Archive for April 24, 2009

The Shape of Things to Come..

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , on April 24, 2009 by telescoper

The implications of this week’s budget for astronomy are gradually becoming clearer although a full picture is yet to emerge.

The following statement appeared on the webpages of the Science and Technology Facilities Council:

STFC’s budget of £491 million for 2009-10 is evidence of the Government’s commitment to investing in science in a period of severe national and global economic uncertainty.

STFC’s Chief Executive Officer, Professor Keith Mason, said: “Our budget represents a major investment in science at a time of increasing pressure on public spending, and will allow us to fund a wide array of world leading science delivering significant impact for the UK.”

“The budget confirms the Government’s commitment to, and acknowledgement of, investment in curiosity driven and application led research as essential elements to support the country’s economic growth in the short, medium and longer term.”

Professor Mason said the near cash* budget of £491 million was more than the Council’s allocation in the Comprehensice Spending Review (CSR07), thanks to assistance from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) in the form of a loan and compensation for foreign exchange exposure. This outcome follows extensive consultation between DIUS and the Research Councils to ameliorate the effect of the fall of the pound. However, it will unfortunately not allow STFC to fund the full science programme planned under its Programmatic Review.

Professor Mason said STFC would now consult on reprioritising its programme across the remainder of the CSR period. This consultation will cover both the short-term items required for 2009-10, and a longer term process to ensure stable platform for planning in the medium to longer term. Council will discuss options for 2009-10 at its meeting on the 28th April.

“For its part STFC has already imposed a series of internal savings, including on travel and severe restrictions on external recruitment. We will seek to identify further savings in order to concentrate resources on funding our core research programme,” Professor Mason said.

It appears, then, that there is to be short-term assistance from the effects of currency fluctuations but this will be in the form of a loan that will eventually have to be paid back from savings found within the programme. I suppose something’s better than nothing, despite the bland language, it is quite clear that we are heading for big cuts in the STFC programme and astronomy will not be immune.

The Times Higher has also covered the budget settlement for science and higher education generally in very downbeat terms. Echoing what I put in my previous post:

Although the Budget maintains an existing commitment to ring-fence the science budget, DIUS had reportedly sought a £1 billion increase in funding for scientific research as part of a stimulus package designed to use science to boost the economy.

Instead of this, research councils will be required to make £106 million in savings, which will then be reinvested elsewhere intheir portfolio “to support key areas of economic potential”.

We await details of where these “savings” will be made. My current understanding is that the STFC needs to find about £10 million immediately although whether this is on top of or including its share of the overall “efficiency savings”, I don’t know. In any case it is clear that this money will be taken from pure science programmes and spent instead on areas deemed to have “economic potential”. It looks like we’re all going to have to hone our bullshitting skills over the next few years.