Labour and STFC

So shortly after I wrote about the parties’ science policies and what their attitude to STFC might mean (here and here), Gordon Brown did reply to the CaSE letter, and also produced a science manifesto. He even specifically referred to STFC as a particular problem:

We recognise the concerns over the Science and Technology Facilities Council. We will learn the lessons from the structural difficulties faced by the STFC.

Grants will remain with the STFC to deliver investment continuity. We will remove the risk of foreign exchange impacts and put the STFC on a sound footing.

This confirms that not only Lord Drayson and BIS (which we knew!), but also Gordon Brown, have noticed the problem and give it some priority. Also, the straight commitment to remove the risk of foreign exchange looks stronger and blunter than previous statements and is very important and welcome.

However, referring to my previous article: what does “put the STFC on a sound footing” mean?

Specifically does it means that STFC no longer has to plan for further £26M annual cut in particle physics, nuclear physics and astronomy in 12/13?

The planned cut is shown (for example) on slide three of the STFC science programme director’s talk here (the line in the table labeled “PPAN”). This cut comes on top of a previous cut of similar magnitude straight after the spending review in 2007.

Remember that:

  • inflation makes these cuts worse (even flat cash would be a real terms cut)
  • the (essential!) international subscriptions to the European Space Agency, CERN and the European Southern Observatory have to be paid from these totals and aggregate to about £200M per year, perhaps more by 2012. So the cut on the remainder, which is dominated by spend on staff in universities and at the STFC laboratories, is proportionally huge.

My understanding is that fitting into these planning lines is largely responsible for squeezing the future out of these areas of science. Remember these big science projects operate on long timescales (many years) so 2012 is not far away.

A direct answer would be very welcome, from any (or preferably all) of the parties! Also, will the other parties match Labour’s firm commitment of foreign exchange risk, I wonder?

[Note added 6 May: Well this is a pretty welcome and direct answer from Dr Evan Harris and the Lib Dems.]

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About Jon Butterworth

UCL Physics prof, works on LHC, writes (books, Guardian Science and elsewhere). Citizen of England, UK, Europe & Nowhere, apparently.
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