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

Memorandum 29

Supplementary evidence from the Science and Technology Facilities Council following the oral evidence session on 21 January 2008


  Research grants make up the bulk of the funding that STFC gives to universities and with such a large amount it is inevitable that, within a programme of cutbacks, the grants budget would come under pressure. It is difficult to quantify, in exact terms, the current size of the grants "budget" as a result of ongoing work associated with the merger and other factors but it is unlikely to differ significantly from the expenditure on grants by PPARC in 2006-07, which was £139.2 million (CCLRC spend was less than 1/10th of this figure).

  Awards are made for a period of 1-5 years, usually with a review point approximately 3 years into the award to assess the health of the work programme.

  Awards are planned for on three year cycles, but the timetable is different for Astronomy and Particle Physics.


  Astronomy awards for exploitation (responsive mode) are decided upon annually within a three year cycle.

Over the last three years, the numbers of Post Doctoral Research Assistants (PDRAs) on grants has been:

    2005/2006: 278

    2006/2007: 329

    2007/2008: 323 (the original plan figure was 356, but this was pegged back once the CSR allocation was known)

  (NB: These figures equate to a 3 year cumulative total number of awards, approximately 100, or one third, of which are made within each given year.)

  The 25% reduction in funding is cutting into the originally projected aspirational programme of growth, year on year. The revised Delivery Plan results in a reduction in the cumulative number of new awards being made by the end of 2010-11 to 247.

  Whilst this is a significant adjustment, in comparison with 2005 it is a reduction of 31 posts, equating to roughly 11%. The reason for making this point is that the cutback should not, in STFC's opinion, be seen as a threat to the critical mass of researchers within Departments or their overall viability.

Particle Physics

  In contrast to the rolling year on year Astronomy awards cycle, Particle Physics awards are made every three years. The next awards decision date will take effect in the year 2009-10, or one year into the revised STFC Delivery Plan. The 25% reduction in funding required by the Delivery Plan directly impacts on this decision date. Awards for the next two years are, in effect, protected because of the decision making cycle, with the exception of support provided within these grants for projects (such as the International Linear Collider) in which there will be a reduction as indicated in the Delivery Plan. In these instances, it is expected that current grants will be withdrawn and the relevant support removed.

  It is envisaged that this delay should allow University Departments to plan effectively for the reduction in funding. It should also be noted that the Physics Review will have been completed in advance of this date and its recommendations should take into account this timetable.


  Our accruals based allocation (in common with all government funding) comes in three flavours: near-cash, non-cash and capital. Before explaining what these are I should point out that, in the main, capital allocation can only be used on capital spend and non-cash can only be spent on non-cash items. Near-cash on the other hand can be spent on near-cash, non-cash or capital. In addition, and separately, the council is provided with cash to pay its accruals based budgetary commitments.

  Near-cash is available to spend on running costs, salaries, certain subscriptions etc. It is similar to what we used to call resource or recurrent expenditure. This is the biggest element of our allocation.

  Capital is the money we spend on investment in items that will become assets. Buildings, facilities and large pieces of equipment will class as capital. They have a value on our fixed asset register. In addition we are able to use some of our capital spend as something called capital grants to the private sector (CGPS) and we do this for a portion of our CERN subscription and on some University Grants.

  Non-cash is an allocation we get to enable us to make provision in our accounts to cover future obligations and things like depreciation. This makes our accounts look more like normal business accounts. If we were a real business this would be money we would set aside for future replacement of assets and would be very real. The reason it is called non-cash is that no money actually moves around. We don't actually get the money, we just get an allocation and we use it to make provision in our accounts. One little twist in this story is that if we don't have enough non-cash to make provisions in our accounts then we need to use some of our near-cash instead and that is very real.


  In addition the Government have asked the MIER to undertake a further piece of work on their behalf that will be undertaken alongside the existing Review programme of work on the potential contribution of the Daresbury campus to science and innovation in the UK economy as a whole, the North West science base and the Manchester City Region.

  This will include an assessment of:

    —  the role of partnerships with universities, public sector bodies and the private sector;

    —  the potential for increased commercial investment;

    —  the contribution of training and the development of an appropriate skills base; and

    —  the complementarities with Harwell and other major science and innovation campuses.

February 2008

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