Archive for House of Commons

Cutting Remarks

Posted in Finance, Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , , on May 13, 2011 by telescoper

I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath for news of the outcome of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee‘s report into Astronomy and Particle Physics in the UK.

Well, it’s out now. You can find the web version of the report here and it’s also available as a PDF file there. There’s also a press release with the headline

MPs warn astronomy and particle physics budgets cuts will hit UK science hard

Journalists have obviously been busy overnight – the report was released at midnight, I believe – and there are stories all over the press this morning, including The Guardian, and the journal Science as well as the BBC. The Royal Astronomical Society and the Institute of Physics have also been quick to respond.

Apart from the savage cuts themselves – which the committee correctly suggest will reduce astronomy and particle physics spending by 2014/15 to about 50% of the level it was at in 2005 – the great tragedy of this story is that it has taken so long to recognize the scale of the disaster. Most of the damage was done way back in 2007 when the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) was first set up. I’d suggest there is an error in the tense of the verb “to hit” in the headline above. It would be more accurate as

MPs warn astronomy and particle physics budgets cuts HAVE ALREADY hit UK science hard, and are getting worse all the time..

Last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review had relatively good news for STFC, with a settlement corresponding to level funding in cash terms. However, the Bank of England has recently stated that it expects inflation to reach 5% this year, which means that science will actually be getting 5% year-on-year real terms cuts on top of what it received in 2007. It’s a pretty dire situation.

The report also raises a doubt over whether the current Chief Executive, Keith Mason, has the “ability to command the confidence of the scientific community”. No shit.

I don’t have time to write much more on this right now as I have lectures to do, but perhaps others out there might feel the urge to start a discussion through the comments box…