Submission from Group Leaders in Particle
1. We very much welcome the initiative of
your Select Committee to look into the circumstances surrounding
the recent settlement for the STFC as a result of the Comprehensive
Spending Review. What should have been a good news story for science
in the UK was seriously undermined when the consequences of the
STFC component of the settlement for physics as a discipline became
apparent. We, as group leaders in particle physics, are naturally
concerned, but we note that our concerns are widely shared, by
Universities UK, the Royal Society, the Institute of Physics,
the Royal Astronomical Society, the British Association for the
Advancement of Science and many organisations and individuals.
2. We cannot believe that the draconian
cuts outlined in the STFC Delivery Plan published on December
11th 2007 are a result of a deliberate policy, but the effects
are likely to be devastating for some physics departments. We
first heard of this problem on 6th November, when STFC announced
that there was an £80 million deficit in its budget over
the CSR period 2008-2011. We were told that a draft delivery plan
approved by STFC had been sent to the Minister (Dr Ian Pearson),
and that it contained some radical options. In the end, we understand
that this plan was not acceptedcertainly an apparently
hastily written plan was published on the 11 December. We are
particularly concerned that the peer review system was marginalized
prior to decisions by STFC Executive to withdraw from leading
international programmes and to cut grants to universities by
3. Given the seriousness of the situation,
we wrote as concerned individuals to the Minister and local MPs,
to advise them of the consequences for physics departments. At
the same time, many other organisations became alarmed, particularly
University Vice-Chancellors. We believe that, when serious unintended
consequences of an action of a Government Department become apparent,
it is essential that the appropriate Minister act quickly to mitigate
the damage. This manifestly did not happen. All that did happen
was a hastily conceived review into the Health of Physics, to
be chaired by Professor Bill Wakeham, VC of Southampton. While
this is very welcome, the time-scale for the review, its terms
of reference and membership are unclear. However, all we hear
makes us believe that the timescale currently envisaged for the
review to report will be too late to avoid serious damage to physics
departments, national centres of excellence (RAL, Daresbury, Astronomy
Technology Centre . . . ) and to individual careers, particularly
those just starting out in researcha request for voluntary
redundancies at RAL and Daresbury has already been issued, with
a deadline of January for applications; by the summer, this invaluable
expertise will be lost.
4. We urge your committee to ask the Minister
to delay implementation of the STFC delivery plan until the Wakeham
review has reported by finding the relatively small sum of money
to enable this to happen from elsewhere within the Science Vote,
for example from the Large Facilities line.
5. When the STFC was formed last year by
the merger of CCLRC and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research
Council (PPARC), assurances were given that the merger would be
properly funded and would not adversely impact scientific research
volumes and university physics department finances. In April 2007
the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology
(which covers part of the brief of your Select Committee) discussed
the formation of STFC. There was discussion of the potential impact
that a shortfall in the funding of the facilities could have on
University Grants, and in general the "conflict of interest"
that could arise between the grant-giving functions and the facilities
operations of the new Council. The Committee noted that "[t]here
were concerns that the STFC would be hampered by CCLRC liabilities,
but we have been reassured by the Minister for Science that these
will not be transferred to the STFC". It should also be noted
that the NAO report published in January 2007 noted the increased
operating costs of Diamond and the ISIS 2nd target station. In
the draft Delivery Plan of July 2007, STFC noted that they would
have to "make provision for the inherited and unavoidable
liabilities in relation to Diamond VAT, SRS restructuring and
08/09 operating costs (40 million over the CSR period)" and
furthermore "absorb the shortfall in funding in the last
Spending Review for the operating costs for Diamond and ISIS Target
Station 2 (circa 35 million over the CSR period)".
This seems to indicate that STFC inherited a deficit of around
£25 million per annum from the CCLRC side of the merger.
6. The STFC Delivery Plan following the
CSR Allocations will lead to the cancellation of existing research
programmes, many with international partners. We know of initiatives
in several countries' which have cited the UK as an innovative
and imaginative research leader, for example in fostering strong
collaborative programmes between national laboratories and university
departments. The UK's international reputation in science as a
reliable partner will be severely damaged unless the STFC Delivery
Plan is revised, just at the point when UK science had recovered
after decades of indifference and neglect.
7. The impact of the 25% average reduction
in grants on many university physics departments will be severe.
Most leading departments rely on STFC-funded science for a large
part (from a third to much more than two-thirds) of their research
income. Some will be hit disproportionately harder. Particle physics
and astronomy, which are wholly funded from within STFC and which
are most affected by the proposals in the current STFC Delivery
Plan, are well documented as the main reasons why young people
choose physics at A-level and university. For example, a recent
survey2 of 900 first year undergraduates in November 2007 showed
that 75% of them cited the study of fundamental particles
and quantum phenomena at A-level as having a significant impact
on their decision to study physics at university.
8. The impact on the national laboratories
at Harwell and Daresbuiy will be no less dramatic. There are reports
in the press of up to 600 redundancies among the scientific staffmore
than a third of the total. It is difficult to believe that this
can be achieved without lasting damage to world-leading facilities
such as the ISIS Spallation Neutron Source, the Astra-Gemini Petawatt
laser and the new Diamond Synchrotron Light Source, as well as
threatening world-leading developments in technology and engineering.
Expertise in research teams that has been built-up over the years,
once dispersed, will be impossible to re-assemble. Over the past
decade, the UK has become a magnet to some of the best young researchers
world-widea genuine "brain-gain"and many
UK scientists who have worked many years overseas have returned.
The damage to our international reputation is incalculable; people
have long memories.
9. The Government are well aware of the
key role played by physics in the wider economy. In November 2007,
the Minister for Science and Jimovation, Dr Ian Pearson, speaking
at the Institute of Physics, said: "Physics makes a key contribution
to the UK economy through the one million jobs where the use of
physics-based technologies or expertise is critical to the existence
of the sector, concentrated in 32,000 businesses." 5%
of jobs in the UK are in sectors where the use of physics-based
technologies or expertise is critical to the existence of the
10. There are illustrations that some damage
has already been done. Let us choose just onethe letter
of 16th December 2007 to the Secretary of State that was signed
by 559 early-stage researchers (graduate students and postdoctoral
staff). They are "dismayed by the swingeing cuts" and
concerned that these will "inevitably discourage the uptake
of science at all levels; school, undergraduate and postgraduate".
It is also interesting to note that this impressive number of
signatories was collected in less than three days. They were able
to do this so quickly through the use of the Facebook website,
a development that would not have been possible without the World
Wide Web which was, as we are sure you know well, invented by
Sir Tim Berners-Lee while he was working at CERN, described in
a Guardian leader ("in praise of . . . CERN", March
2006) as the laboratory "whose expertise is so wide-ranging
that it invented the world wide web as a sideline and gave it
11. There are many questions that we believe
your Committee should ask:
Why was STFC set up without sufficient
resources to carry out its core business?
Why, when the situation became clear
and the consequences obvious to all, was nothing done to alleviate
Was the process for allocating the
large increase in resources for science conducted properly? On
what basis were the final allocations decided?
Did DIUS officials discuss the implications
with the Minister before making the final allocations?
Why was the draft of 7t November
Delivery Plan proposed by STFC rejected?
There is evidence that the STFC science
advisory structure was marginalised and their advice ignoredis
this true? Why is the communication between STFC and the communities
that it serves so poor?
Since DIUS has acknowledged that
the STFC Delivery Plan will cause major problems for physics departments,
and has set up a review to investigate these, why does it not
find the small amount of resource required to delay the implementation
of the delivery plan, with all its disastrous consequences, until
a proper review can be carried out?
Why has DIUS decided that STFC will
in future be responsible for changes in international subscriptions
due to variations in exchange rates? What is the potential impact
on science output of this decision?
Was any assessment carried out within
DIUS of the impact of the STFC Delivery Plan on the UK's international
reputation? If not, why not? If so, what was that assessment,
and why were the consequences thought to be acceptable?
What are the likely consequences
for university physics departments if this plan is implemented?
31 See Appendix. Back
See for example the more than 12,000 signatures to the Downing
Street petition Back