has rolling grants while the other has to apply to the EPSRC for funding. When it cuts the running time of ISIS, the STFC is affecting the work of other research councils that fund scientists using that facility.

In addition, a letter from Prof Malcolm Grant (UCL Provost, chair Russell Group) to The Times on 6 May 08 added:

“ There is no evidence that the committee has risen to any decent standard of due process. Its function is political, and the attribution of blame for failure is normal. But there is no balanced process that takes proper account of the rights of individuals such as Professor Mason who are on the receiving end. The committee itself determines the breadth of the inquiry and selects which witnesses to examine, and how, if at all, to test the evidence often complete hearsay that is presented to it.

The scapegoat is given no prior notice of the charge, no opportunity to reply, no right to legal representation, no appeal, no recourse to judicial review, and members of the committee enjoy immunity from defamation proceedings. Not only is this process deeply unfair, this committee's proceedings will make it impossible in the future for the UK to recruit to leadership positions on our research councils the high-quality scientists that the country needs.

which was further reported in an article Professor Keith Mason was a `scapegoat for the Governments failures'. In response, letters from Phil Willis MP and Dr Ian Corbett followed on 8 May 08, including the following from Mr Willis:

“ The select committee process is not as Professor Grant intimates, a formal judicial one, but a parliamentary process with the intention of scrutinising government policy and its use of resources. Nor is our report the end of that process: it is the Government and STFC who have the final word.

The IUSS Committee would have rightly been held to account if it had not examined the difficulties at the STFC. That is its task, set out by Parliament. Professor Mason is a public figure, paid by the taxpayer and appointed by the Secretary of State. He is therefore wholly accountable to the public and to Parliament for his actions. The committee has a duty to draw its own conclusions based firmly on evidence, and to make practical recommendations to improve a far from happy situation. I believe we have discharged that duty fairly.

and Mr Willis also added

“ I don't think it is out job to call for someone to resign or to be sacked, but it is our job to highlight that this is an organisation that has lost the faith of one very large part of its community.

Frankly, I was disappointed with Keith Mason's response to our report. He basically dismissed many of the accusations and said `We are dealing with these issues'. Thats not a good enough response. What is now needed is a proper action plan to say how these issues are being addressed and how he and the council intend to win back the confidence of the community, because if he can't do that then his position at that point becomes untenable.

in a Research Fortnight news item MPs criticise Mason and STFC over funding shortfall from 7 May 08.

On 17 Jun 08 the Government Response was made ( PDF version) including:

This response was reported in a 17 Jun 08 article STFC to undergo review, but management positions safe in Research Day UK, and Physics agency instigates review from BBC Science News in which Phil Willis MP commented

“ I am somewhat disappointed that the government has shelved responsibility for the whole affair to the STFC. But to balance that, I am pleased with the general tone of their response - that they accept that all is not well at the council, and that they have put the chief executive and the board on notice.

In a 17 Jun 08 Telegraph article Government `turns blind eye to science funding criticism' Mr Willis added

“ I am deeply disappointed that what appears to be a major problem with science funding has been brushed under the carpet by internal reorganisation which may or may not deliver results

to which Adam Afriyie MP adds

“ Boasting about more investment in science will fall on deaf ears when researchers across the country face redundancy. The shortfalls highlight either departmental incompetence in allocating the budget, or a deliberate decision to allocate less funding than is needed.

and No extra cash for UK physics in Physics World on 18 Jun 08 including

“ Like much of its response to the Select Committee, the government view regarding the ILC is actually very measured. But it is a nonsense to say that the way the STFC announced we were pulling out of the ILC has not damaged our international standing

from Prof Brian Foster plus

“ Overall there is still a lot of uncertainty about how much money physics departments are going to lose from existing grants, which is making it very difficult to plan ahead

according to Prof Mike Green (see also Comment on the government response to IUSS report from Particle Physics action group) while Peter Cotgreave (Royal Society, Director of Public Affairs) added

“ Mistakes have clearly been made in relation to the process of the most recent STFC allocation. The comprehensive organisational review to be conducted by STFC is to be welcomed. The important thing is to use the experience of past failings to avoid similar problems in the future

in a 18 Jun 08 report in Medical News Today, and the RAS Council response from 19 Jun 08 included:

“ The RAS has serious reservations about the Government response, which appears to reject many of the criticisms made by the Committee and members of the astronomical community, but does so without presenting new evidence.

An estimates day debate in the House of Commons on the Science Budget Allocation report took place on 7 Jul 08. Read the Hansard Transcript including the following selected quotes:

Finally, a Letter from Phil Willis MP to Prof Keith Mason from 25 Jun 08 (including 11 Jul 08 response) was released on 17 Jul 08, together with a letter from Phil Willis MP to Rt Hon John Denham MP from 25 Jun 08 (including 8 Jul 08 response)

A follow-up IUSS committee evidence session to the Science Budget Allocation report with Prof Keith Mason followed on 4 Feb 09 - Watch via Parliament Live. This session was reported in a news item from Mason to reveal STFC allocation letter in Research Day UK including Phil Willis MP suggesting that the Grant Organisational Review was a `total whitewash' and `If it [the Review's reliance upon STFC's self-assessment] happened to a group of MPs we'd be laughed out of court'.

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Wakeham Review

Section Last Updated: Oct 2008

Looking beyond the immediate budgetary problems, which will lead to cuts in access to major facilities and 25% cuts to post-doc grants to universities (see 3 Jul 08 update on facilities and 15 Oct 08 update on grants), a review of the health of physics has been initiated by the then Secretary of state Rt Hon John Denham MP in his Science Budget statement from Dec 07,

“ It is important that all research disciplines remain strong and vibrant. Research priorities will change over time, and a key element of the Haldane principle is that Ministers should leave these judgements to the research community expressed through the Research Councils. However, I think that is important that, as Secretary of State, I am able to step back and assure myself that the combined decisions of the Research Councils properly underpin the health of key disciplines. This is important both for the future of research and, more widely, to ensure a flow of talented individuals into STEM subjects at University.

I have therefore asked Ian Diamond, as Chair of RCUK, to organise a series of reviews into the health of key disciplines, particularly those that rely on funding from several Research Councils. The first review will be on Physics which plays a pivotal role in the STEM agenda. It will be led by Professor Bill Wakeham, Vice Chancellor of the University of Southampton, but involve many different organisations including no fewer than five Research Councils. This review will be independent and will draw on international expertise. ”

which was originally due to report in Autumn 2008 - then apparently brought forward (see 14 Feb 08 Physics review brought forward as cuts bite article in Times Higher Education ) - but restored to September 2008 in a Panel picked to review UK physics article in Physics World , in which Prof Wakeham is quoted as saying

“ The review will explicitly not revisit the decision of the STFC [over Gemini and the ILC]. It will be looking into the longer-term future of the subject. ”

Terms of reference for the review were announced on 21 Jan 08 - see Research Councils UK launches review of physics. Terms of reference are as follows:

Wakeham Review panel members are Prof Martin Barstow (Leicester), Prof Donal Bradley (Imperial), Prof Sir Michael Brady (Oxford), Prof Christine Davies (Glasgow), Prof Carlos Frenk (Durham), Prof Sir Richard Friend (Cambridge), Prof Jørgan Kjems (Danish Technical Uni), Prof Richard Peltier (Toronto).

Secretary of State Rt Hon John Denham MP gave evidence evidence to the IUS Select Committee about DIUS on 16 Jan 08 ( listen to minutes 40-50 of this broadcast), where he noted that in response to a question from Dr Evan Harris MP about the Wakeham review

“ We do not know what Bill Wakeham's report will say. Depending on its conclusions though, it is perhaps more likely that I will go back to the research councils and say, individually or collectively, "Can you address the issues that Bill [Wakeham] has highlighted?", than I would be likely to say, "He says we need £10 million here so I am going to take £10 million from there". ”

In a press statement on Wakeham, EPSRC chief executive Prof David Delpy commented on 22 Jan 8

“ EPSRC is looking forward to participating fully in this important review which seeks to provide a comprehensive picture of the health of UK physics and its role in underpinning research in other areas, and to identify potential future opportunities in physics for young researchers. ”

The Royal Society written statement to the IUS Select Committee notes

“ We do not believe a review of physics is an adequate solution ”

Dr Robert Kirby-Harris , chief executive of the Institute of Physics, in his 14 Dec 07 response on the Delivery Plan includes the statement

“ It is our hope that the findings from the review [of physics funding] are available before irretrievable damage is done to the physics base through cuts made to meet short-term funding problems. ”

A spokesman for the Royal Society reported in an Education Guardian article from 8 Jan 08 adds

“ The review is essentially kicking the problem into the long grass. ”

while a STFC spokesman is reported in the same article as admitting that the physics review is:

“ unlikely to have an impact on funding or policy for a few years ”

Testimony given to the IUS Select Committee stressed that the Wakeham review would feed into the next CSR - not the present crisis - listen to archived testimony. Read the Wakeham can't save you, physicists told article from Research Fortnight on 23 Jan 08. The Royal Society suggest one response to the recurring problem of the tension between running facilities and supporting research exploitation is to have a committee to advise the Director General for the Research Councils (DGRC) on the Science Budget (see Policy statement from 21 Dec 07) prompting the following witness testimony

Q112. Dr Turner MP “ The Royal Society has suggested an independent group of experts to advise the Director General of Science and Innovation on science budgets. Do you support that suggestion? ”

Prof Ian Diamond “ As I understand it that is a return to the position in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I have to say that my own sense is that this allocation has been undertaken extremely professionally and that the research councils were given the opportunity to present the case not only for the individual councils' science but also Research Councils UK presented a draft delivery plan, although there was a budget and the idea there being to highlight the cross-council priorities that were seen, for example, around some of the real cross-council programmes in energy and environment for example. The process was done incredibly professionally and used the budget in a reasonable way. Whether one would have got a different answer had there been a group of wise people advising the Director General, I am not able to say. ”

Prof Keith Mason “ Let me just add to that that in my view I do not see evidence that the outcome would have been any different. ”

Q113. Dr Turner “ Finally, the Wakeham Review. We know its terms of reference and it is entirely possible that it will come up with some conclusions that will have funding implications but for the next three years you do not have any available. How do you see yourselves responding to the physics review? ”

Prof Ian Diamond “ I think it is worth saying that no sooner has one spending review finished than the next one starts. Certainly the Wakeham Review will report as we are in the thrust of preparing the case for the next spending review and it will have an opportunity to feed into that case. The second thing I would say is that we will wait and see what the Wakeham says before answering firmly that question. I think it has an interesting and exciting set of terms of reference to enable us properly to look across the entire spectrum of what is physics research and how it contributes right across the five research councils which currently provide funding in physics. ”

Q114. Dr Gibson “ Why has it not happened before the Wakeham Review? None of this is new really. Physics has been having trouble for years, getting students at one time when you gave students new programmes and so on. Why are they putting it in now? Is it just a smokescreen for the real problems? ”

Prof Ian Diamond “ RCUK, as I am sure you will have seen from our Health of Disciplines Annual Report, has looked very carefully at the health of all disciplines, particularly looking at the demography of the academic community. ”

Q116. Phil Willis MP “ Could you make this absolutely clear to Des and Ian's point, that the Wakeham Review will have no effect whatsoever on the current plans in the Delivery Plan proposed by STFC? It is totally detached from it; this is looking at something else. ”

Prof Ian Diamond “ It is not the intention that this will impact on the budget of STFC in this spending review. ”

The Wakeham preview prompted the following response from Science Minister Ian Pearson MP in the STFC adjournment debate on 15 Jan 08 (read full transcript ),

“ The Government recognise the concerns expressed about the STFC's decisions about the relative priority of research grants and infrastructure. The discipline of physics is supported by several research councils, such as the EPSRC and the BBSRC, and through the funding councils quality-related stream. ”

Another possible way forward has been suggested by Prof Ken Pounds, a previous PPARC chief executive who has written an article in the Times Higher Education Supplement on 21 Dec 07 with the following specific suggestions:

Four specific recommendations came from the ad hoc meeting on 9 Jan 08 between senior academics, Prof Mason and Prof Wade - see announcement to RAS fellows from Prof Rowan-Robinson on 11 Jan 08, namely:

According to DIUS on 8 Feb 08

“ It means that there will be no major reductions in physics funding before the outcome of the Wakeham Review of physics is known. ”

This statement echoes STFC's News from Council from 7 Feb 08 in which

“ STFC Council emphasised that the underlying funding for physics exploitation grants would remain broadly level in the next financial year. ”

The Campaign for Science and Engineering welcomed the new statement, but Nick Dusic (CASE Director) said

“ The Government and the STFC need to find a solution to the STFC funding crisis. The UK cannot expect to be a world leader in science by cutting its investment in basic research. ”

Alas, the volume of the astronomy grants being renewed from Apr 08 (one third of the total) is 25% below the level which would have been approved by AGP prior to the crisis (see STFC accused of spin tactics). Prof Mike Cruise (Astronomy Grants Panel, chair) has noted:

“ Measures have sought to preserve as much high quality science as possible, but there can be no doubt that science will have to suffer if these levels of cuts are to be achieved.

The Wakeham review was discussed at the second IUS Select Committee session on 20 Feb 08.

Q180 Gordon Marsden MP “ I want to address you further on the relationship between the Government and the STFC's delivery plan because, when the Secretary of State came before this Committee on 16 January, he said very straightforwardly that the Government had responded to concerns over STFC funding in the areas of physics and astronomy by commissioning a review from Professor Bill Wakeham. However, when Professor's Diamond and Keith Mason came before the Committee [on 21 January], they told the Committee quite straightforwardly that the Wakeham Review had no impact on the delivery plan at all. I have to ask you therefore, is this not another example of the STFC cutting across clear departmental steer and actually undermining the points that were made originally?

Ian Pearson MP “ No, I do not think that is a question of that at all. The Wakeham Review is a major piece of work. It is the first of a number of views looking at the health of the disciplines, in this case physics. The simple fact is that we have a science budget and it has been already allocated, so there is no new money, but we will obviously want to pay full attention to what Bill Wakeham says in his report about the health of physics and I do not think it is right to speculate on what is going to be in the McKilloch Review. Bill, as I understand it, is in the process of taking evidence and will produce a report in due course. I think that what the Secretary of State has said is completely right, that we have set up this review and we will want, as a government, to consider its conclusions.

Q181 Gordon Marsden MP “ Minister, I am not asking you to prejudge the Wakeham report. The point I am making is a rather different one. Here we have the Secretary of State commissioning a report after some very strong concerns in the physics and astronomy community and we have no idea as to whether that report's outcome, whatever it is, will have any impact on some of the basic fundamental decisions that are being made in that community by STFC. When Professor Mason came before the Committee, he said that it was not an option to delay any of the existing cuts. If it is not an option, then what is the point of having a review which may suggest a fundamentally different approach?

Ian Pearson MP “ I think that there is every point in having a review that looks at the health of physics overall and that is exactly what the Wakeham Review will do and, as a government, we will consider carefully its findings because we have a responsibility overall to ensure the health of physics for the future. It is not the responsibility of government, respecting the Haldane principles, to make detailed decisions in terms of how a research council should allocate its budget. That is up to the STFC and its decision-making processes which involve the scientific community.

Wakeham will now report in September 2008, as discussed in the 22 Feb 08 Panel picked to review UK physics article in Physics World . An earlier Physics review brought forward as cuts bite article in the Times Higher Education states - contrary to earlier remarks by Prof Keith Mason at the IUS Select Committee

“ A statement from the STFC, e-mailed last week to more than 16,000 people who signed a petition opposing the cuts, says the Wakeham review will report `in summer' [September], allowing the council to `take stock' in deciding where cuts will fall. The review's recommendations can `be accommodated within (the) timetable' for decision-making on budget cuts, says the STFC.

The 20 Feb 08 RCUK press release Panel members for RCUK Review of Physics announced notes:

“ The panel will be meeting at the end of February to finalise how the review will take evidence from the community. Factual information concerning inputs to and output from activities in physics are being accumulated to inform that meeting. The review recognises the importance of ensuring that all parties are able to feed in their views, and it is proposed that academic departments, through their universities, as well as learned societies be invited to make detailed written submissions to the review.

Furthermore, representatives from the discipline will be invited to attend the panel's evidence gathering sessions at the end of June. It is also expected there will be meetings with Funding Councils.

Read minutes of first review panel meeting on 29 Feb 08 and statement which includes

“ The review will not be commenting on the implications of the STFC's 2007 CSR settlement. Additionally, the panel agreed that the review will not comment on STFC management or the timing of funding decisions that are to be made. However the panel will be commenting on whether the current funding structure affects the long-term strength of physics in the UK.

Physics department submissions should be returned by 2 May 08 For further details see RCUK physics review website. A letter from Ann McKechin MP on 14 Mar 08 notes that DIUS have confirmed that a £30m STFC underspend from 2007/08 can be carried forward to assist before the Wakeham Review reports.

According to a letter to RAS fellows on 28 Apr 08, Prof Wakeham met with Prof Rowan-Robinson, Andy Fabian and David Elliott on 15 Apr 08 and requested specific input to his Review:

On 15 May 08, Prof Wakeham was interviewed in an article 'This is a big job needing to be done very quickly' for Times HES. Apparently ministers would like to know the Wakeham review's `direction of thinking' in July, suggesting it could have some sway over the STFC's current funding decisions. Prof Wakeham plans to examine whether astronomy and particle physics are important for attracting students into undergraduate physics, and comments:

“ Ideally, we would like to know what the shape of funding in comparable countries is - and, if our pattern is very different, at least question why.

The nature of the response from some has been that their whole economic foundation is threatened by a perturbation in one research council. Having all your business relying mostly on two sources of money [home undergraduates and the STFC] is very dangerous.

In advance of the Wakeham Review itself, the Times Higher Education featured a news item Physicists fear mergers on horizon on 14 Aug 08. The report was due to be provided to RCUK Executive Group during the week of >u>15 Sep 08 - see RCUKEG membership - recommendations were made public on 1 Oct 08. Read pdf and listen to mp3 of interview with Prof Wakeham, which included

“ Everybody in the community must take some responsibility for a very considerable worry in the international community about the state of British physics and its engagement with the international community. That means not just the Research Council but the individual researchers. And I think we need to rebuild that trust in the international community

The Wakeham Review Executive Summary includes:

A Response to the Wakeham review was provided by RCUK. Also, read summary of Wakeham review submissions from stakeholders, research councils, witnesses, statistics, bibliometric analysis and resulting `physics impacts'

The review was reported in UK physics in good health - study from BBC Science News quoting Prof Martin Rees

“ Recent government funding for science has been positive, and this review serves as a good reminder that to deliver on the potential of science the government must maintain that support

and Britain's reputation as physic leader 'harmed by £80m crisis' in The Times, Physics research in good health from Financial Times, a news item independent panel passes judgement on UK physics in Nature, UK physics 'damaged' by £80m funding shortfall news item at, Wakeham review slams STFC operations in Research Day UK plus Physics in rude health from Education Guardian quoting incoming IOP President - Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell - who said the review was not expected to resolve the concerns raised over funding of physics research. If the recommendations for greater consultation with the science community on funding and for specific funding for particle physics and astronomy facilities and research grants were acted upon, they

“ ..should go a long way to ensure that we do not encounter similar difficulties in the future

she said - see also Institute of Physics' new President responds to the publication of RCUK's Physics Review. In addition, RAS Council responded to the Wakeham review (see press release). Nature also included a UK physics gets a health check commentary from Prof Bill Wakeham, while The Register naturally came up with its own irreverent take UK physics 'damaged' by budget blunder bloodbath from The Register. A news item Physicists to take Wakeham's advice and cast net wider from Research Fortnight on 8 Oct 08 included

“ I welcome this initial move (to add two more scientists to STFC Council) but i'd have liked to have seen more than that.

from Prof Martin Barstow, while Prof Ian Halliday argues that the problem (of tensioning expenditure across the whole range of STFC's activities) will eventually lead to its downfall, predicting that the STFC can last no longer than two years with its current structure. RCUK physics review opinion pieces from Prof Bill Wakeham, Prof Ken Pounds and Prof Phil Allport featured in Research Fortnight on 8 Oct 08.

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Section Last Updated: Dec 2009

Talking at his first Science Question Time with the IUSS Committee on 26 Jan 09, Lord Drayson said that tough decisions would need to be made about which areas of science would yield economic benefits for the UK as funding restrictions begin to bite. Drayson said that he wanted to open a debate about which disciplines should be considered strategically important for the country, noting that the UK has the potential to become a `world leader' in life sciences, thanks to the information held within the NHS, the funds available to researchers from charitable funders and the strong support shown by the public for their work, specifically

Lord Drayson: I am calling for a serious debate about the areas of focus for this country in the future, and this is not about ministers making these choices. We do have, I think, a very effective process based upon both peer review and, for example, initiatives such as the Technology Strategy Board, but it is about having a debate about the question, just asking the question. Given that we are in an environment where other countries are doing this, given that we see real need to Reba lance our economy, we need a diversified economy, but we need to be clear about what are the key assets which the United Kingdom has which puts it in a relatively strong position, and where are those assets best deployed to ensure that we are playing to our strengths? That is a debate which I know will cause some interest, but I do think it is one which we need to have because it is the reality of the environment in which we operate as a country.

This was followed with a Foundation for Science and Technology Lecture from Lord Drayson on 12 Feb 09 (watch here) in which he raised the question whether UK funding for science and innovation should be focussed. See leader in Times Higher Ed. This speech was followed on 19 Feb 09 with a speech from the IUS Secretary of State John Denham MP, reported in a news item in Research Day UK, quoting Prof Martin Rees as being `perplexed' by its content.

The 27 Feb 09 Romanes Lecture from Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP was preceded by a science funding debate between Lord Krebs and Prof Don Braben. A view from Prof Martin Rees about the balance between basic and targeted science was published by Research Fortnight on 4 Mar 09. The possibility of targeting research funding was raised in evidence sessions for the IUSS inquiry `Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy' featuring Prof Martin Rees on 25 Feb 09 (read transcript) and Prof Adrian Smith (DG for Science and Research) on 16 Mar 09 (read transcript). A view from Dr Kevin Fong focused upon the long term need for blue skies research funding in Research Fortnight on 19 Mar 09

A joint statement from the IoP, Royal Academy of Engineering, EPSRC, the Royal Society of Chemistry, Royal Society and the Council for Mathematical Sciences was released on 2 Apr 09 arguing for a sustained, broad research base in the UK, while Prof Martin Rees wrote an opinion piece in The Guardian on 16 Apr 09. A letter from DIUS secretary of State John Denham MP on 22 Apr 09 included

The (Research) Councils will be developing plans over the next few months to refocus their research programmes for 2010-11 into new priority areas

while a news item from Times Higher Ed included a view from Prof Martin Rees:

It was too much to hope that Chancellor Alistair Darling would have offered a boost for science to match the Obama Administration's initiatives in the US. We now have a harder job to attract and retain mobile talent in the face of the enhanced allure of the US, and the research councils' hard-pressed ``ring-fenced'' funds must be optimally deployed to this end.
Hidden in the small print of the (2009) Budget is something that could impede this goal - the requirement to refocus research funding on new priority areas.
Such prioritisation is inevitable outside the ring-fence, and we should welcome the commitment to new investment in clean-energy technologies and high-tech start-ups.
But it is surely topsy-turvy that a Government that is rightly reluctant to pick winners in its industrial policy should aspire to do this in the intrinsically less predictable arena of academic research.

In a significant opinion piece These men would've stopped Darwin in The Guardian from 11 May 09, George Monbiot wrote

Why is the Medical Research Council run by an arms manufacturer? Why is the Natural Environment Research Council run by the head of a construction company? Because our universities are being turned into corporate research departments. No longer may they pursue knowledge for its own sake: the highest ambition to which they must aspire is finding better ways to make money.

Lord Drayson responded with a view Built on brainpower in The Guardian on 17 May 09. He also provided evidence to the final IUSS committee `Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy' enquiry, including

Dr Harris: Finally, can you guarantee that the funding for curiosity driven research will be ringfenced in the future?
Lord Drayson The funding for research is ringfenced. That is one of the, I think, important decisions that have been made recently by the government to maintain the science ringfence in the recent budget statements, and as set out prior to that by the Prime Minister himself. In terms of the government's commitment to fundamental, pure, blue-sky research, however you want to define it, that commitment remains. It was never my intention within the area of raising the debate about focus to make the distinction between pure and applied research. I think I have gone on record a number of times now saying how I recognise the importance of fundamental research. The balance of fundamental to applied research is a judgement that the scientific community, through the research councils, need to make, based upon their judgement of excellence within the particular branch of science which is being considered.
Dr Gibson: You believe they are capable of making that decision?
Lord Drayson: Yes, I do, I have confidence in them to do that.
Dr Harris: And you are not throwing hints about economically productive research being something they should favour?
Lord Drayson: I am not making hints about my belief that there is some association between economically productive and pure and applied, or pure or applied. I think that is the linkage which people are trying to make the jump to, but which I do not accept. I think we need to be clear as to which branches of research, based upon excellence in science, based upon excellence within our scientists, in terms of the global environment, and those judgements are rightly made through the peer review process.

Lord Drayson subsequently made a speech on 3 Jun 09 at the Cheltenham Science Festival How can science help build a better future?, which immediately preceded the announcement of a change of ministry for scientific research.

Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell, incoming IoP president wrote an opinion piece in The Times on 25 Jun 09 The case for investment in science. The IUSS committee published their Eighth report from 2008/09 `Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy' on 23 Jul 09, together with a press release Science reduced to political bargaining chip.

On 23 Sep 09 it was announced that the Research Excellence Framework draft metric included a 25 percent component of `impact'. A consultation on REF was open until 16 Dec 09, while the first REF exercise is due to be completed in 2013. The intention to include such a large component of REF on impact has met with vehement resistance from the research community, which has included a Stand up for research statement from UCU, reported in a Nobel laureates in fight against impact-based research funding news item in Times Higher Ed. A New Statesman blog entry from 19 Oct 09 was entitled Against `impact' - see also Nobelists protest `economic impact' clause from Nature (blog) on 22 Oct 09. The RAS has also objected to the use of impact in REF. UCU has asked HEFCE to reduce the weighting given to impact in its response to the REF consultation according to a news item in Research Day UK from 26 Nov 09. See also REF should stay out of the game view in The Independent. Educators for Reform have written a response to REF - see link.

In parallel with plans to include impact in REF, there have been objections to the use of `impact' in the assessment of research funds, including an e-petition to the Prime Minister from Prof James Ladyman. A letter from 48 senior academics to RCUK also petitioned against the use of economic impact in research proposals.

Prof Philip Moriarty, in a 22 Oct 09 letter to Times Higher Ed has outlined the numerous high profile objections to impact to date. Both topics (REF and research funding use of impact) were raised in a debate on 30 Nov 09 organized by the Times Higher Ed, BIS and Wellcome Trust, featuring Lord Drayson, reported in Science we have a problem and Lord Drayson defends REF's principles in Times Higher Ed.

The newly reformed Science and Technology Committee, in a 3 Dec 09 session with Prof Alan Thorpe (RCUK chair), discussed the question of impact (read transcript), reported in RCUK chairman warns against funding cut in Research Day UK, followed by a The worse of all worlds view from Sally Hunt (UCU) in Times Higher Ed, and BBC Science News Top scientists attack funds plan report from 4 Dec 09.

Finally, Leslie Ann Goldberg has a dedicated Assessing Research by Economic Impact webpage, which includes some useful briefing notes (e.g. Discoveries that would not survive the REF from UCU).

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07/08 Programmatic Review

Section Last Updated: Nov 2008

This is the 2008 review of the projects in which STFC are involved (nearly all within PPAN) - see complete list - except for those still to be considered for approval. Within astronomy and space science, this (long) list includes everything from Astro-Grid, BepiColombo and Cassini through to Swift, UKIRT and XMM Newton, plus R&D effort for E-ELT, SKA and XEUS.

From the 2007/08 STFC Delivery Plan

“ This [programmatic] review will enable us to establish the scale of on-going investment needed in our existing facilities consistent with the new strategy or whether we should run down provision to allow investment in new opportunities which are better aligned to this strategy. ”

Material from a Freedom of Information Act 2000 request by Prof Mike Green provided edited minutes from PPAN/PALS committee meetings.

For astronomy, the first 24 Jul 07 meeting notes

“ it is possible many universities have `over' invested resulting in some being over reliant on STFC for income' ”

The 10 Sep 07 minutes discussed how the Programmatic Review would be undertaken including a presentation by the lead rapporteur, how conflicts of interest were handled, and how grades would be weighted

“ Strategic importance, impact, UK involvement and Scientific Output would have a weighting of 2, while other criteria would carry a weighting of 1. ”

Other criteria included the scientific user base, training and industrial benefit. The 4 Dec 07 meeting discussed projects within a number of groups as follows, for those relevant to astronomy and space science

Additional projects, namely Aurora, Bepi-Colombo, GAIA and JWST-MIRI were considered in the Jan 08 meeting, where Gemini North and South were scored separately. The outcome of this prioritization was discussed by Science Board (23-24 Jan 08) and in turn to STFC Council (28-29 Jan 08) and their Executive who will convert the final priority list into a programme that meets the overall financial constraints and strategy.

The modus operandi of Council is not to consider scientific choices - see presentation by Prof Mason from 27 Apr 07. The 7 Feb 08 STFC Programmatic Review: Next Steps news release notes:

“ There will be a consultation period of three weeks following the release of the programmatic review results during which the relevant communities will be encouraged to submit their views. ”

As outlined at the 3 Mar 08 Town Meeting (see Town Meeting slides ) the methodology was to set up small subject-based panels to distil the input into a form where it can be considered - panels include The latter panel (and addition of solar physics) followed a comment at the Town Meeting (read unofficial meeting notes from Particle physics colleagues). STFC will nominate panel chairs who will organize the exercise within each area. On 17 Mar 08, Prof John Womersley provided an Update on the Consultation process in which (most) small panel chairs were announced, including: Prof Martin Ward (ground-based astronomy); Prof Mike Thompson (Solar physics and STP); Prof Carlos Frenk (Computation and Theory), and Prof Steve Schwartz (Space Science and Exploration).

The provisional outcome of the Programmatic Review 2008 is as follows, in which items in the top two categories are fairly safe, as are some items in the lower-medium band, but low priority items were considered to be at severe risk of support being withdrawn.

STFC Council on 27 Feb 08 decided that there was no credible option for withdrawal from Bepi-Colombo (one instrument is the subject of a Memorandum of Understanding with ESA) or Gemini (although a sale of 50% observing time for both telescopes from 2009 is planned). The case for further support in STEREO and Hinode to be reviewed next year. STFC have agreed a new short-term plan for UKIRT (see Apr 08 and Dec 08 updates). On Merlin, the current STFC planning assumption is that support will be withdrawn from 1 Apr 09, around the time at which e-MERLIN will be starting surveys(!), whose cost has been bourne by NWDA. STFC plan to discuss the situation with NWDA, mindful of the strategic link with SKA.

Sir Peter Knight (chair, Science Board, until Dec 08) commented

“ A whole part of the consultation exercise could be to reveal something that we've ignored or neglected - in which case we better change our minds otherwise there is no point having a consultation,

At the Town Meeting, the need for a strategic review of future provision for ground-based astronomy beyond 2012 was noted. Indeed, other than ESO (including KMOS), all ground-based telescopes are in the lower half of the priorities except for SCUBA-2 and Liverpool Telescope. Another project already in trouble is AstroGrid, whose full operational release is due to be unveiled on 1 April 08 during NAM2008 (although it was used for the Daily Telegraph article Ghostly phenomenon of the Northern lights from 19 Feb 08).

Science Board's recommendation to STFC Council at the Town Meeting comprised the following:

The two key aspects of the current prioritization are scientific impact and strategic importance (the STFC science and technology strategy is due to be made publically available in Apr 08 for consultation). Consequently, community response to the Programmatic Review may only consider scientific issues, and was requested until 21 Mar 08 - see Consultation exercise . This exercise was reported in a Deadline looms for science cuts from BBC Science News in which it was reported that

“ Some scientists believed the list had been fudged and that certain areas of science have fallen through the net (for example ground-based STP facilities have been earmarked as `lower priority' described by one researcher as `absurd'.

The reason for these oversights, some researchers believe was that the STFC advisory boards were too small and therefore did not represent every area of science they were making decisions about.

STFC is seeking money from external sources for other `low priority' projects such as the e-Merlin project at Jodrell Bank.

The council is in discussions with the Northwest Development Agency and Manchester University about how best to fund the expansion. It is also seeking international partners for UKIRT but has warned that if they fail to materialise "closure would have to be considered.

In a RAS press release from 4 Mar 08 RAS welcomes consultation, but remains dismayed at cuts to UK astronomy

“ The RAS does not accept the classification of many of the projects classified as lowest priority. Some of these have a high profile, including the Gemini Observatory, the e-MERLIN network centred on the Jodrell Bank radio observatory, and UK involvement in the Hinode space observatory currently being used to study activity on the Sun. Alongside the risks to these and other projects is a 25% cut in the STFC research grants to universities that will see numbers of postdoctoral researchers in space science and astronomy fall to their lowest level for 7 years.

The Science Board announcement also prompted a report in Research Fortnight on 5 Mar 08 STFC science board bears brunt of lost confidence which notes

“ Physicists have given a lukewarm reception to the STFC Science Board's plan to consult them on its programmatic review. They warn that the process is being rushed and they don't trust its transparency.

Several attendees said they were unimpressed to hear that the consultation on these lists would only be for three weeks - and then the nine [now ten] independent panels that will review their submissions are yet to be appointed, despite the pressing schedule. Seeking to allay their misgivings, Peter Knight, the board's chairman, told them that they would be able to make recommendations for the panels and that he hoped they would have access to all the information submitted under the consultation.

On 6 Mar 08 World-leading telescopes face being shut down to save £2.5m in the Times quoting Phil Diamond (Director, Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics)

“ It will essentially mean the STFC are closing down a field of astronomy. A lot of the scientific community would be outraged.

David Willetts MP (Shadow Innovation Secretary) commented

“ The Government has failed to appreciate the damage that is being done to the science community and needs to think again

while Dr Melvin Hoare added

“ The decision should certainly be reversed. The £8 million thats been spent will go to waste. Thats government money, taxpayers money. It is galling and so ridiculous.

See also Turning a blind eye to a magic kingdom of marvellous things , Jodrell Bank fears funding loss in BBC England News and UK's world-class astronomy project faces closure in Education Guardian . Prof Diamond was also interviewed during a BBC Radio 4 Today programme item on MERLIN on 6 Mar 08 (listen to MP3 ). In addition, an article Professor Sir Bernard Lovell condemns 'disastrous' plan to close Jodrell Bank appeared in the Times on 7 Mar 08 in which Sir Bernard Lovell notes

“ It will be a disaster. Merlin is dealing with problems that are of fundamental importance. Its of international importance.

The fate of the Jodrell Bank telescope is bound up with the fate of e-Merlin. I don't think the establishment can survive if the e-Merlin funding is cut. In another ten or fifteen years it might be justified to say its time to close down but now isn't the right time. E-Merlin is about to begin. To stop it now is really absurd. I cant believe it would happen. I sincerely hope not.

Its the very worst time. It would have been better five years ago, before all the extra money had been spent and all the extra people were involved.

see also For 50 years, it has watched the stars. Now, to plug a black hole in the budget, Jodrell Bank may close in the Independent and World-famous Jodrell Bank telescope could close to save Government £2.7million a year in Daily Mail. According to Prof Monica Grady (Science Board)

“ They are not facing immediate closure and we are doing our best to find alternative funding,

while Sir Patrick Moore adds

“ If we lose Jodrell Bank, it will be a devastating blow not only to British radio astronomy, but to astronomy all over the world. The amount involved is not very much in the bigger scheme of things.

It's about the same amount claimed by Cabinet ministers last year for their expenses.

When you consider the work we have done in understanding the nature of the universe, Jodrell Bank has always been at the forefront. I hope something can be done to persuade the Government to change its mind. They say they are saving money to put into science elsewhere, but that's not true.

Just imagine what the rest of the world will think.

An item Founders plea for Jodrell Bank in the Manchester Evening News quotes Nick Clegg MP

“ To scrap a prestigious and important project such as Jodrell Bank would show a worrying lack of foresight. For this to be planned shortly after awarding £8m to upgrade the telescopes is nothing short of madness.

and Sir Nicholas Winterton MP

“ They have already spent millions on building the array and are now threatening to pull the plug on it. The government insists it places great priority on science and should do something to ensure it can continue carrying on its work.

Jodrell Bank was one of several possible sites for the first LOFAR UK site, but in May 08, STFC's Chilbolton Observatory was selected instead (see lofar-uk). Fortunately, the SKA preparatory phase (PrepSKA) is being coordinated through Jodrell Bank (see STFC Press Release from April 08).

The Institute of Physics issued a statement on the STFC Consultation, including

“ The Institute does not wish to comment publicly on individual programmes or the priorities assigned to them but we hope no irreversible decisions are made on key projects, until after Wakeham has reported.

A number of letters in the Times also appeared on 7 Mar 08 under the headline Closing Jodrell Bank for the sake of 4p a head including Prof Ken Pounds

“ It [Jodrell] is only one of many likely casualties in areas of scientific research in which the UK has long excelled, following the demise a year ago of the PPARC. The protection of blue-skies research, built into the founding charter of the PPARC in 1994, was lost with that recent change, leaving fields such as astronomy highly vulnerable at a time when a welcome increase in overall science budgets has been accompanied by Treasury demands for evidence of economic return.

An article Jodrell Bank to close because scientists voted for own plans in the The Times on 12 Mar 08 claimed PPAN panel members decided that projects `closer to their own hearts' were of higher priority than Jodrell Bank, a suggestion strongly denied by the then PPAN chair Prof Walter Gear

“ I stand by this process absolutely. I completely refute any suggestion of bias or prejudice. There is a very strict protocol that was followed to the letter. There was absolutely no question of undue influence being applied. I think the whole thing was done in an open and completely fair manner.

For the record, the Spring 2008 astronomy/space science members of PPAN were:

while relevant members of Science Board were

An RAS press release from 14 Mar 08 on the STFC Programmatic Review Consultation includes the following statement to STFC

On 14 Mar 08 partial Project feedback from PPAN was made public, including Advanced LIGO, AstroGrid, BiSON, Cassini, Gemini, GEO600, JCMT, JWST, LT, SOHO, Stereo, UKIRT. This was due to be updated as further agreement is given for release of information by PI's (the full list was produced on 2 Apr 08). For particle physics, the initial rank of low-medium for LHCb was the biggest surprise, as discussed in a 3 Apr 08 news article Cuts threaten UK role at LHC from Physics World, in which Nick Broom reflects:

“ We should be on a high right now. Instead we're facing an up-hill struggle whereby we have to convince our paymasters that already agreed and peer-reviewed scientific goals are worth continued investment. ”

to which Val Gibson added (read her statement)

“ The STFC cannot claim that it supports world-leading science while grading LHCb as medium-lower priority. STFC has failed to understand the discovery potential of LHCb. ”

On 31 Mar 08, the panel membership consideration of programmatic review feedback from community was mostly complete. See updated comment on next steps by John Womersley in which panel reports will be considered by PPAN (24 Apr 08) and PALS (7 May 08) and subsequently Science Board on 9 May 08, after which the STFC Executive will prepare a report to Council with recommendations of its science programme, taking into account the consultation process and other strategic issues. According to News from STFC Council , from 20 Mar 08 there will be

“ Decisions on the forward evolution of the [science] programme shortly after the 1st July Council meeting. ”

after which the report from the Executive to Council (plus those of the panels) will be made public. Speaking on Sky At Night on 6 Apr 08, Prof Martin Rees reflected:

“ initial efforts to set priorities were clearly controversial and were not handled optimally ”


“ the priorities have been set in a rather premature way and I understand that the committees are now being reconstituted and will be having a rethink of their priorities and i'd be amazed if the Jodrell Bank project didn't end up with a rather higher priority than it seems to have this first time round. ”

Ad-hoc panel reports were released on 13 Jun 08, together with PPAN and PALS responses, including a revised grading system (alpha 5: high, to alpha 1: low), for which the majority of alpha 1 programmes are likely to be withdrawn.

See concise summaries of ground-based, space-based, solar, astroparticle, theory and particle physics prioritisations.

A BBC Science News article Jodrell Bank future looks better from 17 Jun 08 include Prof Andy Fabian commenting

“ It's not much different to what was there before, but there are a few notable changes which we welcome. And it's notable for the number of things they have not taken up from the ad hoc panels rather than the things they have. ”

The RAS Council response from 19 Jun 08 includes:

“ The Society also remains concerned at the way in which the STFC Executive failed to consult on the priorities for its research programme before the initial priority lists were drawn up. This compounds a recent record of poor communication with the astronomical community which exacerbated the sense of crisis earlier this year.

This was followed on 21 Jun 08 by an article Jodrell Bank future in balance after glowing report is ignored includes Prof Martin Ward commenting

“ We think e-Merlin should be given at least a couple of years to prove itself. I felt we had achieved something but we were disappointed they didn't move along the way we suggested.

to which Phil Willis MP added

“ This is a research council which at the moment doesn't have the confidence of its community. STFC have dug themselves into a hole and there's an element of self-preservation here creeping in.

This article prompted Prof Keith Mason to respond with a letter to The Times on 26 Jun 08

“ The panels recommendations were scrutinised by our standing peer-review panel and in the case of e-Merlin at Jodrell Bank, resulted in the project being lifted to a higher priority, just as the independent panel advised.

STFC Council finalized decisions on projects, echoing PPAN's prioritizations, on 1 Jul 08, with these final outcomes announced on 3 Jul 08, prompting Physics names winners and losers in BBC Science News and UK physics funding plans are approved in Physics World (see also 1 Aug 08 Projects reprieved - but cuts still loom analysis). Decisions were discussed at a community meeting on 8 Jul 08.

More generally, the infrastructure roadmap for European astronomy was set out on 25 Nov 08 when the Astronet report Europe Unveils 20-Year Plan for Brilliant Future in Astronomy was released, as reported in Astronomers unveil wish list and Europe unveils 20-year astronomy roadmap news item in Physics World

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2010 Prioritisation

Section Last Updated: Feb 2010

As a result of the recurrent £45m shortfall, all science areas supported from STFC have had to ensure very painful cuts to highly rated programmes for 2010/11, which was announced on 16 Dec 09, including (at least) an additional 10 per cent cut to new research grants from 2010 onwards (on top of the 25 per cent cut from CSR07).

A number of brief reports were released to coincide with the announcement, including Science board, PPAN, and PALS News, plus FAQs. Headline figures are given below:

Facility exploitation (through grants and studentships) was generally the highest priority items from Advisory Panels, suggesting that recommendations from Advisory Panels to PPAN may not have been closely followed. Prof Bob Nichol's (FUAP chair) response:
What a terrible signal to send to our young astronomers.
while No more booms, just bust from The Economist included
The cuts, needless to say, have gone down like a cup of cold sick with many in the scientific community.
It was somewhat ironic that the latest results from ESA's Herschel were released on the same date as STFC's announcement (16 Dec 09), with first images from the UK built VISTA telescope released by ESO on 11 Dec 09. If cuts to research posts and programmes carry on as they have since the beginning of CSR07 then there will not be many more astrophysics science announcements with UK leadership to report.

On 5 Feb 10, final PPAN and PALS reports were made public, outlining their consideration of programmes from the previous 2007/08 programmatic review plus more recent additions. Within the astronomy, space science and particle astrophysics areas the following prioritisations resulted:

In contrast to the 2007/08 exercise (alpha 2-5 supported), the new prioritisation could only support alpha 4-5 programmes. In view of this, Science Board presented arguments to Council why e-Merlin (alpha3) should be supported in view of research and development effort towards SKA. Indeed, there was no word on any potential investment in northern hemisphere facilities beyond 2012. On Aurora, the PPAN report included

It was recognised that, given the high profile UK commitment to Aurora, to propose withdrawal would have a very high political cost both for STFC within the UK, and for the UK space programme internationally. PPAN did not consider it feasible to achieve a reduction in the planned Aurora subscription.

Aurora (alpha4) survived with only a minor (£1m) cut despite not being one of the highest priority subject areas within NUAP.

Following the Dec 09 announcement, an Astronomy Forum meeting from 15 Jan 10 was held, including a presentation from Prof John Womersley, and questions from the NUAP, FUAP and GBFR panels - see Forum minutes.

NASA announced the extension of the Cassini mission until 2017 on 3 Feb 10, prompting a letter to The Times by Michele Dougherty et al. from 5 Feb 10, including

At the same time that a new UK space agency is about to be created, the STFC is breaking obligations to international partners and undermining the UK's future position in multinational space projects.

The Science Minister, Lord Drayson, responded to the Dec 09 STFC announcement with a statement including

However, it has become clear to me that there are real tensions in having international science projects, large scientific facilities and UK grant giving roles within a single Research Council. It leads to grants being squeezed by increases in costs of the large international projects which are not solely within their control. I will work urgently with Professor Sterling, the STFC and the wider research community to find a better solution by the end of February 2010.

Without RCUK and BIS support STFC would have been in a far worse state, although current plan rely on (optimistic) flat-cash funds from 2011 onwards. Explicitly, assistance has come from other Research Councils to avoid further cuts to already announced grants, plus contingency money from BIS helps to STFC currently covers additional subscription costs. Otherwise it was reassuring that Council/Executive were responsive to advice from Science Board and their immediate advisory panels (PPAN, PALS), with relatively minor cuts to the highest priority programmes (alpha5, 10 percent).

Naturally, there was lots of blog activity over the Dec 09 STFC prioritisation, notably The e-Astronomer's The axeman cometh, To the left of centre's STFC Investing in the future? and In the Dark's Day of Reckoning

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2010 S&T Inquiry

Section Last Updated: Mar 2010

On 14 Jan 10 the Commons Science and Technology Committee announced an inquiry examining the impact of spending cuts on science, engineering and technology and scientific research, setting out to examine the following issues

This inquiry follows the Select Committee's reaction to the 16 Dec 09 STFC prioritisation exercise

We are hugely disappointed that any cuts have to be made to the science research budget. We are hugely disappointed that studentships and fellowships will be cut. It is clearly unacceptable that any Research Council has to bear the brunt of increased cost as a result of the vagaries of currency fluctuations. The Government needs to establish a centrally-driven, robust system for funding international subscriptions based on scientific peer review.
plus a statement from Science Minister Lord Drayson
However, it has become clear to me that there are real tensions in having international science projects, large scientific facilities and UK grant giving roles within a single Research Council. It leads to grants being squeezed by increases in costs of the large international projects which are not solely within their control. I will work urgently with Professor Sterling, the STFC and the wider research community to find a better solution by the end of February 2010.

Selected submissions to the STFC review have been made public, including the submission from the Astronomy Forum, Recommendations for review of the Science and Technology Facilities Council from the Institute of Physics input from the Nuclear Physics Community.

Written submissions for the Select Committee inquiry were requested by 27 Jan 10, of which the majority remain confidential until publication of the report, although a 25 Jan 10 letter from Prof George Efstathiou to Lord Drayson has been made public.

The first oral evidence session was held on 3 Feb 10 with Lord Broers (Board Chair, Diamond Light Source), Prof Brian Cox (Manchester/CERN), Nick Dusic (CaSE), Ian Gray (Technology Strategy Board CEO), Dr Tony Peatfield (Director of Corporate Affairs, MRC), Prof Michael Sterling (Chair STFC), Prof Alan Thorpe (Chair RCUK). See transcript or watch the session on Parliament TV. This session was reported in `Now is the time to invest in science, not to make cuts' news item from Times Higher Ed.

Read transcript of oral evidence from second session on 10 Feb 10, which was reported in Russell Group head grilled by MPs over claim cuts would set sector back 800 years from Times Higher Ed.

A third session with Lord Drayson and David Lammy MP took place on 24 Feb 10 - watch session on Parliament TV or read transcript, including

Q276 Dr Iddon “ There is a feeling in the community represented by STFC that when CCLRC and PPARC came together that that was probably a mistake. Is it possible that there might be some more restructuring of the STFC?

Lord Drayson “ I recognise that the creation of STFC has led to a situation where, because of the very nature of STFC as a research council which has a larger proportion of its funding being spent on large international facilities, costed not in sterling, where Britain is an important but a minority partner, the creation of this structure through the merger has meant that pressures which are not within the control of the Research Council, like exchange rate risk, changes that are decided by the majority of other countries to increase costs, leads to pressure on the grant-giving side of the Research Council. I have said that I accept that that is a problem. The purpose of the review is to come up with solutions to that problem. I am optimistic we can come up with solutions to this.

Q277 Dr Iddon “ The astronomy community and the nuclear physics community, in particular, but others as well, feel they have no clout within the STFC, they have no say on the council of the STFC and they are now being marginalised. We are talking about some pretty important areas of fundamental research. Do you feel that we should in some way try to protect those areas like nuclear physics and astronomy that are being marginalised at the moment?

Lord Drayson “ I hear what you are saying about the concerns that that community has. There have been a number of communications to me and to other ministerial colleagues about the concerns within the STFC community and we are listening to those very carefully. As part of the review we are not just looking at the structural elements of the organisation of STFC but we are listening to the community. I can say that I absolutely recognise the fundamental importance and excitement in those areas. I have a child who is particularly keen on astronomy, and so I am well aware of the importance of astronomy, not just in terms of the answers it gives to some very fundamental questions in science, but also its power in terms of enthusing and motivating young people to study science.

On 4 Mar 10 STFC structural changes were announced - see New arrangements for STFC from BIS and Ministerial Review of STFC from STFC.

Lord Drayson commented:

There is no doubt STFC faced a difficult situation. A lot of work has gone in to finding ways of preventing such pressures rearing their heads again in future. The better management of international subscriptions through measures to manage exchange rates, and longer-term planning and budgeting for large domestic facilities will allow STFC's grant-giving functions to be managed with a higher degree of predictability. The community has come out strongly in support of grants remaining with STFC to deliver investment continuity from facility design through to exploitation, and I accept this argument. These measures will allow the Council to pursue the programme it set out in December within its budget.

A joint response from the IoP/RAS included

We thank Lord Drayson for initiating this review to resolve the structural problems caused by the three disparate strands of science that STFC funds. We have been particularly concerned about the way in which unforeseeable rises in international subscriptions due to the falling value of the pound have put extreme pressure on the funding available from STFC both for research grants and the running of UK-based facilities. Today's announcement demonstrates that the problem has now been recognised and we look forward to seeing how it will be addressed. IOP and RAS trust that the Treasury will recognise the importance of science by taking responsibility for currency fluctuations. We now look forward to working with Professor Sterling in helping to ensure that STFC is able to deliver the very best science programme.

The restructure was reported in Promise made on UK physics woes from BBC Science News, Government moves to protect STFC grants line from Research Day UK (requires subcription), UK physicists welcome research council reforms from, Could radical surgery save UK physics funding agency? from The Great Beyond (Nature blog), UK Research Council protected by funding changes from ScienceInsider, Lord Drayson's plan to save the STFC from Eureka Zone (The Times blog), and Have they fixed the broken STFC? from The S Word (New Scientist blog)

See list of memoranda, including submissions from BIS, RCUK, RAS, IoP, PP Action Group, STFC Science Board

Sixth Report (HTML) of 2009-10 session from Science and Technology Ctte, The Impact of Spending Cuts on Science and Scientific Research (PDF). See Science cuts threaten economic recovery, warm MPs press release. Conclusions and recommendations include:

The new report is discussed in Retrospective impact assessment an `insurmountable' task from Times Higher Ed, MPs warn science cuts will harm economy from Chemistry World, Science funding: it's the economy, stupid from The S Word (New Scientist blog) and UK government slammed over science cuts from The Great Beyond (Nature blog)

A Private Members' Debate on the Future of Physics Research, also on 23 Mar 10, was secured by Liberal Democrat Science Spokesman Dr Evan Harris - watch on parliament tv or read Hansard transcript

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Section Last Updated: Mar 2010

A number of blogs on the STFC cuts have been posted by astronomers and physicists:

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Section Last Updated: Jan 2010

From STFC:

Freedom of Information Act 2000 requests: Corrected transcripts from IUSS Committee evidence sessions into their inquiry in the science budget allocations: Reports/speeches from UK government and cttes: From Royal Astronomical Society/IoP/Royal Society/BNSC/misc:

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Frequently Asked Questions

Section Last Updated: Dec 2009

What has happened in CSR07?

In short, the science budget has continued to increase under the present Government for the next three years (CSR07: Apr 2008-Mar 2011), but the new STFC research council - a recent merger of PPARC and CCLRC - were unable to adequately convince DIUS of a better than flat-cash allocation, representing a £80m shortfall compared with that needed to maintain the 2007/08 programme. According to a summary of the 1 Apr 08 HEP Town Meeting (from John Fry) uncommitted underspends (circa £20m) are being allowed to be carried forward from 2007/08 to help with some of the short-term problems. The Fourth Report of Session 2007-08 from the IUSS Committee published on 30 Apr 08 commented:

“ The timing of the formation of STFC was not propitious. It takes time to set up a new organisation, especially one as large and complex as STFC. The Government's expectation that STFC would be ready for a new CSR was overly ambitious. ”

Why is a 13.6% increase bad news?

Most of the headline increase in the settlement for STFC over CSR07 came in the form of non-cash (52% increase, dealing with depreciation of assets etc) and capital (e.g. for investment in items which will become assets, e.g. buildings, facilities), with only an 8.0% increase over three years in near-cash (salaries, subscriptions, running costs), an increase which is dominated by the allowance for full economic costs. Once fEC is subtracted, the increase becomes 2.6% from 2007/08 to 2010/11, which of course means the buying power of STFC erodes against inflation Even worse, once facility running costs and subscriptions are accounted for, everything else has been disproportionately squeezed, including astronomy and particle physics projects, cost savings at STFC establishments, and the volume of post-doc positions for science exploitation. STFC Council minutes from 25Jun07 noted that Prof Keith Mason pointed out that a 17% uplift would have been required to deliver a full programme of new priority initiatives as well as existing commitments.

Why were £120m savings announced in view of the £80m shortfall?

To allow some flexibility during the CSR for new ideas, and allow some capacity to respond to the outcome of the STFC Programmatic Review 2008 (see Town Meeting slides ). The grants-line was included in the review, but PPAN decided the cost to the programmes would have been too great for the grants to benefit from of the extra £40m `headroom'. There has been no net saving to PPAN programmes, with £33M saving falling upon exploitation grants (See updated financial restructuring plan presented to Council on 29 Apr 08).

What does a 25% cut in grants mean?

Initially there was to be a reduction of 25% in the volume of research to be carried out in new commitments over CSR07 versus that would otherwise have occured (saving £33M across A/PP/NP). Better news was announced on 15 Oct 08 namely a £6M contribution to the planned reduction in the original shortfall for 2009, 2010.

Cuts to the 2008 astronomy grants round have now been implemented (115 were planned versus 82 awarded, according to slide 37 from SB Town Meeting on 3 Mar 08, going against the following recommendations from the 2005 International Review Panel

“ [astronomical observing communities] need building up so as to recoup the investment in access to Gemini, VLT and ALMA.

There were 329 STFC-funded (responsive) post-docs in astronomy during 2007/08 ( 0.6 PDRAs/academic ), which will reduce to approx 246 ( 0.45 PDRAs/academic for an assumed level number of academics) - the latter indeed 11% below 278 funded (responsible) post-docs in 2005. Approximately 9 extra PDRA grants were funded in 2009 following the grants update announced on15 Oct 08, followed by a reduction to 69 awards in 2010 so 6 (AGP 2007), 15 (AGP 2008), 64 (AGP 2009) fewer astronomy jobs will be available to exploit our facilities than would otherwise have been the situation. This means a higher competition for UK positions in astronomy, encouraging students and post-docs to `discipline-hop'. Further details are in Annex A of the News from STFC Council following their 28/29 Jan strategy meeting, and commented upon in the Andrew King analysis item Stars in their eyes from Research Fortnight on 20 Feb 08

“ The pain for research groups in the next two funding rounds is delayed, but will be much greater unless something changes.

Of course, one could argue that these groups will receive bigger cuts only because they had bigger rises in the past. Certainly, groups in this year's round can feel aggrieved that they did not share in the boom years of 2006 and 2007. However, for groups in the next two rounds, the lurch from glut to famine will be hard to bear. They will have to abandon research lines just as they believed them successful. The huge fluctuations in grant income, amplified by the multiplier effect of fEC, will cause real problems for physics departments and universities, which have used recent grant levels as their baselines for future planning.

The situation for promising young researchers will be even worse. Production of graduate students has also increased sharply over recent years, and not peaked yet. These new PhDs will find themselves competing for only 82 PDRA posts in each of the next 3 years. Moreover, many of the accumulated 82 PDRAs who dropped off grants in earlier years will be competing with them for the same positions. And all this turmoil is against a background of withdrawals from astronomy facilities so sudden that many students will struggle to complete their theses.

The Fourth Report of Session 2007-08 from the IUSS Committee published on 30 Apr 08 added:

“ Given the anxiety that grant cuts are causing to the physics and astronomy community, we are dismayed that STFC has been attempting to play down the effects of the cuts on the grounds that reductions in future grants are not problematic. We consider cuts to grants that had already been promised a major problem. We urge STFC to take immediate steps to communicate clearly and comprehensively to its research community the impact of its grant cuts.

What about studentships and fellowships?

For 2008 the total number of PhD studentships remained unchanged, with 11 out of the usual 12 advanced and post-doc fellowships awarded (despite no interviews) - see 'Brain-drain' into the UK offered by Studentships and Fellowships (STFC). For 2009 a reduced number of advanced fellowships were awarded (6), while 13 postdoc fellowship awards were made. In 2010 the postgraduate studentship round was cancelled, with a full complement of 12 advanced fellowship awards made.

What is full Economic Costing?

fEC is a recognition that the full cost of research costs need to be paid to universities, including staff time and infrastructure. fEC doesn't increase funding to physics departments, but merely reflects the cost to universities of supporting research funding. There is a Guardian Education article Pay up all about fEC from 29 Jan 08 and excellent Times Higher Education article Cheques and balances from 19 Jun 08

FEC was discussed during the 20 Feb 08 IUS Select Committee hearing (read transcript ),

Q255 Dr Iddon MP “ If all seven of the research councils had been responsible to meet FEC, of which we have all approved on this Committee, some of those economic costs for running research came from other budgets previously, so what has happened to the money in those other budgets, perhaps QR money, perhaps the universities themselves were funding the cost of that research? Have those budgets been transferred in any way whatsoever to the research councils to help them meet the FEC of 90 per cent next year.

Ian Pearson MP “ Just to confirm, full economic costing is part of the science budget. There is a well-established ring-fenced science budget. There was in SRO4 and full economic costs were part of that and similarly with CSR07 the science budget settlement contains money for full economic costing, and as Keith says, that will be £700 million-plus over the next three years.

Q257 Dr Iddon MP “ Before we had full economic costs somebody was funding the research.

Prof Sir Keith O'Nions “ What was happening before full economic costs, as all the analysis has shown - and by the way there has been no shift from QR; QR from HEFCE and the other funding councils has also increased apace over the this same period, so there is something of a golden age here - and then one gets beyond analysis into anecdote, that, in effect, the volume of research had expanded in universities through the 1990s into the early part of this decade and the expansion was actually unfunded, and in some universities it was probably taking money out of teaching and the teaching infrastructure, in others it may just not have been fixing the roof of the laboratories and so on, but in effect it was on a trajectory that was absolutely unsustainable into the future. What we are seeing is how much money it costs to get back into a sustainable situation where our universities in the UK, I believe, are as competitive and as attractive as anything in the world and you can see that in terms of the ability of our major universities to appoint global talent, and you are working now and competing for global talent, which costs a lot of money over a long period of time, but it has not raided other budgets; it just was not funded.

The bulk of the 8.0% increase in the STFC cash budget for CSR07 was due to fEC (the real increase from 2007/08 to 2010/11 was only 2.6% once fEC is accounted for).

Will we lose access to all ground-based telescopes?

When decisions to join ESO were taken in 2001 (see discussion in Should we join ESO? article from Dec 01 Astronomy and Geophysics), it was recognised that savings would need to be made in the remainder of the UK astronomy programme. Still, ESO and JCMT are safe (top priority), and Liverpool Telescope (LT) looks pretty safe (high-medium priority, later revised to alpha 3), while UK involvement in ING is probably secure until beyond CSR07 (alpha 3), but UKIRT (full service until Jan 09 but thereafter switch to solely WFCAM) and MERLIN are under threat (both are low priority, alpha 2) although the cost of the e-MERLIN upgrade is being bourne by NWDA, with whom STFC plan to discuss the situation (see Programmatic Review 2008 and Town Meeting slides ). Gemini, despite a low priority ranking is apparently safe until 2012 (see Gemini Board statement on 27 Feb 08), although the intention is to sell 50% of our time on both telescopes from 2009. EISCAT is apparently safe until the end of the current international agreement, while high-energy gamma-ray experiments ( HESS) were also ranked at low priority, subject to the outcome of the Consultation exercise (EISCAT: alpha 1, HESS: alpha 2). Finally, given the likely extra reliance upon archives in the future, it is curious that support for Astro-Grid is also at low priority (alpha 1).

What about space-based telescopes?

These are still available via our subscription to ESA, so no change on access to HST access. Post-launch support to Swift was ranked at high priority (subsequently alpha 4) in the Programmatic Review 2008, Herschel at high-medium priority (subsequently alpha 5) and XMM-Newton was ranked at low-medium priority (alpha 4), and INTEGRAL at low priority (alpha 1).

What about the Astronomy Technology Centre?

The call for voluntary redundancies has gone out at ATC. Instruments for major observatories are developed at ATC which employs circa 100 staff - so up to half of their jobs were feared to be under threat, subject to fresh income from elsewhere. It is only a decade since the ATC was setup to keep instrument development internationally competitive within the UK after the closure of the Royal Greenwich Observatory was announced.

ON 9 May 08, Prof Ian Robson was quoted in the Scotsman article Royal Observatory can focus on a future without job losses highlighting the fact that ATC posts would only be lost through natural wastage and voluntary redundancy, so long as the outside work (for other Research Councils, private sector, government initiatives) increased from 15 to 25 per cent, adding

“ It means we won't have any compulsory redundancies this calendar year and if we get things right, we won't have any full stop. As long as we get extra work in, we should be okay.

What are Science and Innovation Campuses?

The Government is keep to promote and focus knowledge transfer and graduate training within SIC's at Daresbury (site of SRS Synchrotron) and Harwell (site of Diamond and ISIS). Some academics are concerned that these developments will duplicate effort already being done already within University departments, and laboratories should concentrate on their core mission, namely optimising the return from STFC facilities for academics and industry. The proposed 4GLS (4th Generation Light Source) project for Daresbury has now been cancelled by STFC, following the recommendations of Science Board and the recent UK Light Source Review (A new UK Light Source Project has now been initiated.)

SRS will now close at the end of 2008, so Daresbury is to lose 150 jobs this year, plus 30 next year (see 12 Feb 08 More jobs `to be lost at Daresbury' in Liverpool Daily Post). Its future remains in the balance given the uncertainty over the Energy Recovery Linac Prototype (ERLP) accelerator now renamed ALICE (Accelerators and Lasers In Combined Experiments) and an add-on EMMA (Electron Model for Many Applications). Indeed 305 staff received `at risk of compulsory redundancy' letters on 6 Feb 08, despite assurances made by STFC Council in a 7 Feb 08 statement on its commitment to the development of the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus.

How and when were decisions made by DIUS?

Priorities were set by Research Councils in late 06/early 07, with draft Delivery (strategic) Plan's put to the Office of Science and Innovation (pre-DIUS). The global Science Budget was announced in Mar 07 so little would remain for new programmes according to Minutes from the 02Apr07 STFC Council meeting. These also revealed Prof Mason presented an overview of the STFC priorities to Sir Keith O'Nions in Mar 07 developed by a joint CCLRC/PPARC team. Cases for a range of possible outcomes between a 5% decrease and 10% increase in cash allocations (after FEC) were further discussed via a number of `bilaterals'. Once the Science Budget was announced in Oct 07 final Delivery Plan's were put forward by Research Councils in Nov 07 (noted at the 21Nov07 STFC Council meeting with great regret and considerable misgivings ). STFC's Plan - focusing all ground-based effort on ESO and cutting grants/studentships/fellowships to around the 50%(!) level in year one - was not signed off by Ministers (see minutes of 07Dec07 STFC Council meeting including suggested changes from DIUS were not acceptable), and the final STFC Delivery Plan was only accepted just prior to the Ministerial announcement on 11 Dec 07.

What is the Programmatic Review and how does it affect me?

This is a review of the activities undertaken by STFC (nearly all within PPAN) - see complete list - but within astronomy and space science everything from Astro-Grid, BepiColombo and Cassini through to Swift, UKIRT and XMM Newton, plus R&D effort for E-ELT, SKA and XEUS.

From the 2007/08 STFC Delivery Plan

“ This [programmatic] review will enable us to establish the scale of on-going investment needed in our existing facilities consistent with the new strategy or whether we should run down provision to allow investment in new opportunities which are better aligned to this strategy. ”

The 7 Feb 08 STFC Programmatic Review: Next Steps news release notes:

“ There will be a consultation period of three weeks following the release of the programmatic review results during which the relevant communities will be encouraged to submit their views. ”

See Consultation exercise. The methodology was to set up small subject-based panels to distil the input into a form where it could be considered by PPAN, as outlined at the 3 Mar 08 Town Meeting - see Town Meeting slides - and Programmatic Review section . Ad-hoc panel reports were released on 13 Jun 08, plus PPAN and PALS responses - see concise summaries of ground-based astronomy, space-science, solar, astroparticle, theory and particle physics prioritisations.

The American Astronomical Society have issued a 24 Jan 08 resolution on scientific priorities, which strongly endorses community-based priority setting as a fundamental component in the effective federal funding of research.

Why were PPAN members unfairly criticised in the Times over the Programmatic Review?

On 12 Mar 08 an article Jodrell bank to close `because scientists voted for own plans' appeared in The Times, claiming that the PPAN scientists decided that projects in which they were involved were of higher priority than others. There is indeed a strong correlation between the panel members and highly ranked projects, but of course, PPAN and all such committees have strict codes of conduct including how conflicts of interest are handled (see item 8.2 from Minutes of 10 Sep 07 PPAN meeting which outlines how conflicts were handled for the Programmatic Review). See also STFC response by Sir Peter Knight and Peter Warry which noted that the article `falls into the trap of impugning the integrity of the public spirited scientists who have performed the difficult task of ranking the STFC science portfolio'. In fact, one could plausibly argue that the correlation is strong since leading scientists - associated with cutting-edge facilities - are members of PPAN.

In reality, accusations of `bias' in the article were only possible since STFC management failed to setup advisory panels to PPAN, and decisions were reliant upon simply too few scientists. PPAN members were not to blame for this situation, since they made the best informed decisions that they could in the circumstances, with the information available to them. Still, a system in which only 10 PPAN scientists has to rank more than 50 projects across particle physics, astronomy, space science and nuclear physics is inherently flawed (especially since the only `expert' is often excluded through a conflict of interest). No doubt, this failing led to the formal Consultation exercise . See also Letter from Particle Physics Action Group in support of PPAN members, noting `a flawed peer-review structure.'.

Is the merger of PPARC with CCLRC at fault?

Apparently, the merger was formally `cost neutral', although the Fourth Report of Session 2007-08 from the IUSS Committee published on 30 Apr 08 raised specific concerns about the origin for the STFC shortfall through CCLRC (Minutes of the 25Jul07 Council meeting included concerns over an inherited £40m legacy problem).

“ We remain concerned that the former PPARC community has been saddled with a 75 million (at 2006/07 prices) funding deficit derived from CCLRC to meet the additional running costs of Diamond and ISIS TS2, despite assurances from the Government that STFC would be formed without any legacy issues. We conclude that the combined budget of PPARC and CCLRC was never going to be sufficient for STFC to manage Diamond, ISIS TS2, the other large facilities and all the PPARC research programmes. This was noted by the National Audit Office in January 2007, and therefore the Government should have known and should have acted upon it. The fact that it did not has had unfortunate consequences. We believe that the Government should ensure that its original commitment to leave no legacy funding issues from the previous Councils is honoured.

Regardless of any disputed legacy issues, higher running costs at Diamond and ISIS which benefit applied physics, life sciences, etc. haven't helped the balance sheet (from the ex-CCLRC side), but then neither have increases in international subscriptions for ESO and ESA (from the ex-PPARC side).

When the merger was proposed, most responses were of the opinion that astronomy facilities and research grants should remain in the same research council. With hindsight, astronomy exploitation grants would likely have fared better in CSR07 had these moved across to EPSRC, but then a squeeze in STFC that lacked research grants at CSR07 may not have left enough funds for the running costs of Diamond, ISIS, plus CERN, ESA and ESO membership. The greater reliance of Particle Physics on Rolling Grants explains their past reluctance to move across to responsive (Standard) exploitation grants within EPSRC. Overall though, don't be under the illusion that ESO ranks higher than CERN or especially Diamond/ISIS at Government level.

Why do currency or GDP fluctuations affect the budget?

Until Mar 08, variation in international subscriptions due to currency or Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fluctuations have been top-sliced off all the Research Councils. From the present CSR07, these will be charged directly to those Research Councils (STFC and NERC) which pay international subscription fees. STFC and NERC are liable for first £6m per annum, which has fed into the current £80m STFC shortfall (referred to in finances page - in late 2008 this was reduced to the first £3m per annum - see update).

This topic was further discussed during the 20 Feb 08 IUS Select Committee hearing (read transcript ),

Q211 Dr Iddon MP “ Could I turn to another aspect which we have not considered this morning that has made life difficult for the STFC and that is in previous years the international subscriptions (which are susceptible of course to exchange rate fluctuations) the exchange rate fluctuations have always been carried by the main science budget, but this year of course that responsibility has been transferred to the STFC.

Prof Sir Keith O'Nions “ We made some of those transitions in SR04 actually and, up to a limit, the fluctuations are carried by STFC, beyond which they are not. This is quite a tricky area. Our judgement is that the burden and uncertainty that is put on the £1.9 billion budget, which is what STFC have across the SR, can go plus or minus and is not great, and that is the judgement we have reached.

Q212 Dr Iddon MP “ Can you put a figure on it for this year?

Prof Sir Keith O'Nions “ I can put the figure on it but it is not in my mind. I am very happy to let you have it precisely and the arrangements and what was organised with those councils back in 2004.

On 15 May 08 there was a ministerial response to a written question from Adam Afriyie MP asking what steps have been taken to safeguard Research Council budgets against the effects of currency fluctuations (see also item 2 here).

How does industry and the wider economy benefit from astronomy?

Astronomy (Astrophysics, Cosmology, Space Science) attracts students to study for physics degrees, providing highly trained, scientifically literate graduates and postgraduates for industry. ESO and ESA subscriptions provide some return to industry, although the UK industrial return from the ESA international subscription (£70m or 50% of the astronomy allocation for STFC) ought to be much better. The non-science (technology) arm of STFC, plans to develop technology demonstrators such as MoonLITE , a £100m UK-led robotic mission to the moon with NASA (further details at Lunar exploration - Potential UK and US collaboration ) Such missions are sold to the Treasury as a stimulus to UK industry, with any scientific aims and payload piggy-backing aboard, and so has strong political support from industry (e.g. SSTL).

Technology aside, direct economic returns are long-term, and so hard to quantify, with a few notable exceptions - see The case for funding blue skies research from RAS, including

See also the Jul 06 report from Peter Warry (STFC Chair) discussing how to increase economic impact without sacrificing research excellence (also see Excellence with Impact response). Read the Reaching for the stars article from Prof Steve Eales in Prospect magazine from Jan 08. In a 16 Jan 08 speech, Lord Winston emphasises the wider benefits of astronomy and particle physics - listen here . Alas, an article You can tell a great university by the companies it keeps in The Observer on 2 Mar 08 refers to a DIUS document leaked to the Financial Times which indicates that the government wants the bulk of future spending increases to go towards business-focussed degrees, co-designed and co-funded by employers.

Just what is Knowledge Transfer?

According to RCUK, Knowledge Transfer (KT) describes how knowledge and ideas move from the `source' to potential users. UK Research Councils encourage KT through a range of schemes and activities, enabling the transfer of good ideas/research results between universities and other organisations and business. A KT Portal provides details of Research Council KT schemes, including funding opportunities, events and training courses. For STFC , KT includes the PIPSS scheme, which enables the transfer of technology from its science programme to other disciplines and industry plus the Research In Industry funding mechanism which aims to engage industry directly with STFC's programme technology development. The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) was set up in 2007 to promote, `technology-enabled innovation in areas offering the greatest scope for boosting UK growth'.

Who, if anyone is to blame?

The apparently unintended implications for both Physics departments and damage to our international reputation were put to the Office of Science and Innovation (within DIUS, now Office for Science) by STFC - albeit not necessarily DIUS ministers - but some have questioned whether the case for core [PPARC] programmes were put to DIUS sufficiently strongly by STFC Executive versus new/increased investment in e.g. space exploration and Knowledge Transfer via campus development at Daresbury/ Harwell.

In Minutes of the 21Nov07 STFC Council meeting, Paul Williams (DIUS) acknowledged that there had been a change in emphasis by the Government in funding science in CSR07, with a higher priority given to translational health and energy related research. The Fourth Report of Session 2007-08 from the IUSS committee criticised both Government and STFC management for the crisis.

Why did Phil Willis MP refer to the level of secrecy as `something you do in Russia'?

There have been concerns raised about the openness and transparency involved in the decisions-making process. Apparently, `consultation with the community' by STFC Executive in drawing up the Delivery Plan was based on input from only Science Board and PPAN/PALS - a mechanism to involve the wider community along the lines of the PPARC Astronomy Advisory Panel who reported to the PPARC Science Committee was not identified, although according to News from Science Board from their 5-6 Mar 08 meeting

“ PPAN discussed the formation of advisory panels for community consultation.. to be formed after the ad hoc panels created for the Programmatic Review consultation exercise have completed their work. ”

Writing an opinion item Dance to the music of stars in Research Fortnight on 20 Feb 08, Prof Paul Crowther adds:

“ The opaqueness in the STFC leadership's decision making has attracted wide criticism, most recently from RAS Council. The STFC advisory structure has failed to engage with the wider communities on setting scientific priorities. The previous research council involved with funding blue skies physics research, PPARC, had a sufficiently broad advisory structure that it could credibly claim to develop science themes through peer review. At first glance, the STFC advisory structure mimics that of PPARC, but priorities across such a broad spectrum of physics have been heavily reliant on too small a pool of scientists. ”

This subject prompted a question during the second evidence session of the IUS Select Committee on 20 Feb 08

Q222 Dr Blackman-Woods MP “ I think this issue of consultation is quite important. How do you account for the fact that so many people in the physics community feel that they were not consulted at all about these cuts or the priorities, if you are saying that the process was fine and was the same as every other research council?

Prof Sir Keith O'Nions “ From where we sit - and that is having personally sat through all the meetings on delivery plans and PowerPoints and we have people attending councils of STFC - although we do not participate in this - we understand that the Science Advisory Council at each stage has been involved, and the normal process with councils and the preparation of their strategic plans is to be feeding information into this. Whether or not we decide to have a closer look at that as we learn the lessons from this, I think is a separate issue, but answering your point, as we were going along, were there massive alarm bells that this council was completely out of order and out of line? I do not think there were, but that does not mean to say we are not obviously going to think quite carefully and see what lessons can be learned from this. I think the rest of that question will have to be addressed to STFC, frankly.

Writing in Research Fortnight in Oct 05 Prof Keith Mason (then PPARC Chief Executive) - see Transparency is the promise of a man who tried for absolute zero - expressed concern about the opacity of the funding system, in which the peer review system tended to squeeze out long-term blue skies projects in favour of urgent short-term funding needs, reflecting

“ We run a jolly good peer review system, but i think we can build more transparency into it. ”

On the question of transparency, the Dec 07 DIUS Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees states

“ The scientific advisory committee should establish a policy of what documents are to be published based on principles of openness and transparency.. all committees are expected to publish, as a minimum, programmes of work, meeting agenda, minutes, final advice and an annual report. Unless there are particular reasons to the contrary they should also routinely publish supporting papers. Openness from the outset about risks and concerns can sometimes prevent difficult situations arising later on in a committee's work ”

See the 28 Jan 08 Programmatic Review recommendations from Science Board . The Fourth Report of Session 2007-08 from the IUSS committee explicitly commented:

“ We are at a loss to understand how Professor Mason could think that secretive reviews would have anything other than a divisive effect on the community and undermine confidence in any of his future decisions. ”

Is the future bright or bleak for astronomy?

Astronomy funding regularly faces a funding squeeze (e.g. UK astronomy funding squeeze from 12 Feb 02). In the current crisis, undoubtedly, the entire community will suffer in the short term, since potential students will be deterred from training programmes in (astro)physics at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, low staff morale, reduced prospects for astronomy post-docs plus the ability to attract and retain leading academics. The particle physics community have lost ILC, but without structural changes - and soon - access to post-doc grants and facilities will likely get a lot, lot worse for UK astronomy at the next CSR in 2010. The Wakeham Review , published in Oct 08 made some positive suggestions, but failed to suggest any structural changes that could have helped to alleviate the sharp drop in post-doc numbers now planned.

Writing an opinion item Dance to the music of stars in Research Fortnight on 20 Feb 08, Prof Paul Crowther adds:

“ The UK has experienced a `brain gain' from the increase in basic funding over the past decade. But this advance could quickly go into reverse if the UK is not judged to be so attractive for bright young physicists. Reductions in funding, regardless of how they are presented, send a very clear signal to current students: if they want to pursue careers in astronomy or particle physics, they would be best to do so overseas. ”

although ending on a more hopeful note..

“ There are some positive developments that might follow from the current crisis. Many scientists have been in touch with their MPs for the very first time, opening up a welcome dialogue. Many astronomers have also recognised that out community needs to be better organised, and see the AAS as a possible role model.

Finally, particle physicists and astronomers need to be more effective at explaining to the wider public how we benefit UK plc, and what would be lost to the UK if a decision was taken to withdraw from funding such esoteric subjects. ”

What is the STFC strategy?

Community consultation for STFC's Strategy Document was open until 20 Mar 09. Priorities for "Universal challenges" include: while priorities for "facilities" include: Subsequently, STFC's Vision strategy document was released on 22 Jul 09

Why do members of STFC's research community fear decisions to be announced on 16 Dec 2009 will be much worse than in Spring 2008?

The disappointing CSR07 settlement for the newly formed STFC amounted to a shortfall of £80m below the level needed to maintain the volume of research at 2007/08 levels (over the 3 year spending round). Announcements were made in Apr 2008 to restructure STFC to meet the shortfall. However, it was necessary to bring forward circa £26m (2008/09) and £20m (2009/10) from the 2010/11 near-cash budget in the form of a loan to maintain the majority of programmes until community scientific prioritization via advisory panel reports could be carried out between Summer-Autumn 2009. A condition of the loans is for STFC to repay them before the end of the CSR07 period, i.e. £46m savings have to be made to the 2010/11 programme, which are to be announced on 16 Dec 2009, following STFC Council consideration of Science Board and PPAN/PALS advice. This latest financial shortfall, which predate issues around global financial problems, have been reported both in Nature and Physics World, and reflect the lack of confidence in STFC-related science within UK universities. STFC, through its Royal Charter is the sole UK custodian for research into subjects - astronomy and particle physics - that attract students into physics at degree level, too few of which are still home-grown.

Formally, £46m amounts to less than 10 percent of the 2009/10 near cash budget of STFC. However, 50 per cent of total cash funds for 2009/10 were committed to international subscriptions. In addition, there are unavoidable administrative staff costs in Swindon, plus laboratory staff costs at Harwell and Daresbury Laboratories, If further cuts to the volume of exploitation grants beyond the existing 25% cuts to astronomy, particle and nuclear physics already implemented are to be avoided, with PhD training studentships maintained, the effective cut will be very substantial (in excess of 20 per cent) for remaining programmes across both PALS and PPAN. However, cuts to research grants already announced may follow if they are linked to programmes that are no longer supported: Funds for new experimental particle physics grants announced in 2009 are currently only issued until October 2010 in the first instance, with the same cutoff set for upcoming astronomy grant announcements. It is hoped that the majority of these grants will be re-announced in January 2010 for their full term (3 to 5 years).

Had the forced marriage of PPARC and CCLRC into STFC not taken place during preparations for CSR07, community scientific advice would have been available in late 2007, allowing firm decisions to have been taken at that time, rather than deferred for two years, with the additional costs incurred. Prof Ken Pounds, a previous Chief Executive of PPARC has repeatedly criticised the merger of PPARC and CCLRC, while the now defunct IUSS select committee criticised Government about the timing of the formation of STFC with respect to CSR07 in their Apr 2008 Science Budget Allocation report. RAS President Andy Fabian has written to Science Minister Lord Drayson expressing concern about the depth of the cuts to fundamental physics anticipated on 16 Dec.

It should be emphasised that additional costs for major international subscriptions (ESA, CERN, ESO, ESRF, ILL) arising from exchange rate and net national income variations have been bourne from DIUS/BIS in 2008/09 (£17m) and 2009/10 (£42m). As such, the fall of the value of the pound has so far had little impact upon STFC's CSR07 difficulties, beyond minor subscription costs (e.g. Gemini). STFC would certainly be in far worse financial state had DIUS/BIS not capped Research Council exposure of enhanced subscription costs to £3m per annum, providing compensation to STFC and NERC to the value of £72m between Apr 2008 and Mar 2010. If STFC were liable for additional subscription costs in 2010/11 above the £3m threshold, its anticipated deficit would be far higher, although decisions have not yet been made public. Lord Drayson has emphasised the past compensation to STFC in evidence to the Science and Technology Ctte in Oct 2009, but warned in answer to Question 32 by Dr Evan Harris MP that the question of future compensation remains an argument to be made and won.

A graphic showing historical subscription costs to STFC, and its predecessor organisations in £m is shown here, highlighting the dramatic increase in ESA subscriptions over the last 6 years, arising from the combination of (a) optional contributions to the Aurora programme (€2m in 2005 versus €14m in 2009); (b) increases from 40 per cent to 64 per cent of the UK contribution to the general ESA budget from Apr 2009; (c) changes in the € to £ exchange rate from 1.49 in 2007 to 1.13 in 2009.

What was the outcome of the 16 Dec 2009 announcement?

As anticipated, due to the recurrent £45m shortfall (STFC aspirations greatly exceeded capacity), all science areas supported from STFC have had to ensure very painful cuts to highly rated programmes for 2010/11, whose near-cash budget is £461m. Groups across the board have to accommodate an addition 10 per cent cut to new research grants from 2010 onwards (on top of the 25 per cent cut from CSR07).

In addition, the 25 per cent cuts to studentships and fellowships - our key assets - are deeply disappointing, although the balance in cuts for 2010 has been to prioritise studentships and Advanced Fellowships (AFs) ahead of PostDoctoral Fellowships (PDFs) (see ETC Committee Announcement). The cancellation of the current PDF round enables a smaller reduction in AF awards (unchanged at 12 or reduced to 10 or 11) and a smaller reduction in PhD studentships (10% or reduction from 260 to 235 in numbers). Facility exploitation (through grants and studentships) was generally the highest priority items from Advisory Panels, suggesting that recommendations from Advisory Panels to PPAN may not have been closely followed. Prof Bob Nichol's (FUAP chair) response:

What a terrible signal to send to our young astronomers.
while No more booms, just bust from The Economist included
The cuts, needless to say, have gone down like a cup of cold sick with many in the scientific community.
It was somewhat ironic that the latest results from ESA's Herschel were released on the same date as STFC's announcement (16 Dec 09), with first images from the UK built VISTA telescope released by ESO on 11 Dec 09. If cuts to research posts and programmes carry on as they have since the beginning of CSR07 then there will not be many more astrophysics science announcements with UK leadership to report.

Without RCUK and BIS support STFC would have been in a far worse state, although current plan rely on (optimistic) flat-cash funds from 2011 onwards. Explicitly, assistance has come from other Research Councils to avoid further cuts to already announced grants, plus contingency money from BIS helps to STFC currently covers additional subscription costs. Otherwise it was reassuring that Council/Executive were responsive to advice from Science Board and their immediate advisory panels (PPAN, PALS), with relatively minor cuts to the highest priority programmes (alpha5, 10 percent). Science Board did recommend a re-balancing between PPAN and PALS activities - although supporting STFC science versus that of other Research Councils (especially other physical and life science disciplines) is a near impossible task. Science Board also presented arguments to Council why e-Merlin (alpha3) should be supported in view of research and development effort towards SKA. Alas, LOFAR-UK failed to be supported. Indeed, there was no word on any potential investment in northern hemisphere facilities beyond 2012. Aurora (alpha4) survived with only a minor (£1m) cut despite not being one of the highest priority subject areas within NUAP, while MoonLITE was not supported (below alpha rating). Naturally, lots of blog activity over the STFC prioritisation, notably The e-Astronomer's The axeman cometh, To the left of centre's STFC Investing in the future? and In the Dark's Day of Reckoning

STFC: Investing in the future 2010-15 Outcome of 2009 STFC prioritization exercise announcement. See Science board, PPAN, and PALS News, plus FAQs, and discussion forum. Other headline figures are given below:

The Science Minister, Lord Drayson, has responded with a statement including

However, it has become clear to me that there are real tensions in having international science projects, large scientific facilities and UK grant giving roles within a single Research Council. It leads to grants being squeezed by increases in costs of the large international projects which are not solely within their control. I will work urgently with Professor Sterling, the STFC and the wider research community to find a better solution by the end of February 2010.

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______________________ Section Last Updated: Jun 2009

What to do?

To date, letters from Prof Martin Rees , from 39 Fellows of the Royal Society working in the fields of STFC science, and from 242 Overseas Researchers in the UK have been written to Rt Hon John Denham MP (Secretary of State). A further letter from 559 young researchers in these disciplines to John Denham, led by James Jackson and Rosie Walton , was written on 16 Dec 07 to which the (revised) reply by Science Minister Ian Pearson MP from 16 Jan 08 is available here . Dr Emma Woodfield and Miss Gemma Attrill have led another letter from 64 Solar System Science early career scientists on 9 Jan 08 to Prof Keith Mason (see also Swingeing cuts threaten UK astronomy research item in Guardian blog from 22 Jan 08). On 15 Jun 08 corresponance between Prof Stephen Hawking and Ian Pearson MP was released (see Stephen Hawking: ministers' £80m error puts science at risk from Sunday Times). In addition, letters from professional astronomers and particle physicists have been sent to MPs, ministers and Shadow ministers.

An electronic petition initiated by William Vazquez to the PM regarding physics funding was set up (see Channel 4 news item Thousands fighting science cuts from 20 Dec 07), and accumulated 17,517 signatures - including Prof Stephen Hawking - see item from Daily Telegraph on 27 Dec 07 Stephen Hawking joins attack on science cuts plus Royal Astronomical Society item More than 17000 people sign petition against STFC cuts . On 8 Apr 08 the Prime Minister's Office issued a response to the petition. The amateur astronomy community have also responded positively to the cuts - see British Astronomical Association news item.

As for how you might contribute, write to your MP - find out who they are at - please read the current advice of the RAS for lobbying your MPs. Be sure to keep your letters to MPs brief, relevant and avoid confrontation. An 18 Feb 08 Early Day Motion by Sir Peter Soulsby MP called for a change in the structure and leadership of the STFC.

For the record, a 3 Dec 07 letter by Prof Paul Crowther to Ian Pearson MP (Minister of State for Science and Innovation) and his local MP about Gemini can be found here, while one from 19 Dec 07 by Prof Andy Lawrence to his local MP focusing on ATC is available here. A letter from Durham post-doc Dr Andy Buckley to IUS Select Committee member Roberta Blackman-Woods from 11 Feb 08 is here . In total around 63 RAS fellows have either written to or otherwise lobbied their MP (the true number may be somewhat higher and in some cases departments put in a collective protest).

According to DIUS there will be

“ no major reductions in physics funding before the outcome of the Wakeham Review of physics is known

which followed STFC's Media Release that

“ its funding for university research grants in physics will remain broadly level for the next year

The Government response to the physics funding petition includes:

“ Claimed reductions in STFC's budget appear to have been derived from STFC's aspirations for the three-year Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) period (2008/9 - 2010/11). These aspirations never constituted an agreed set of activities or funding for them, and the suggestion that £80m has been cut from its budget is wrong.

From the announcement to RAS fellows on 11 Jan 08

“ All astronomy groups are urged to make sure their Vice-Chancellors submits a strong case for astronomy and space science to the Wakeham review

The Wakeham Review had apparently been bought forward but will now report in September 2008 (see Wakeham Review section). Read the International perceptions of UK Research in Physics and Astronomy 2005 report (especially the RAS response) before lobbying Vice-Chancellors about astronomy and space science. The 2005 report noted:

“ The case for the UK, as a leading economy to continue to support physics and astronomy research on a broad basis remains overwhelming. Furthermore, as society becomes increasingly technological, understanding basic physical concepts has become an increasingly important and integral part of our culture.. is important to take care that the funding agencies have sufficient means to maintain a healthy balance between the large investments in international facilities and funds spent nationally to exploit these opportunities through experiment development and data analysis programmes

Panel members were contacted by IoP/RAS prior to the first IUS select committee hearing on science budget allocations, appearing understandably bemused by the recent course of events at STFC.

Note that the wider public may prove to be more skeptical about the benefits of funding astronomy - in a reply to the 16 Nov 07 Guardian letter from Prof Roger Davies et al., Brian Robinson from Brentwood, Essex, argued in a letter published on 17 Nov 07 .

“ Providing funding for astronomers does not in any way benefit the taxpayer. Astronomy may be interesting, but the only mouths that will get fed are the children of the astronomers. Astronomy is a hobby, and as such should not be subsided by the Treasury any more than trainspotting. ”

Of relevance to the wider question of funding for blue-skies research, Prof Martin Rees reports in his 15 Jan 08 article in the Daily Telegraph:

“ Many people ask why it matters whether we can do research in these arcane subjects. Until we have found a cure for cancer, how can we justify spending large sums of public money on staring into space or identifying mind-numbingly tiny particles? But there are many good, practical reasons for doing so, quite apart from our natural desire to understand the world we live in and the universe within which that world sits.

Five years ago Sir Peter Mansfield won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his discoveries concerning magnetic resonance imagining, which is a powerful way of identifying some cancers. But although Sir Peter's research has had this application, he is a physicist whose work would never have been possible without funding for basic physics.

This country has an outstanding record in scientific research. We are second only to the US by many criteria - and well ahead of the Americans in terms of the cost-effectiveness of our effort. We're also the only other country competing in the premier league of the world's universities.

We need to be competitive if we are to sustain the respect in which UK science is held internationally. Twelve per cent of all the world's foreign students come to the UK. Not only do their fees help us bring in welcome revenue, but they forge long-term links with those who will eventually hold key positions in their own country.

Without the requisite research funds, this status is threatened. Furthermore, our strong universities make us a magnet for global investment in science and innovation. There are similarities with the way the injection of resources allowed London to surge ahead as a global financial centre: success breeds success; talent attracts talent. ”

One must naturally avoid relying too heavily on economic arguments for blue-skies research, which obviously lack short term marketable products, a point made in the Commentary by Lawrence Krauss in the 19 Jan 08 New Scientist

“ .. the question is whether rich countries like the UK and the US can afford to sponsor forefront basic science in hard economic times. Esoteric research is easy to cut because it is perceived to have no significant constituency, nor any immediate technological or economic spin-offs.
We should remember that the excitement generated by fundamental discoveries inspires young people to go into science and engineering careers in other, more practical areas and that such discoveries can revolutionise practical technologies as well as our deeper understanding of nature. ”

plus in an article You can tell a great university by the companies it keeps in The Observer on 2 Mar 08 referring to a DIUS document leaked to the Financial Times which indicates that the government wants the bulk of future spending increases to go towards business-focussed degrees, co-designed and co-funded by employers.

In a 30 Jan 08 Communication from RAS president Prof Michael Rowan-Robinson to members, he admits that some are calling for direct action

“ The community is naturally agitated about the funding situation and there are calls for mass resignations from committees, and for resignations of senior management at STFC. ”

Indeed, Resolutions from the MIST (Magnetospheric Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial) community on 24 Jan 08 in response to the STFC Delivery Plan - see Press Release have explicitly called upon STFC senior management to resign as reported in a 31 Jan 08 news item Physicists call for heads to roll over cash cuts in New Scientist. The key reason behind this decision is reflected in an editorial in New Scientist UK physics cuts bite deep

“ Such a damaging state of affairs might have been avoided if the STFC had discussed the cuts with physicists when it first realised the financial mess it was in. As it is, the council's decisions are looking increasingly ill-considered. ”

A statement from RAS Council released on 14 Feb 08 expressed a lack of confidence in STFC's handling of the funding crisis. See STFC Council response to RAS Council.

A letter from Prof Stephen Hawking to Ian Pearson MP, reported on 15 Jun 08 in an article Stephen Hawking: ministers' £80m error puts science at risk in Sunday Times includes

“ This bookkeeping error has disastrous implications. There is a possibility that very severe cuts will be made in the grants awarded to UK research groups. These grants are the lifeblood of our research effort; cutting them will hurt young researchers and cause enormous damage both to British science and to our international reputation. They could well lead to several physics departments closing. ”

The key players are:

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