Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Fourth Report

3  Science & Technology Facilities Council


31. There has been considerable concern about the impact of the Science Budget Allocation on one Research Council in particular. It has been widely reported that the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has been left with an £80 million shortfall in its finances, which will lead to job losses, the closure of research facilities and cessation of programmes.[39] Additionally, we have received a great deal of correspondence from some members of the particle physics and astronomy community, who are concerned about the funding situation of STFC and the way STFC has handled its budget.

32. STFC is a new Research Council, which was formed on 1 April 2007. It is the result of a merger between the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC), which managed national facilities, and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), which managed the particle physics and astronomy research funding. The rationale behind the merger was to "create a more integrated approach to large scientific research facilities".[40] Its role is to promote and to support:

  • high-quality scientific and engineering research by developing and providing facilities and technical expertise in support of basic strategic and applied research programmes;
  • high-quality basic, strategic and applied research and related post-graduate training in astronomy, particle physics, space science and nuclear physics and research in any other field which makes use of STFC-managed facilities; and
  • advancement of knowledge and technology (including the promotion and support of the exploitation of research outcomes) and to provide trained scientists and engineers.[41]

Structure of STFC

33. STFC has two functions that were historically carried out by its two predecessor Councils, CCLRC and PPARC. The first function is to manage the UK's large science facilities (see Box 1) on a number of sites (see Box 2). The second is a grant-giving function: STFC funds research in the fields of astronomy and space science, computational science, materials, nuclear physics, particle physics, and technology; it is involved in all but one of the cross-council research programmes in CSR07.


STFC manages many national science facilities.[42] The following are of particular relevance.

Synchrotron Radiation Source (SRS) is a second generation light source based at the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire (see Box 2). It has been producing synchrotron light for a range of experimental uses since 1981: it was used to determine the structure of the foot and mouth virus in 1988 and in 1997 Dr John Walker was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on ATPase, which was based on data collected at SRS.[43] SRS is due to close on 31 December 2008 and is being replaced by:

Diamond Light Source is a third generation light source, which has been built at the Harwell site in Oxfordshire (see Box 2) in a joint venture between STFC and the Wellcome Trust. Diamond is the largest UK-funded scientific facility to be built for more than 40 years. It covers an area the size of four football pitches and will house 40 beamlines.[44]

ISIS is the world's leading neutron and muon source, based at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory on the Harwell campus. It is currently completing its £120 million second target station (ISIS TS2), which houses facilities complementary to those at TS1.

ALICE (Accelerators and Lasers In Combined Experiments) is a technology demonstrator for accelerator and laser science, based at Daresbury. ALICE was formerly called ERLP (Energy Recovery Linac Prototype), so to distinguish it from an experimental programme at the Large Hadron Colider, CERN, also called ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment), we refer to it as ERLP/ALICE. Related to ERLP/ALICE, is EMMA (Electron Model for Many Applications), which is a model electron accelerator that uses ERLP/ALICE as its particle source. Also relevant in this context is 4GLS (4th Generation Light Source), which was originally planned for construction at Daresbury; this project has been put on hold for two years.


There are three particularly relevant STFC-owned sites:

The Daresbury Laboratory, near Warrington in Cheshire, is home to a scientific library, SRS and ERLP/ALICE (see Box 1), the Medium Energy Ion Scattering Facility (MEIS), the National Centre for Electron Spectroscopy and Surface Analysis (NCESS) and the Cockcroft Institute.[45] The latter is the UK's national centre for accelerator science and technology; it is a joint venture between the Universities of Lancaster, Liverpool and Manchester, the NorthWest Development Agency (NWDA) and STFC.

The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), which is on the Harwell Campus near Didcot in Oxfordshire, is home to the Central Laser Facility (CLF), Diamond and ISIS (see Box 1), the Molecular Spectroscopy Facility and Space Test Facilities. The Space Science and Technology Department (SSTD) at RAL is the largest space department in Europe comprising of 230 staff and 186 instruments (larger than the rest of the UK put together). It hosts 3,600 users and has a £20 million turnover annually. Customers of SSTD include the Government, NASA, ESA, intelligence agencies, industry and universities.

The Astronomy Technology Centre (ATC), based at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. It is the UK's national centre of astronomical technology, which designs and builds instruments for many of the world's major telescopes.

The remaining STFC sites are the Chilbolton Observatory (near Stockbridge in Hampshire), the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (in La Palma, Spain) and the Joint Astronomy Centre (in Hawaii).


34. STFC's CSR07 allocation is given in Table 3. The increase from the baseline year, 2007/08, to the end of CSR07, 2010/11, is 13.6%. This is the second smallest increase of all the Research Councils (behind AHRC, see Chapter 4), and amounts to an additional £185 million over the CSR period. Professor Sir Keith O'Nions, Director General of Science and Innovation, told us that "STFC had the best increase percentage settlement of any of the other six research councils: it got a 3.2 per cent increase over flat cash plus FEC".[46] This is true, although Sir Keith presumably meant 'the largest increase apart from MRC', and it further underlines the depth of the problems faced by STFC. However, equally pertinent to percentage increases is the 'shape' of the allocation: a comparison of near cash allocations (that is, money that can be spent) over the course of CSR04 and CSR07 between STFC and the other science-based Research Councils shows that all the other Research Councils have marked increases in near cash over CSR07 while STFC does not (Figure 1).[47] In other words, STFC has received a flat near cash allocation that will erode against inflation.

Table 3. STFC Allocation

Near Cash 432,250428,932 432,741
Non Cash 92,838100,191 114,947
Resource DEL* 525,088529,123 547,688
Capital Grants 45,07846,295 47,545
Direct Capital 53,47554,919 56,402
Capital DEL 98,553101,214 103,947
Total DEL 623,641631,337 651,635

* DEL = Departmental Expenditure Limit

The Allocations of the Science Budget 2008/09 to 2010/11, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, December 2007, p 44

Figure 1. A comparison of near cash allocations over CSR04 and CSR07. STFC is missing the first two data points because it only came into existence in 2007.

Legacy issues

35. There are other factors that have led to STFC's financial difficulties, and these are largely related to legacy issues derived from the merger of PPARC and CCLRC. These predecessor Councils differed greatly in their functions: PPARC funded particle physics and astronomy research in same way as the other Research Councils fund research for their respective communities, whereas CCLRC funded facilities for the whole science research community. Despite assurances from Professor Sir Keith O'Nions that "there were no deficits in either council upon merger",[48] it is clear that CCLRC in Sir Keith's words was "carrying difficulties" .[49]

36. The key difficulty has to do with the operational costs of Diamond and ISIS. Although CCLRC did not carry a deficit at the point of merger, it did not have money in its budget to cover the future operating costs at ISIS and Diamond. The National Audit Office has commented on these operating costs and the future of CCLRC:

The anticipated total increase in its operating costs is in the region of £25 million per annum at 2006-07 prices […] If the Council does not secure additional resources, this degree of cost growth could exacerbate existing constraints.[50]

37. Professor Keith Mason confirmed this when he told us that: "It is true to say that the base line budget allocation to the ex-CCLRC (the predecessor organisation) was not fully raised to compensate for the running costs of Diamond and ISIS Target Station II".[51] He also told us that "The budget I received to run STFC was the sum of the budgets that were previously in PPARC and CCLRC".[52] Therefore, it follows that STFC has been left with a bill for the operating costs of Diamond and ISIS that is £75 million (across the CSR period at 2006/07 prices) above the sum that was allocated in its budget following the merger.

38. This has placed the STFC Executive in a position where it has had to cut planned programmes in order to pay for ISIS and Diamond. As STFC's Chief Executive put it: "Diamond is a great thing, ISIS Target Station is a great thing but they do require more running costs which means that we have to restructure the programme in order to pay for them".[53] As we will discuss later, it is the former PPARC programmes that have been cut rather than the former CCLRC programmes. In other words, the former PPARC community is being penalised by the merger with CCLRC. This is a situation that the Government had promised would not come about. Sir Keith O'Nions told the Science and Technology Committee on 17 January 2007, in reference to the CCLRC and PPARC merger, that:

the budgets of those two councils have to be left without any legacy difficulties at the time the new council starts in April […] What I am saying is that if there are any holes in the road that need to be filled in we will have to make sure they are filled in. We do not want to start a new Council with legacy issues.[54]

39. We remain concerned that the former PPARC community has been saddled with a £75 million (at 2006/07 prices) funding deficit derived from CCLRC to meet the additional running costs of Diamond and ISIS TS2, despite assurances from the Government that STFC would be formed without any legacy issues. We conclude that the combined budget of PPARC and CCLRC was never going to be sufficient for STFC to manage Diamond, ISIS TS2, the other large facilities and all the PPARC research programmes. This was noted by the National Audit Office in January 2007, and therefore the Government should have known and should have acted upon it. The fact that it did not has had unfortunate consequences. We believe that the Government should ensure that its original commitment to leave no legacy funding issues from the previous Councils is honoured.

40. A further legacy issue has to do with timing rather than funding. STFC began life as a new Research Council on 1 April 2007, which means that not only did the merger take place during the CSR allocation process, but that STFC was asked to provide a draft delivery plan only three months after its formation.

41. The timing of the formation of STFC was not propitious. It takes time to set up a new organisation, especially one as large and complex as STFC. The Government's expectation that STFC would be ready for a new CSR was overly ambitious.

Delivery Plan

42. The Delivery Plan sets out STFC's strategy for meeting its mission following the allocation. This strategy is focused around two key factors. First, a number of major new facilities in which STFC (and its predecessor Councils) have invested heavily are coming online during CSR07: Diamond, ISIS TS2 and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, Geneva, Switzerland. Exploiting these facilities is STFC's highest priority.[55] Having said that, we note that in the consultation on STFC's Programmatic Review (see para 89), it is made clear that while the two largest experiments on LHC, ATLAS and CMS, are high priority, the two smaller ones, LHCb and ALICE, are medium-low and low priority, respectively. This low priority for LHC experiments is surprising given that they are about to come on stream this year. In Diamond and ISIS, STFC has two world leading facilities which are used to "probe the structure of matter and materials, for applications in biosciences and medicine, the environment, nanoscience and nanotechnology, materials processing energy, and engineering as well as fundamental physics and chemistry".[56] CERN's LHC is the largest accelerator ever built. Scientists are not certain what they will see when experimentation begins this year, but: "at the very least, we hope to find the Higgs Boson, which is postulated to give particles their mass; theoretical models suggest we will likely observe new symmetries of nature, new particles and forces beyond those known".[57] One of the two major experiments at LHC is UK-led.

43. Second, STFC is planning a "step change in knowledge exchange and economic impact" by developing Daresbury and Harwell as Science and Innovation Campuses.[58] The vision is to use these campuses to act as focal points for bringing together industry and academic researchers. This will be achieved by creating "internationally-competitive critical mass".[59] STFC's vision for each campus differs. The plan for Daresbury is "to focus on creating a national technological capability in the areas of computational science and accelerator and detector R&D for next generation facilities".[60] The plan for Harwell is based around STFC's major facilities: Diamond, ISIS and the Central Laser Facility, as well as facilities in space systems, imaging and sensors.

Key decisions

44. STFC has made a number of decisions that have caused concern in the physics and astronomy community. These are discussed below under the broad headings of projects, sites, and grants.


45. One of the most important decisions that STFC has made, as mentioned above, is to follow through on its investment in the major large facilities: LHC, Diamond and ISIS TS2. Work relating to these projects is of the highest priority and the rest of STFC's programme is tailored accordingly.[61] Given the level of investment in these projects, approximately £600 million in the last three years, STFC had little choice but to follow this path. However, the size of the allocation has meant that other programmes have to be cut to make the books balance. These programmes, as reported in the Delivery Plan, are the UK's participation in two international projects—the International Linear Collider and the Gemini telescopes—and ground-based solar-terrestrial physics facilities. By way of comparison, investment in these projects over the last three years is approximately £16 million.

46. We welcome STFC's decision to support its major facilities to the extent set out in its Delivery Plan and recognise the valuable role that these facilities currently play, and will play in the future, in maintaining the excellence and continuing the growth of UK science. However, we are concerned that the decision to support the large facilities has come at the expense of research in fields where the UK excels and in which STFC and its predecessor Research Councils have made significant investments.

International Linear Collider

47. The International Linear Collider (ILC) is a proposed electron-positron collider, which would complement the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. It is the result of a decision made in 2004 to merge three linear collider projects (the Next Linear Collider, the Global Linear Collider and the Teraelectronvolt Energy Superconducting Linear Accelerator). Draft designs for ILC propose a 30 km to 40 km collider, which would be an order of magnitude larger than the Stanford Linear Collider (the longest existing linear particle accelerator).

48. STFC has decided to withdraw UK funding for this project on the grounds that: "We do not see a practicable path towards the realisation of this facility as currently conceived on a reasonable timescale."[62] The Minister has supported STFC's decision by arguing that it is sensible to delay ILC until the results come in from LHC.[63] He also noted that the United States has withdrawn from ILC.[64]

49. We will not comment on the scientific justification for withdrawal, since this falls within the remit of experts in the area; however, we are concerned by the manner in which this decision was taken. When we asked Professor Swapan Chattopadhyay, Director of the Cockcroft Institute, whether there was adequate peer review prior to the decision to withdraw from ILC, he said:

In the case of International Linear Collider, as far as I know there has been no consultation or review with the community about their decisions and no consultation with the international community that we know of. It came out of the blue.[65]

50. This was supported by Professor Peter Main of the Institute of Physics:

I think the biggest criticism we would put forward there is that the decision was made with very, very little consultation with the people involved. The people who have been involved—Brian Foster at Oxford is the European leader of the ILC programme—were not given any opportunity to present their case before the project was terminated. It is not useful at this sort of meeting to get involved in the ins and outs of whether it is a good thing; they are very complicated issues. It is really a question of the time available for the decision and the lack of consultation.[66]

51. A further problem is one of international reputation. Concern for international reputation has been raised in the context of "reneging on existing commitments without prior consultation" by the Institute of Physics and the Royal Astronomical Society.[67] We return to this issue later.


52. The Gemini Observatory consists of two 8-metre telescopes: one atop Cerro Pachon in the Chilean Andes, and the other atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. By placing twin telescopes in the southern and northern hemisphere, astronomers have access to the entire sky. Gemini was built and is operated by seven countries—Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the UK and the US—and has been in operation since 2000.[68]

53. STFC first announced its intentions to withdraw from Gemini to the Gemini Board in November 2007.[69] This decision was confirmed in its Delivery Plan (11 December 2007): "We plan to withdraw from future investment in the twin 8-metre Gemini telescopes and we will work with our international partners to retain access to Gemini North."[70] The reason for wanting to retain access to Gemini North is that it is the only 8-metre telescope in the northern hemisphere to which UK astronomers have access. STFC attempted to negotiate reduced on-going participation, but this was refused by the Gemini Board and taken as notice of withdrawal from the partnership.[71] This meant that the UK would be liable for a penalty payment of approximately £7 million. STFC argued that: "While we sincerely regret the need to withdraw from Gemini, the current circumstances leave us no choice."[72] However, on 9 February 2008 the Gemini Board announced that STFC would continue operations payments through 2008.[73] On 3 March 2008, STFC announced that: "The UK remains a partner in Gemini until at least 2012, but the intention is to sell 50% of our time on the two telescopes from 2009."[74] As Professor Richard Holdaway put it: "Are we in or not? The answer is, we are in. We were in and out and in and out and now we are back in again."[75]

54. The ongoing saga over Gemini raises questions about the competence of STFC's communications. As with the decision taken over the International Linear Collider, there was no consultation with the astronomy community before decisions over Gemini were taken. Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, told us, in relation to the decisions taken in the Delivery Plan, that: "it was a complete bolt out of the blue. The first hint of it was the leaked announcement about the withdrawal from Gemini."[76] Further, the Gemini saga is damaging to the UK's international reputation. Professor Rowan-Robinson explained that: "In the Royal Astronomical Society we have many overseas fellows and I get e-mails all the time from them wondering what on earth is going on."[77] We return to communication and international reputation later.

Ground-based solar-terrestrial physics

55. Solar-terrestrial physics (STP) is the study of the impact of solar activity (solar wind, flares and storms) on the Earth and near-Earth space. This work is relevant to the use of satellites (for example, for communications and navigation), aircraft, electricity and oil supply networks, and climate change. STP is studied from two perspectives using both space-based and ground-based instrumentation. The UK is recognised as a world-leader in this field,[78] yet one of the key decisions in STFC's Delivery Plan was to "cease all support for ground-based solar-terrestrial physics facilities".[79]

56. Professor Keith Mason characterised this decision as a "half-decision" on the basis that it was "actually a decision that we made at the last spending review but we are confirming this time".[80] However, the decision that PPARC made in the last spending review was "to maintain a capacity in ground-based STP, [… but] to close some of the current facilities".[81]

57. One of the reasons for PPARC's maintaining a capacity in ground-based solar-terrestrial physics was that the UK is committed to a 5-year involvement (from 2006) with the EISCAT project, which is an international research organisation operating three incoherent scatter radar systems in Northern Scandinavia.[82] Professor Mason explained:

The thing is, we could not withdraw from EISCAT because we had just recently entered into a five-year commitment, as has been indicated earlier. So essentially the PPARC statement was meant to reflect the fact we would withdraw when we could without breaking international agreements.[83]

58. We do not accept this explanation, which does not accord with the explicit desire stated in the PPARC Programmatic Review to 'maintain a capacity in ground-based STP'. Further, we agree with Professor van Eyken, Director of EISCAT, when he says:

The prospect of the UK belonging, for several more years, to an international association, namely EISCAT, which it does not then exploit, is very damaging to its credibility as a competent research nation.[84]

59. We find Professor Mason's explanation for the withdrawal of funding from ground-based solar-terrestrial physics (STP) facilities to be inaccurate, unconvincing and unacceptable. PPARC did not decide to cut funding to all ground-based STP facilities, but intended to maintain a reduced capacity in this field. We urge STFC to suspend its decision on ground-based STP so that the issue can be revisited with proper peer review and in full consultation with the community, including NERC.


The Astronomy Technology Centre

60. The Delivery Plan also has implications for STFC's laboratories. Job losses across STFC will be particularly damaging at the Astronomy Technology Centre (ATC) in Edinburgh, since it is a relatively small centre. Of the current 100 staff, 40 are expected to lose their jobs in the next few months.[85] Part of the expected job losses at ATC are connected to the UK's withdrawal from Gemini, which would mean the loss of contracts building instrumentation for those telescopes. Now that the UK is back in the Gemini programme there is a possibility that those contracts can be won.[86] However, ATC's chances of winning that work must be reduced following the poor handling of the Gemini issue and future uncertainty of UK's involvement in the project.

The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

61. STFC's plans call for a staff cut at RAL of approximately 150 out of 1,500 staff. This is a significantly lower percentage of the staff to be lost compared with ATC or Daresbury (see below).

The Daresbury Laboratory

62. Of all STFC's sites, most concern has been raised about the future of Daresbury. Reports of 350 job losses (out of a total staff of 500) were circulating soon after the Delivery Plan was published,[87] although the actual numbers are not yet decided. 80 jobs are set to be lost this year with the closure of SRS,[88] and a further 30 will be lost next year following decommissioning. Additionally, funding for ERLP/ALICE[89] has been placed on the 'low priority' list in STFC's Programmatic Review,[90] a decision that threatens not only jobs on that project, but the accelerator skills base at Daresbury. This could potentially damage work on a range of projects, including EMMA, which uses ERLP/ALICE as a particle source and has already secured funding, and undermine the position of the Cockcroft Institute.[91]

63. STFC and the Government, however, foresee a bright future for Daresbury. Professor Mason told us:

The other point I would make in relation to our campuses and to correct a statement […] that the redundancies that we are talking about will affect the viability of the Daresbury campus in particular, again I do not accept that. We are pursuing a new model for doing science in this country which involves partnership with the private sector and local authorities in order to get more science done. Daresbury is a shining example of this and we are planning huge additional investments from all these sectors into Daresbury; I think Daresbury has an absolutely shining future.[92]

64. This sentiment was echoed by the Minister for Science and Innovation who assured us that the Government is committed to developing Daresbury as a science and innovation campus.[93] He also warned: "I hope that the Committee is very careful in terms of its conclusions in this matter because the last thing that I think we ought to be doing is talking down the prospects of Daresbury as a science and innovation campus."[94]

65. When we visited Daresbury we found a demoralised workforce concerned that without a major facility the site was not viable. Professor Chattopadhyay summed up the concerns we heard at Daresbury:

What I see as the fundamental flaw in the vision of the Daresbury site is, as I heard the chief executive particularly say, the fact all operational facilities are supposed to be concentrated in one site and Daresbury would be comprised of major technological development centres, and the way it is evolving it is going to be a business park with a call centre for technologists to solve a particular problem. If you look at major scientific break-throughs in countries like the United States, all those parts have evolved around some core scientific unit either university-driven or a lab-driven, like Stanford or Berkeley. Cockcroft by itself, having experts there without any operational scientific facility around and technical expertise around from STFC, is not going to be attractive to stay on the site.[95]

66. This concern for the future of Daresbury has not sufficiently been addressed by STFC. Professor Chattopadhyay highlighted an example that demonstrates a way that the uncertainty at Daresbury could have been handled:

I will give you one example. In the Human Genome Centre at the University of California there are three stakeholders, government, Genotech and the industry and the university. When there was significant instability in one of the stakeholders, the Department of Energy, that agency sat down around the table with the Director of the Human Genome Centre and discussed how they could mitigate the loss of skills for genetic science engineering. […] That process never took place [at Daresbury]. In the case of STFC, there were only inward looking and secretive discussions within STFC without bringing in the university and other stakeholders.[96]

67. We share the concern of members of the staff that in the absence of a major facility at Daresbury, like a fourth generation light source[97] or ERLP/ALICE, it will lose the scientific critical mass that STFC is so keen to foster[98] and it will cease to be a science campus. The announcement of the Hartree Centre for computing and a detector centre,[99] and the Minister's preference for the fourth generation light source to be based at Daresbury,[100] are probably insufficient to prevent Daresbury, under the current strategic plan, from becoming merely a technology/business park. These concerns are reinforced by the recent announcement of £25m private sector funding for building with no clear plan about who or what is to occupy the buildings.

A one-site solution?

68. The position of the Government (that it is committed to the development of Daresbury and RAL) and the concerns of the science community (that Daresbury will become a technology/business park) may not be mutually exclusive. When STFC and the Government speak of enthusiasm for the future of Daresbury, the emphasis is very much on the opening of the Hartree Centre for computing, the detection centre and the influx of business to the campus.[101] There is an acceptance that there is a "structural imbalance between Daresbury and RAL in terms of facilities",[102] which STFC inherited. However, there have also been recent decisions, for example to postpone funding for 4GLS and put ERLP/ALICE on the low priority list, that will add to this imbalance between the two sites. Consequently, the future for Daresbury looks to be based on technology rather than science.

69. Prior to the final allocations of the science budget, STFC's Science Board recommended that: "to minimise overheads and maximise synergies, Science Board felt that there is no alternative to closing the Daresbury Laboratory in the current budgetary climate".[103] This suggestion was, at the time, supported by the Executive, whose proposal was:

To concentrate most if not all core in-house capability on the Harwell campus and plan for all future national large facilities to be located there. This would mean […] working with the private sector and the NWDA to develop the Daresbury campus primarily as a private sector venture with some core scientific and/or technology expertise retained either within the STFC or transferred into a university or private sector company.[104]

70. According to Mr Peter Warry, Chairman of STFC, these suggestions were made during the decision-making process and were rejected by the STFC Council.[105] However, the Executive's description of developing Daresbury "primarily as a private sector venture with some core scientific and/or technology expertise retained" is an apt description of STFC's vision for the site. Peter Warry and Professor Mason, respectively, summarised this vision:

In our delivery plan we mention one of the things we want to do is to set up a Hartree Centre for world class computer modelling and simulation, and we have now got the first leg of that signed off […] We also […] are in very serious discussions for two world class science based businesses to come on to the campus.[106]

Daresbury is a place that is growing. We have an innovation centre at Daresbury which is overflowing; we need more buildings for new companies coming in. What you see happening is a change in the model where instead of having a research staff solely funded by the research council we are moving to a mixed economy.[107]

71. We do not see a major distinction between Keith Mason's proposal of 2 November 2007 to move major facilities from Daresbury to RAL and the situation in which Daresbury currently finds itself. SRS is closing, 4GLS has been postponed and the future of ERLP/ALICE is uncertain; the establishment of a computational science centre—important and welcome as this development is—and the influx of industry R&D teams do not amount to the presence of a national facility.

72. Many of the current users and key partners at Daresbury are under no illusions about the nature of the future of the site. The Director of the Cockcroft Centre has been very clear in correspondence with the Government that on the basis of current plans, the Centre has no good reason to stay on the site.[108]

73. It is clear that Daresbury's future under the current vision is as a technology and business park. This cuts across previous Government assurances and pronouncements about the importance of Daresbury in Britain's overall strategy of scientific excellence. We urge STFC either to commit fully to science at Daresbury, which would include confirmation of at least one large national facility and a concrete programme of future activity and scientific excellence at Daresbury, which can then be the subject of proper scrutiny and review, or to make an honest assessment of, and statement on, the future of Daresbury as a technology and business park.

74. We have no doubt of the desire of the Government to see a thriving Daresbury campus and we note from previous announcements that this would include major science facilities. However, the Government must make clear, in line with previous commitments, how it intends to deliver future large-scale science facilities on the Daresbury campus.


75. The Minister told us that "We want to develop Daresbury as a world-class centre for science and innovation",[109] but went on to say that the Government does not want to "get to a situation where [we are] dictating to research councils that a certain percentage of their budget has to be spent in a certain region".[110] However, the Minister has subsequently said that "individual delivery plans [of Research Councils] should be in accordance with the strategic priorities of the government, which includes a clear regional element, because we want to see Daresbury developed as a world-class centre for science and innovation".[111]

76. We understand the competing demands on Government and are aware that investment in a major facility will attract its own scientific community, and therefore has economic implications for the region in which it is built. This factor could justifiably be considered in decisions on where large facilities are sited, rather than automatically awarding new projects to locations within the Golden Triangle.

77. The Government's message is confused about whether it has a regional policy for science, and specifically whether it should influence or dictate where STFC should spend its money, be it on the Daresbury Laboratory or elsewhere. This current confusion over the Government's regional policy is unacceptable given that so little is spent on research and development outside the south and the south-east, in particular. If the Government has a regional policy, this percentage spend represents a failure of that policy. We recommend that the Government make clear its role in regional science policy and how this fits with the Haldane Principle. We also recommend that the Government clarify whether it regards its regional policy as a relevant criterion when the STFC or other Research Councils make decisions about capital projects or programmatic funding. We further recommend that the Government publish a White Paper on Regional Science Policy as a basis for discussion as a matter of urgency. We will return to this matter in the future.


78. We were surprised to learn that ATC, with a staff of approximately 100 people has a director, while RAL and Daresbury do not. Professor Mason told us:

We do not have a director at Daresbury, we do not have a director at RAL, because we do not want to be in a situation where Daresbury and RAL are competing with one another which is what has happened in the past.[112]

79. However, the current situation, with a single director of the two campuses, has left the staff at each site feeling that they are not properly represented in STFC management; and the communication between the STFC Executive and its staff at Daresbury and RAL is inadequate. We dispute the idea that having site directors should negate the ability of the two sites to work together. Elsewhere it is the norm to have national laboratories with their own directors working together to deliver Government's strategic goals.[113] We recommend that STFC install a Campus Director at Daresbury and at RAL.


80. Following the release of the Delivery Plan, Professor Mason held a number of 'town meetings' with the community to explain the background to the decisions and their impact. During these meetings, he said that there would be a 25% cut in the grant line.[114] Professor Mason has since explained that this figure is set against a rising profile of work that STFC aspired to do.[115] The reduction on a flat profile trajectory would be lower.

81. Irrespective of the actual cut for each physics and astronomy sub-discipline or research group in the UK, we have three concerns. The first is to do with FEC. As Professor Rowan-Robinson put it: "The problem is that […] the FEC increases are entirely negated by the 25% grants cut."[116] In other words, in the case of physics and astronomy, the Director General's assurance that more money will go into universities because of FEC,[117] may not hold, even if universities allow departments to retain the whole FEC increment, rather than remove it to cover central overheads.

82. Second, we are concerned about the nature of the cuts themselves. Professor Mason told us that STFC was planning a 25% cut on what it had "aspired to fund".[118] However, this can be sub-divided into two categories: (a) the money that STFC told DIUS it wanted to spend on grants over the course of CSR07; and (b) the money that STFC promised in agreed research grants that had not been issued by the time of the allocation. The 25% cut applies to both of these categories,[119] yet the practical impact is not the same on both.

83. Given the anxiety that grant cuts are causing to the physics and astronomy community, we are dismayed that STFC has been attempting to play down the effects of the cuts on the grounds that reductions in future grants are not problematic. We consider cuts to grants that had already been promised a major problem. We urge STFC to take immediate steps to communicate clearly and comprehensively to its research community the impact of its grant cuts.


84. Rule changes regarding Research Councils' subscriptions to international projects are due to take effect this year. Councils used to be compensated by the Office of Science and Innovation in the Department of Trade and Industry for international subscriptions that were affected by movement in exchange rates or GDP-related changes. As of 31 March 2008, this arrangement with DIUS will be lost. The STFC, which will be most severely affected by this change, explains in its Delivery Plan that:

[…] any significant increases in international subscriptions resulting from adverse movements in exchange rates and/or NNI [net national income] rates will be dealt with in the same way as uninsured risks i.e. STFC will be expected to absorb the increase up to £6m, with increases over and above this amount to be subject to discussion with DIUS.[120]

85. Professor Keith Mason told us that this was a better situation since previously the risk was carried by the Research Councils as a whole, which was unfair on, for example, AHRC.[121] However, he also noted that this situation "does contribute some £10 million over the three years to the so-called £80 million [deficit]".[122]

Overall considerations and conclusions


86. The common theme that links the problems outlined above—from cuts in grant lines and specific projects to the impact on STFC sites—is poor communication. We discovered that those with a clear interest in the outcome of funding decisions and with evident expertise to contribute to debate were not consulted over decisions to withdraw funding from the International Linear Collider, from Gemini and from ground-based solar-terrestrial physics facilities. Aside from the damage done to the UK's international reputation (which we discuss further below), a lack of consultation leads to poor decisions, as the fiasco over Gemini has demonstrated. Similarly, the communication with the staff at ATC, Daresbury and RAL has been woeful, with many staff finding out that their jobs are in jeopardy via the publication of the delivery plan. Communication of the cuts in the grant line has also been poor, since the initial claims of 25% cuts were misunderstood and it is not entirely clear why a figure of 25% was used in the first place: it would have been less sensational and more useful to separate out estimates of cuts to sub-disciplines in physics and astronomy against funding aspirations and existing projects.

87. We deplore STFC's failure to consult on ILC, Gemini and STP, a failure that has cost it the trust of the scientific community. We conclude that STFC's communications are inadequate, particularly its internal communications, which are deficient both in terms of top down communication (for example, alerting staff to proposed changes) and bottom up communication (for example, engaging the community over decisions). We recommend that STFC pursue urgently the appointment of a permanent Communications Director with appropriate skills and experience.


88. Related but separate from the issue of communication are the peer review systems within STFC. The STFC Council is advised by a Science Council, which in turn is advised by two peer review committees: the Particle Physics, Astronomy and Nuclear Physics Science Committee (PPAN) and the Physical and Life Sciences Committee (PALS). These Committees have a difficult job to do considering the broad remit of STFC,[123] and we do not doubt the integrity of the individuals who make up those Committees.

89. PPAN and PALS have been charged with responsibility for STFC's biennial Programmatic Review, which reviews the projects and facilities in STFC's research programme in order to inform the STFC Council's investment decisions. The 2007/08 Programmatic Review was published and opened up for consultation on 3 March 2008. It is essentially a list of priorities. For example, it ranks ATLAS, which is one of the large experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, as a high priority, and e-Merlin, which is an upgrade to the UK's national radio imaging astronomy facility, as a low priority.[124] The latter has recently received public attention because, if support for e-Merlin is withdrawn, there would be severe ramifications for Jodrell Bank Observatory, the world famous telescope run by the University of Manchester.[125] Further, as the Programmatic Review points out, the planning assumption is to close e-Merlin in 2009 just as it is starting its surveys, [126] which would waste an £8 million investment in the project.[127] We have grave concerns about the impact of the cuts proposed in the Programmatic Review upon renowned institutions such as Jodrell Bank. This illustrates the extent to which the STFC's decisions affect research and facilities beyond those that it directly funds or owns.

90. Our main concern, however, is the lack of consultation that appears to have taken place between these Committees and the physics and astronomy community in the run-up to the budget allocations. We have already seen that consultation with the community in relation to the decisions over ILC, Gemini and ground-based STP was inadequate. We have additionally heard claims about the quality of the peer review. For example, Professor Chattopadhyay commented that the reviewers on accelerator science and technology "do not even stand up to the standards of UK scientists who are being reviewed: they are inferior".[128] He added that in the case of the light source review, which led to the decision to postpone the 4GLS project, STFC:

picked community members who had interests in the field totally autonomous to what they were reviewing. […] There was no detailed consultation. Let us say the community gives 25 names, they pick four and that is okay. That process was not there. […] As an outsider I complained about that the committee was flawed to start with. I had warned the Director of Strategy it was flawed in a letter. The committee went ahead and did the review anyway and I think you got a flawed recommendation.[129]

91. Professor Holdaway's concern with the peer review system is less to do with the make up of the panels and more to do with the way they gather information prior to making decisions. He commented that:

The concern of the community, which I share to a certain extent, is how they get their advice. I think the communications and the advice there has not been what it should be and I am confident that that will be rectified for the future, but it has not been that way in the past.[130]

92. Professor Holdaway's optimism may be justified since Professor Mason has accepted that the community has not been adequately consulted, and asserts that this is an area in which STFC is working to improve.[131] We are less convinced by Professor Mason's excuse for the current situation:

One of the tasks that the PPAN committee was set at its inception was to derive and devise a better system of community consultation which is an exercise which is not yet completed because, for one reason, its business has been dominated by the delivery plan and the programmatic review so it just has not had the time to put the thought in.[132]

93. Community consultation is key to peer review. This issue should have been addressed at the outset using models from the previous PPARC and CCLRC structure. We conclude that STFC's peer review system is inadequate and recommend that DIUS review the make up of STFC's peer review committees.

94. We were also told during the course of this inquiry that, upon becoming of Chief Executive of STFC, Professor Mason had commissioned a series of reviews of in-house research to inform him on whether STFC was "doing the right research" and whether it was "world level" or "second rate".[133] These reports were not published or shared with the staff, as he explained:

One of the criticisms which had been levelled in the past is that such reviews had involved internal staff and internal managers who had a vested interest to maintain the research of their group. So I deliberately set this up with completely independent panels, with international representation, and we had I think 11 panels covering the whole of the research council, so quite a major exercise, so they are peer review panels in the sense they are independent experts who are not related to the research council. I told them, "You can be as honest with me as you like because this report is coming to me to advise me, it is not going to be shared with my managers or staff, so you can tell me what you really think." I said to them at the outset, "Please tell me exactly what you think so I am informed, so I know how to take this forward, and be honest." So that is the reason for the so-called confidentiality around these reports, they are reports to me and not shared with my managers, so that I can get a really bona fide gold-standard opinion as to whether the research going on in these groups is truly world class which we should continue or whether it is just sucking resources away from things that universities might be able to do better.[134]

95. We are at a loss to understand how Professor Mason could think that secretive reviews would have anything other than a divisive effect on the community and undermine confidence in any of his future decisions.


96. The final common thread to the issues discussed is international reputation. Science is an international pursuit, but STFC plays a particularly important role internationally since it is responsible for some of the largest subscriptions on behalf of the UK. In the context of ILC, Gemini and ground-based STP, we do not believe that proper consideration was paid to the impact of the UK's international reputation on two counts. First, DIUS did not allocate enough money to STFC, forcing it to make undesirable cuts. Second, STFC did not handle the cuts well: it failed in its duty to consult with the community prior to making a decision and in the case of Gemini made more than one announcement on which it had to renege.

97. We are concerned that withdrawal from ILC has made the UK look like an unreliable international partner and that indecision over Gemini and the withdrawal of funding for ground-based STP facilities while the UK is engaged in a long term commitment to EISCAT has made the UK look like an incompetent international partner.

98. Even at CERN, where the UK is a major and hitherto consistent partner in major international collaborations, the proposal in the programmatic review to de-prioritise the two smaller (ALICE and LHCb) of the four LHC experiments just as they are about to deliver results is a cause of consternation and embarrassment for the UK staff at CERN, especially in the context of the ILC and EISCAT situations described above.

Next steps

99. Several possible solutions have been put forward to the particular problems created by STFC's Delivery Plan. These are: to wait for the forthcoming Wakeham review of physics to be published before implementing aspects of the delivery plan, to move STP from STFC to NERC, to move ATC from STFC ownership to the University of Edinburgh, and to address some managerial shortcomings.


100. The Government has responded to concerns over STFC funding by commissioning a review of physics by Professor Bill Wakeham, Vice Chancellor of Southampton University. Professor Ian Diamond was in the process of organising a series of reviews into the health of key subjects, and the Secretary of State told us on 16 January 2008 he had asked Professor Diamond to conduct a review of physics in the light of funding concerns.[135] The terms of reference for the Wakeham inquiry include: considering priorities for investment across physics as a whole and examining the provision of physics-based facilities.[136] There have been calls from the physics and astronomy community for a moratorium on the STFC Delivery Plan until Professor Wakeham has reported,[137] which will happen in September 2008. (There has been some confusion over this date, since it had been reported that the review would be published in the summer;[138] however, this was based on a miscommunication.)

101. The Committee has been told by Professors Ian Diamond and Keith Mason that the Wakeham Review will have no impact on this Delivery Plan:

Chairman: Could you make this absolutely clear to Des and Ian's point, that the Wakeham Review will have no effect whatsoever on the current plans in the Delivery Plan proposed by STFC? It is totally detached from it; this is looking at something else.

Professor Diamond: It is not the intention that this will impact on the budget of STFC in this spending review.

Chairman: So waiting for it to be concluded and delaying these cuts until that point is not an option.

Professor Mason: No, it is not an option.[139]

102. We are not satisfied with this response, especially in the light of the short time remaining until Wakeham is due to report, and believe that it cuts across the intention signalled by the Department and Secretary of State to reassure the physics and astronomy community when the Wakeham review was announced in the first place. Furthermore, it is unfortunate that the Government did not request a moratorium on the STFC cuts until Wakeham reported. We recommend that STFC wait for the results of the Wakeham review before implementing the cuts proposed in the Delivery Plan and that it use this time to consult with its stakeholders.


103. Funding for solar-terrestrial physics need not solely come from STFC. Ground-based STP fits neatly within the remit of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the mechanisms for dealing with joint STFC-NERC applications have been in place for a number of years.[140] There may be a possibility that NERC could take a lead responsibility for ground-based STP. Professor Mason told us that: "The onus is on the [STP] community to come forward with a proposal [for funding]",[141] which we believe is happening. We hope that STFC can liaise with NERC and the STP community to find a favourable solution for all parties.


104. A possible solution for ATC is to pass ownership of the Centre to the University of Edinburgh. This would not be an unprecedented move, since the University of Edinburgh adopted the Roslin Institute a few years ago. Although this is a very different situation, there are factors that make this an attractive option. First, and most importantly, ATC is based at and works closely with the Royal Observatory Edinburgh. Second, STFC has necessarily limited the amount of entrepreneurial work that ATC takes on, but the University is better suited to handling the risk associated with its centres carrying out contracted work.

105. We welcome news that STFC, ATC and the University of Edinburgh have entered talks about a possible transfer of ATC from STFC ownership to the University. We anticipate that ATC would be able to retain its identity as a world class technology centre and continue to thrive within the University.


106. During the process of this inquiry, STFC altered its management structure. It introduced the role of Chief Operating Officer (Professor Richard Wade), Director of Campus Strategy (Professor Colin Whitehouse) and Director of Communications (Jim Sadlier, who is soon to retire). This was partly in response to an Investors in People report that, as reported in the Guardian in March 2008, concluded that changes needed to be made to STFC senior management to ensure "a more robust and transparent management process" since "confidence in senior managers and across senior managers needs to improve".[142] Professor Mason explained that the structural changes were something that he had intended to do all along:

We started off with a management structure which I frankly was not particularly happy with from the outset—it was too flat and unresponsive—and I had always intended to evolve that as time went on. This is a reflection of that evolution. The motivation behind evolution—this stage of it at least and there will be more, it is not finished—is to provide greater responsiveness in terms of dealing with the challenges we have, to really tackle the issue of culture change within the organisation, to ensure that STFC becomes the vision that we have and not a relic vision from the old research councils, and to ensure that vision is enshrined in the staff and in the community that we are serving.[143]

107. We do not have any confidence that rearranging the responsibilities of the existing staff will solve STFC's problems. There is, as noted earlier, immediate need for a Communications Director. However, the management failings at STFC go deeper than this. The events of the past few months have exposed serious deficiencies within STFC's senior management, whose misjudgements could still significantly damage Britain's research reputation in this area, both at home and abroad.


108. STFC's problems have their roots in the size of the CSR07 settlement and the legacy of bringing CCLRC and PPARC together, but they have been exacerbated by a poorly conceived delivery plan, lamentable communication and poor leadership, as well as major senior management misjudgements. Substantial and urgent changes are now needed in the way in which the Council is run in order to restore confidence and to give it the leadership it desperately needs and has so far failed properly to receive. This raises serious questions about the role and performance of the Chief Executive, especially his ability to retain the confidence of the scientific community as well as to carry through the necessary changes outlined here.

39   See, for example: 'Scientists wait to see where axe will fall', The Guardian, 8 January 2008; '10,500 sign petition to reverse cuts to science', Times Higher Education, 10 January 2008; 'Ministers review physics funding', BBC News Online, 11 December 2007 Back

40   Third Delegated Legislation Committee, Draft Science and Technology Facilities Council Order 2007 and Draft Technology Strategy Board Order 2007, 11 December 2006, col 5 Back

41 Back

42   For a full list visit Back

43   For a timeline of SRS, see Back

44   More information on Diamond can be found at Back

45   For links to each of these facilities and centres, use Back

46   Q 193. He was specifically talking about near cash, so as to be able to include AHRC, which has very little non cash, in the comparison. Back

47   The Allocations of the Science Budget 2008/09 to 2010/11, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, December 2007, p 62; Science Budget Allocations 2005-06 to 2007-08, Department of Trade and Industry, May 2005, pp 20-34 Back

48   Q 190 Back

49   Q 191 Back

50   Big Science: Public investment in large scientific facilities, National Audit Office, HC 153 Session 2006-2007, 24 January 2007, p 21 Back

51   Q 83 Back

52   Q 95 Back

53   Q 83 Back

54   Science & Technology Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2006-07, Office of Science and Innovation: Scrutiny Report 2005 and 2006, Qq 333-334 Back

55   Delivery Plan 2008/9-2011/12, Science and Technology Facilities Council, December 2007, p 4 Back

56   Ibid, p 7 Back

57   Ibid, p 5  Back

58   Delivery Plan 2008/9-2011/12, Science and Technology Facilities Council, December 2007, p 9 Back

59   Ibid. Back

60   Ibid. Back

61   Q 83 Back

62   Delivery Plan 2008/9-2011/12, Science and Technology Facilities Council, December 2007, p 5 Back

63   Q 200 Back

64   Ibid. Back

65   Q 280 Back

66   Q 65 Back

67   Ev 68 Back

68 Back

69   'Shock as UK withdraws from Gemini Observatory' Astronomy Now Online, 16 November 2007 Back

70   Delivery Plan 2008/9-2011/12, Science and Technology Facilities Council, December 2007, p 6 Back

71 Back

72 Back

73 Back

74   Consultation on STFC's Programmatic Review 2007-8, Science and Technology Facilities Council, 3 March 2008, p 5 Back

75   Q 300 Back

76   Q 6 Back

77   Q 28 Back

78   Ev 105; Ev 87 Back

79   Delivery Plan 2008/9-2011/12, Science and Technology Facilities Council, December 2007, p 6 Back

80   Q 124 Back

81   Outcome of the Programmatic Review, PPARC, 10 April 2006, STPNFC(06)03 Back

82   EISCAT (European Incoherent Scatter) is funded and operated by the research councils of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Japan, China, the United Kingdom and Germany. EISCAT studies the interaction between the Sun and the Earth as revealed by disturbances in the magnetosphere and the ionised parts of the atmosphere (these interactions also give rise to the aurora, or Northern Lights). Back

83   Q 384 Back

84   Ev 105 Back

85   Q 51 Back

86   Q 389 Back

87   'Future at risk as Daresbury sacrifices hundreds of jobs', Liverpool Daily Post, 4 January 2008 Back

88   see Box 1 Back

89   Ibid. Back

90   Consultation on STFC's Programmatic Review 2007-8, Science and Technology Facilities Council, 3 March 2008, p 4. As an aside, another project placed on the 'low priority' list is the e-Merlin project. As a result, the future of Jodrell Bank, which is owned by the University of Manchester, is uncertain. Back

91   Q 286 Back

92   Q 123 Back

93   Qq 160, 163, 172, 179 Back

94   Q 179 Back

95   Q 289 Back

96   Q 287 Back

97   see Box 1 Back

98   Delivery Plan 2008/9-2011/12, Science and Technology Facilities Council, December 2007, p 9 Back

99   Q 362 Back

100   Q 178 Back

101   Qq 167, 176, 361, 362, 377 Back

102   Q 377 Back

103   Q 353 Back

104   Q 356 Back

105   Q 358 Back

106   Q 361 Back

107   Q 137 Back

108   Ev 107 Back

109   Q 160 Back

110   Q 162 Back

111   Ian Pearson MP, Westminster Hall debate, 1 April 2008, 211WH Back

112   Q 362 Back

113   Q 315 Back

114   Q 340 Back

115   Q 126, 341 Back

116   Q 4 Back

117   Q 193 Back

118   Q 341 Back

119   STFC has not cut the number of grants by 25%, but decreased the money it is giving in each grant. Back

120   Delivery Plan 2008/9-2011/12, Science and Technology Facilities Council, December 2007, p 3 Back

121   Q 108 Back

122   Ibid. Back

123   Q 319 Back

124   Consultation on STFC's Programmatic Review 2007-8, Science and Technology Facilities Council, March 2008, pp 2-3 Back

125   'Jodrell Bank to close 'because scientists voted for own plans'', The Times, 11 March, 2008; also see STFC's reply in Letter, The Times, 12 March 2008 Back

126   Consultation on STFC's Programmatic Review 2007-8, Science and Technology Facilities Council, March 2008, p 5 Back

127   Figure taken from 'Jodrell Bank to close 'because scientists voted for own plans'', The Times, 11 March, 2008 Back

128   Q 281 Back

129   Qq 282-284 Back

130   Q 270 Back

131   Qq 319-320 Back

132   Q 320 Back

133   Q 326 Back

134   Ibid. Back

135   Oral evidence taken before the Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee on 16 January 2008 (2007-08) HC 186-i; Q 75 Back

136 Back

137   For example, Q 41-42; Ev 68 Back

138   Ev 68 Back

139   Qq 116-117 Back

140   Q 393 Back

141   Ibid. Back

142   'Astronomers see stars', Guardian, 4 March 2008 Back

143   Q 322 Back

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