Union slams plans to axe physics research and skills

Union slams plans to axe physics research and skills

Prospect has described the government’s commitment to UK science as "empty promises" after details emerged of an £80m funding shortfall which will result in axed research projects and widespread job losses within the newly created body for physics and astronomy research.

The cuts were confirmed by the chief executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, Keith Mason, in a speech this morning to staff during which he outlined the savings each of the key research facilities within the Council will need to make by 2011.

Mason confirmed that the STFC board is looking to make efficiency savings, will revisit programmes, and look to restructure and review core skills for retention. A call for voluntary redundancies has already been issued.

On behalf of 68,000 scientists and engineers, Prospect national secretary Tony Bell said: "The news is incredible coming just 18 months after the government launched the Council with the promise from former Science Minister Lord Sainsbury that it would ‘enable the UK to play a leading role in the next generation of large scale physical science projects’.

"Rather than take the advice of the science select committee and back the new body with increased funding to exploit its potential, UK research into particle physics and astronomy is to be slashed and valuable expertise lost for good."

While the exact details of all the projects under threat have yet to be announced, funding for certain facilities, such as the 4GLS (fourth generation light source) at the Daresbury laboratory, has already been put on hold.

Bell said: "This government’s commitment to science amounts to no more than empty promises backed by stop and start funding. Only last year it trumpeted a £2m investment in Daresbury as evidence of its commitment to the wider development of the site. Now it looks set to wash its hands of it."

STFC facilities have been given saving targets per year for each of the three years of the current comprehensive spending review. They are:

  • Rutherford Appleton Laboratory – £12m
  • Daresbury Laboratory- £ 6.5m
  • The UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh - £3.7m
  • STFC headquarters in Swindon - £0.4m. Savings at the Swindon site are on top of the projected savings to be generated newly shared services centre.