Back from the week’s exertions I’ve just realised that I missed the announcement from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) of the changes to their programme as a result of the 2009 budget settlement.
You can find the full statement here, but of immediate concern to astronomers is the plan to cut funding for the Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit (CASU) and the Wide-Field Astronomy Unit (WFAU) at Edinburgh. I’m not sure how much their support is to be reduced and what the long-term implications of the cuts will be.
Expenditure on the outrageously useless space gizmo Moonlite will be delayed until next year, thus saving another bit of money. In my opinion, it would have been better simply to have cancelled this one altogether and diverted the funding into research grants which are instead to be held at the levels they were cut to last year.
Other savings will be made by “rephasing” (i.e. delaying) other projects in particle and nuclear physics and some others have started late anyway for other reasons.
Any optimism there might have been about a better settlement at the next Comprehensive Spending Review has now totally evaporated, however, and I wouldn’t bet against STFC having to cope with further large cuts (in cash terms) a few years down the line. There are several ongoing consultation exercises (see Andy’s discussion and my earlier post for details) which will no doubt be used to draw up hit lists that will be used to make further cuts if and when needed.
The immediate impact of this review exercise on the astronomy programme seems considerably less brutal than I feared, but what may be going on is simply a holding operation and that the really drastic decisions will happen later, after money has already been spent on projects that are really already doomed. Still, a stay of execution is better than immediate termination.