Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 9

Submission from Prospect


  1.  Prospect is the recognised trade union for scientific, engineering and other staff in the Science and Technology Facilities Research Council (STFC).

  2.  Prospect recognises that the STFC did not receive the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) allocation it had hoped and that hard choices needed to be made. However, we feel that decisions have been made secretly, without the involvement of stakeholders, especially the staff. We contrast this with the approach of other Councils (eg Natural Environment Research Council with the restructuring of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) where a dialogue was held on options before decisions were made.

  3.  As a result, staff do not understand the STFC vision for the future or support the decisions taken.

  4.  The STFC Council have announced that the CSR allocation was £80 million less than they had hoped for. However, the settlement represents an in crease of over 13.5% over the CSR period. Staff can only conclude that the cuts in science programme and potential redundancies are a strategic decision of Council and not a result of funding cuts. They question the need for such a radical change of direction, which they believe, puts their science, jobs and sites at risk.

  5.  This is compounded by the aim of the STFC to create a further £40 million "headroom" to allow for flexibility. This means an objective of finding £120 million cuts which staff fear will be funded by job losses. In the absence of detailed plans, and a clear science strategy, staff remain unconvinced that redundancies and loss of programme can be reduced by efficiencies or other sources of funding.

  6.  Staff also fear for the future of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UKATC) in Edinburgh and the Daresbury Laboratory.

  7.  Staff believe that the STFC's intention to "explore alternative options for running the UKATC[23] means removing it from the public sector with little time to adjust in order to compete. This is despite the fact that STFC's Chief Executive has described this site as the "jewel in the crown". They also fear that the aim of reducing "significantly the proportion of in-house staff funded through Direct Vote" and withdrawing from "major facility programmes which are not of the highest priority"[24] will remove the critical mass from the Daresbury Laboratory site, putting it at risk.

  8.  The proposals would also have a considerable impact on the Rutherford Appleton Centre (RAL). Although RAL is likely to survive, a substantial number of jobs could be lost and areas of science abandoned (ie the International Linear Collider, Solar-Terrestrial Physics and some e-Science).

  9.  Prospect sees a contradiction between the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills statement that the Daresbury Campus "will be at the heart of STFC's economic impact strategy"[25] and the withdrawal of STFC from science programmes key to the future of the site (ie the energy recovery Linac Prototype for a next generation light source and the EMMA project, with application to cancer therapy. Staff at Daresbury doubt that without these key programmes or equally important alternatives that the site can "act as a focal point for collaboration and knowledge exchange with industry and academic researchers"[26] or be a "genuine internationally-competitive critical mass"[27]

  10.  In addition, staff note the different approaches envisaged for the Daresbury and Harwell Campuses. They believe that the "range of options"[28] being considered for the latter rather than the Joint Venture Company proposed for the former, (where the "major facilities ie Diamond, ISIS and the Central Laser Facility"[29] will be) shows a lesser commitment by the STFC to the future of Daresbury Laboratory. Staff feel let down, especially after the promises made about their future by the previous Minister Lord Sainsbury and the investment made by the North West Regional Development Agency.

  11.  At worst case, the STFC Delivery Plan could result in the loss of hundreds of skilled jobs representing a further drain on the scientific and engineering capability in the UK. Additionally, the future of the UKATC and the Daresbury Laboratory appear to be at risk. The STFC have said that they hope to reduce the need for job losses through efficiency savings and by attracting alternative funding.[30] Prospect hopes that they succeed. However, in the absence of any detail we remain concerned.

January 2008

23   STFC Delivery Plan 2008/9-2011/12 paragraph 1.2. Back

24   Ibid. Back

25   The Allocation of the Science Budget 2008/9-2010/11, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, December 2007. Back

26   STFC Delivery Plan 2008/9-2011/12 Section 3 introduction. Back

27   STFC Delivery Plan 2008/9-20011/12 paragraph 3.1. Back

28   STFC Delivery Plan 2008/9-2001/12 paragraph 3.1. Back

29   Ibid. Back

30   STFC Delivery Plan 2008/9-2011/12 paragraphs 1.1 and 5.1. Back

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