Submission from Dr Ian Corbett
Your Committee will have received many letters
on this topic. However, the subject is so serious and so urgent
that I hope that one more, from a slightly different perspective,
may be justified.
Until I retired in 2001 I was Deputy Chief Executive
of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council. Prior
to that I was Head of Astronomy and Particle Physics at the Science
and Engineering Research Council. From 2001 to the end of 2006
I was Deputy Director General of the European Organisation for
Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO). I am therefore
very familiar with the Comprehensive Spending Review process,
and the preparation of research council business (or delivery)
plans. Perhaps more importantly, having spent much of the last
20 years establishing international collaborations to the benefit
of UK science, I know how vital the UK contribution is to astronomy
and particle physics on the world scene, and how important it
is to be perceived as a reliable and productive partner.
From the material in the public domain it is
possible to deconstruct the CSR allocation to STFC. I can confirm
that the statements made by the Council about its financial situation
and the consequences of the actions set out in its Delivery Plan
are correct. The shortfall of £80 million is a reality, and
the consequential wasted investment through cuts in the science
programme, closure of facilities, and redundancies are inevitable.
Enormous damage to our scientific output and international credibility
will follow. All this has been very well aired and is, for example,
set out in the IOP/RAS submission to your committee.
I find it hard to believe that a government
that has consistently given generous support to science should
have knowingly adopted a policy with such dire consequences. Yet
it is clear from material now in the public domain that officials
at DIUS were properly briefed by STFC between March and July on
the consequences of various hypothetical funding scenarios, including
flat cash, and that the current situation was accurately predicted.
It is not clear, given these inputs, how DIUS arrived at the actual
This is a short term situation with enormous
long term repercussions. The lasting national and international
damage to UK physics that will result from the STFC Delivery Plan
requires prompt action if the situation is to be retrieved. It
would appear that STFC needs an immediate increase of "near
cash" (not a loan, which just postpones the inevitable),
to enable it to stabilise its programme before moving on to consult
its principle stakeholders, reassure its overseas collaborators,
and prepare a balanced input to the Wakeham review. Other measures
which would help have been suggested by many different people:
they all merit serious examination.
I believe that your Committee has the standing
and authority to convince the government to recognise this as
an extremely serious problem for UK science, nationally and internationally.
I hope you will be able to make recommendations for its urgent
resolution before irreparable damage is done to an area of science
in which the UK excels. I very much look forward to reading your
Committee's report, and the government's response.