Submission from the Royal Society
The Royal Society is pleased to submit this
statement on Research Council budgets to the House of Commons
Select Committee on Innovation Universities and Skills, in advance
of its evidence sessions on the same topic. This submission has
been approved by the President on behalf of the Royal Society.
The Society appreciates the Government's general
support for science and for the overall settlement announced with
the Budget in March 2007 and again in the 2007 Comprehensive Spending
Review (CSR) outcomes. However, this year there are three specific
cases of decisions about research council funding that have had
unintentional negative impacts, which are worthy of further investigation.
We further believe that a sensible response to this recurring
problem is to have a committee to advise the Director General
for the Research Councils (DGRC) on the Science Budget.
(MRC) TRANSLATIONAL FUND
It has been reported that £92 million is
to be taken from the MRC's commercial fund. We believe that such
a clawback would be a breach of faith with the scientists whose
enterprise built up this fund in the pasta fund intended
to support future discoveries that will improve and save lives.
If institutions receiving public funds are not able to keep the
extra resources they have earned, a damaging precedent is set.
Government should be encouraging entrepreneurial behaviour in
publicly funded institutions as well as the private sector.
When the formation of the STFC was first proposed
18 or more months ago, the Royal Society identified a number of
issues that had to be addressed for the new structure to succeed.
One of these was the interplay between providing the capital costs
of building a major facility and the recurrent costs involved
in enabling researchers to use it to best advantage. The overall
CSR allocation for STFC seemed not unfair, in the context of Government's
overall priorities. However, the internal distributions within
STFC do not properly provide for the recurrent costs, and will
impact severely on grants to university physics departmentsa
matter of special concern in view of the government's recognition
of the need to boost physics at all levels. We also believe the
cuts would reduce the UK's scientific return from existing world-class
facilities, and risk jeopardising our reputation as reliable long-term
collaborators. We do not believe a review of physics is an adequate
solution, and instead suggest that money is used from the capital
budget to cover the shortfall.
In February 2007, it was announced that £68
million would be taken from the Research Councils' budgets, in
order to cover deficits elsewhere in the (then) Department for
Trade & Industry's budget. £68 million was a small percentage
of the overall science budget, but such a cut sent a damaging
signal to those whose commitment is needed for the UK to sustain
its scientific competitiveness, and had a demoralising effect
on the scientific community. We were also concerned that these
cuts infringed the established principle that Science Budget funds
are strictly ring-fenced within DTI, and set a dangerous precedent
about the credibility of future assurances about ring-fencing.
The Society believes that a new structure is
needed to ensure that Ministers and their officials know the likely
effects of RC allocations or any funding rearrangements. We believe
the DGRC should be advised by an independent group of experts
from all disciplines and from a range of institutions, who can
identify any potential negative consequences of decisions and
ensure they are drawn to the attention of all concerned. This
was proposed in the 1993 White Paper "Realising our Potential",
although never implemented.