Interesting Times

The next few days promise to be extremely interesting, although there is more than a hint of the Chinese Curse in that statement! Today is the day of our annual departmental Christmas Lunch. That’s not itself the subject of any kind of curse, but if last year’s is anything to go by it may take several days to recover from it. I’m preparing myself for it mentality as I write.

Tomorrow, however, 15th December, is the date of the next meeting of the Council of the Science and Technology Facilities Council. On their agenda is the programme of cuts that is proposed as a result of the recent prioritisation exercises initiated to try to find a way out of their ongoing funding crisis. This programme has been through various committees before reaching the Council and, if the Council accepts it, the plans will be unveiled at a press conference on Wednesday 16th (at 2pm) and those about to die will be informed immediately. I’ll try to post a summary on here as soon as I get the facts.

I don’t have any particular inside information who is going to get the chop, but rumour suggests that there will be cuts right across the board. I think it’s going to be very grim news indeed, especially because there is an additional £600 million of savings to be found over the next few years on top of the current shortfall. It’s bound to be a terrible Christmas for those about to find out their contracts are being axed, and no happy New Years for a while either.

I’m not privy to the Council discussions or to the recommendations that have been passed to them so it’s not my place to say what they should do. However, in the unlikely event that anyone from STFC Council is reading this, I hope he/she at least bears in mind that it is not – or at least it shouldn’t be – the job of the Council simply to rubber stamp everything that is passed before it. I wonder, though, if the current Council has the guts to pass a vote of no confidence in the STFC Executive? I doubt it, because there’s been no reason to have confidence in them for the past two years and no such motion has been carried.

Ironically, later in the week there’s going to be a big jamboree in Madrid, at which the initial results of the Science Demonstration Phase of Herschel will be announced. Quite a few of the Cardiff crowd are going along and will be presenting some of the wonderful things that they’ve been working on for the past few weeks. I’ve seen quite a lot of the data from the SPIRE instrument and it’s truly amazing. At least there’s some (infrared) light among the darkness. However, it’s all covered by an ESA press embargo until Wednesday…

10 Responses to “Interesting Times”

  1. Paul Crowther Says:

    It is also somewhat ironic that STFC Council is in much stronger shape than it was 2 years ago – i’m optimistic that Council now tells the Exec what to do rather than the reverse – plus we have a Science minister genuinely engaging with scientists, yet the outcome for STFC research, both in the short term (2010/11 budget to be balanced) and long term (real term cuts to Research Councils looming from 2011) is much bleaker than it was in 2007.

  2. It’s not going to be a good week for anyone. The battle to oust Keith was lost over a year ago when too few were prepared to call for his head. Too late now. Moaning about the outcome is also unlikely to result in a sympathetic hearing from government or the public in these economic times. We are stuffed.

    No money is likely to arrive to plug the hole as Lord Drayson maintains that STFC got enough money (read: got what they asked for). Someone has convinced him that the funding problem is due to an overspend within the STFC fence (I wonder who that was?) rather than a lack of investment. I actually think he believes this – I wonder if things might have been different if we had not had the political hack, Pearson, in charge when this all blew up. (Notice the economy went tits up when he moved to the Treasury, coincidence? Well, yes probably, but its amusing in a sad way).

    I am curious to know what documentation council gets. Do they see all the stuff from the advisory panels up or do they only see recommendations from science board or CEO? Hopefully they can see the whole paper trail and can therefore judge whether the proposals laid before them are at least partly representative (if not fully) of the community. Checks and balances and all that, especially since the views of the community do not neccessarily align with the views of the CEO (more facilities, less science!). Its good to make sure that no cynical people can suggest anything nefarioius.

  3. Of course, as a colleague has just reminded me, council does not have to take any of the advice offered by the consultation process. Even the CEO has been heard to say ‘peer review advises, it doesn’t decide’.

  4. Once upon a time people “responsible” for financial incompetence would resign as a matter of principle. I strongly believe that the only honorable way out for Keith Mason in 2007 was to resign. He didn’t take that route and now we’re all going to pay. Except him, of course.

  5. Paul Crowther Says:

    Indeed. See slide 37 here.

  6. […] In the Dark A blog about the Universe, and all that surrounds it « Interesting Times […]

  7. Dark days ahead?…

    The British astronomy community is bracing itself for bad news due to arrive tomorrow from its funding council, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, or STFC. Since its creation in 2007, STFC has been synonymous with poor management, poor comm…

  8. I can’t say anything because what I have been told is confidential. I believe I can say this though: “Oh bollocks, where’s the job centre?”.

    There have been some rough times in my life before and this is right up there with them.

    I hope I haven’t given anything away…


  9. Tom and others,

    I’ve put a new post up to cover today’s events. Perhaps you could add your comment(s) there…

    I hope it’s not what you fear.


  10. Will go over there. We’ve had a preview of the announcement, presumably because it would be during the night our time and it wouldn’t be the sort of thing to wake up to and read on the web, at least for the people that live and work here.

    I’m on my third shot of Irish whiskey as I write this.


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