Another beautiful summer’s day here in Cardiff just happened to be the day when the new ConDem government unleashed its much-feared budget. I suppose we were all expecting some combination of tax rises and spending cuts but nodody I know had managed to predict the details. A big rise in VAT (to 20%) is the headline figure most of the newspapers seem to be running with, but the other side is the one that caught my eye; average cuts of 25% in “unprotected” Whitehall departments. That means basically everything outside Health and Education, and “Education” doesn’t include Higher Education which falls within the remit of the Department of Business Innovation and Skills. Universities (in England; Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland run their own budgets for HE) and the Research Councils are therefore bracing themselves for cuts of 25% or even more; if some departments are cut less than this average, then some will be cut more…
However, the details of how these cuts will be implemented – and, of particular relevance to me, how much the Science and Technology Facilities Council will be chopped – will have to wait until the Comprehensive Spending Review to be announced in October 2010. No doubt the STFC Executive will be using all their political skills and powers of persuasion to argue for a positive settlement. Like they did last time. In other words, we’re doomed.
Incidentally, you can hear Lord Rees’ scathing comments about the inept management of STFC here, although to so involves shaking hands with the devil that is iTunes.
There’s also a two-year freeze on public sector salaries – again, not entirely unexpected – but obviously that will only apply to those who keep their jobs after the departmental budgets are cut by a quarter.
Anyway, no point in griping. We all knew this was coming. The big question now is whether the increases in unemployment and tax rises will stop our feeble economic recovery in its tracks, and how badly the cuts in investment will jeoparside future growth. I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable about economics to comment sensibly on this.
Coincidentally today was also the day that STFC Council met here in Cardiff. Of course they did so behind closed doors, but they also had a quick tour of the buildings and a briefing by our Head of School, Swiss Tony Walter Gear. I’m told one of the Council members asked “Excuse me, but what is Planck?”. Apparently the question was posed by one of the non-scientists on STFC Council. So that’s alright then.
Still, there’s always the elimination of France from the World Cup to gladden the heart of an Englishman. Like STFC, the England football team will learn its fate soon eough …