Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
MONDAY 21 JANUARY 2008
Q40 Dr Gibson:
Does the Wakeham Review accept that? Has the Wakeham Review Committee
been set up yet?
Professor Main: No, it has not.
The Royal Astronomical Society and the Institute of Physics have
both been approached to try to nominate some members for the committee.
You can ask Ian Diamond later, but I believe the committee is
in the process of being set up now and the terms of reference
of course have only been made available today.
You would wait for that.
Professor Main: We would wait
for it but it is absolutely essential that in the meantime could
we have some moratorium.
You would have a moratorium, you would wait for Wakeham and then
make some decisions.
Professor Main: Yes.
Q43 Mr Wilson:
I think your union has been talking about a couple of hundred
redundancies and we know how difficult it is to get young people
into science anyway. What do you think the impact of these redundancies
is going to have inspiring confidence in school and university
students to pursue a career in research?
Mr Bell: I have not actually mentioned
200; the numbers could well be more than that. What I would say
is what future is there in a career in physics and astronomy when
the capacity is being ripped out of the UK? It cannot send a positive
signal at a time when we are having reviews about how we can encourage,
particularly in the physics area.
Q44 Mr Wilson:
So you think it is going to be a pretty devastating message.
Mr Bell: It has got to be.
Professor Rowan-Robinson: This
is where I think all this is a mistake. I do not think it is an
intended cut in this way because basically the impact of astronomy
and particle physics is far greater than its actual size within
physics. If you look at what draws school children into science
in the first place you will find that very often it is things
like astronomy, space science and so on. If you ask why students
choose physics at university again it is astronomy and particle
physics. We have had recent surveys of first year students suggesting
that as many as 90% of them came into physics because of those
kinds of subjects. When they get there they find out all the wonders
of physics and they do not all do astronomy and particularly physics,
which is just as well. They are needed in all areas of physics
and the economy needs physics as a whole. However, if you hit
astronomy and particle physics in the way they are being hit at
the moment the impact is going to be devastating to the whole
physics programme and eventually the UK economy, the UK science
reputation. The knock-on effect is far-reaching.
Q45 Dr Iddon:
I will put my cards on the table. I am a northern member of Parliament
from the Greater Manchester area and when the original decision
on Diamond was taken the north west group were very, very disappointed
(that is the north west group of members of Parliament), we lobbied
the Prime Minister and we got some extra money for Northwest Science,
as you well remember. Of course we accept the Diamond decision;
that was made and we were expecting 80 job losses during the current
year and 30 next year as a result of that decision. I add that
up to 110 job losses a result of the Synchrotron decision. I am
reading that the STFC are putting it about that 180 job losses
come out of that decision. There is a difference of 70 there I
cannot reconcile, and altogether 350 jobs look as if they are
going to be lost at Daresbury. Where are the rest coming from?
Mr Bell: My understanding is that
80 were already planned in the reduction of SRS as you described.
Further programme will be cut at the Daresbury site which will
result in more redundancies. We do not know the numbers yet; it
will depend on how many efficiency savings can be made or extra
funding could be attracted, but those numbers that you describe
sound entirely possible to me from what I understand.
Q46 Dr Iddon:
I do not know what the status is of the fourth generation light
sourceI do not know whether anybody knows, we will ask
STFC when they come in front of us shortlybut obviously
there are going to be some job losses there if the programme is
either suspended or especially abandoned. Let us assume it is
going to be abandoned; to you know how many job losses there would
be at Daresbury as a result of abandoning 4GLS?
Mr Bell: No, I do not, not specifically.
We are in discussion at the moment about the implications of the
actual numbers that are likely as a result of cutbacks of programme,
but the absolute detail is not known to me.
Q47 Dr Iddon:
Do you think that if two-thirds of the jobs go at Daresburybecause
that is what it is looking like from the figures that are before
mescience and innovation can actually survive on that site?
Mr Bell: I do not see how it can.
We have already tasked Keith Mason with the obvious dichotomy
in the statements in the business plan about encouraging a technology
campus at Daresbury whilst withdrawing from the key science that
would make it attractive. I cannot see how those two square up.
Q48 Dr Iddon:
Does it look to youas it looks to north west MPsthat
the original fear that we had that science was being pulled into
the golden triangle and that Daresbury was going to be abandoned
is going to come true?
Mr Bell: It does look that way
to me and it certainly looks that way to the staff at Daresbury.
Q49 Dr Iddon:
Obviously there are three science and innovation sites that were
declared by the last science minister, Lord Sainsburywho
I think did a good job and we were very pleased to hear that these
three sites were going to develop as science and innovation sitescan
you tell us something about cuts at the other two sites, the Scottish
site and the Harwell site?
Mr Bell: Again the details are
not yet there but quite clearly with the withdrawal from Gemini
there will be an impact on the UK ATC and if you look at the Delivery
Plan it is quite clear that a different model of governance is
being looked at with regards to the UK ATC and I believe that
the STFC no longer wish to actually own the site and the staff.
Q50 Dr Iddon:
I am looking at 200 job cuts here at Harwell Rutherford Appleton
alone and presumably more at the Scottish site. Has anybody calculated
the cost of redundancies and severance packages that will obviously
come out of all these job cuts? Has that been allowed for in the
STFC budget? Have you asked STFC this question?
Professor Main: I understand that
the £27 million that they were allowed to bring forward in
their budget was for restructuring costs which I assume are redundancy
Q51 Dr Iddon:
So it is covered in the budget.
Professor Main: There was some
flexibility allowed to STFC. There was an extra £5 million
a year they were allowed to bring in from their capital costs
and £27 million, the self-loan, was able to be brought forward
to allow for these restructuring costs.
Mr Bell: I think until you know
the numbers you cannot say what the money will be, but it is going
to be big.
Professor Rowan-Robinson: On the
ATC I can give you a number. The number of potential job losses
at ATC is 40 people I believe, so approximately 50% of the workforce
there are facing redundancy consequent on the withdrawal from
Gemini and the abandonment of the instrumentation programme there.
It means that the capability to build instrumentation to support
our membership of the European Southern Observatory and get a
juste retour from our subscription to them may be lost.
Q52 Dr Turner:
In addition to all the potential damage to Daresbury and the other
sites, what is going to be the impact in your view of the research
grant costs? What is going to be lost?
Professor Main: You mean in universities?
Q53 Dr Turner:
Professor Main: It will of course
not be evenly spread but there at least half a dozen universitiessome
large, some smallwhose dependence on STFC is about 75%
of their funding or more and lots with about 50% of their funding
so a 20% cut in that will be a 20% cut in their income. If you
look at what the actual figures arein terms of grants it
is money in/money out because you spend it on the researchthere
are also now full economic costs and the direct costs that go
into the university. Some universities are standing to lose about
three quarters of a million pounds a year in terms of their direct
costs, ie the money they will lose as a result of these cuts.
Some departments, even some of the very largest, will suffer very
badly. Some of the smaller ones with high dependence on STFC may
really be under a lot of financial pressure, particularly since,
as we know what I call the parachute funding for HEFCE (the extra
£75 million that HEFCE found for certain subjects including
physics on the teaching side) is due to in 2009-10. If these things
all come together at the same time it will put a lot of pressure
on physics departments.
Q54 Dr Turner:
That also implies a further wave of redundancies.
Professor Main: It is perfectly
possible, yes. What is so frustrating about this from my point
of view because I have an interest in education as well as research
is that we really did seem to have turned the corner in physics
with more people doing A levels last year, a lot more people applying
to go to university. I am personally convinced that the reason
for that is that senior people in government have been sending
out some very positive messages about the use of physics, the
jobs in physics and how important physics is. What worries me
most about thisand I do regret it so muchis that
we are all perhaps sending a negative message out and that is
very, very regrettable. I know that the Government desperately
wants to avoid more physics departments closing; they want more
to open. It would be very regrettable if, as a result of this,
we lose physics departments.
Q55 Dr Turner:
The message is: study physics and be redundant in a few years.
That is not a good message, is it?
Professor Main: I think that might
be exaggerating a little.
Q56 Dr Turner:
It is not good though.
Professor Main: No, it is not
Just to follow this point up, Tony said earlier in this conversation
that this is not a loss of funding to STFC, this is a redistribution
of £80 millionpossibly £120 millioninto
this area. One of the big beneficiaries will be space which actually
requires physicists and astrophysicists to actually go into that
area. There will be a lot of new work for academics; there will
be new work for scientists. Why are you not looking at this as
a glass half full?
Professor Rowan-Robinson: In astronomy
we have our subscription to the European Space Agency, we have
our subscription to the European Southern Observatory so ESO will
select the missions and the UK will try to get involved with instruments
on that but they will be doing so with a budget that is 25% lower.
The number of post doctorate researchers available in the universities
will be 25% lower in three years' time. The possibilities of significant
involvement in these space missions that ESO selects will be reduced.
I think the net result will be that whereas currently the UK has
a presence in most fields of astrophysics, solar system science
and so on and is a major force in European astronomy, that will
slowly disappear and we will find that all the opportunities have
been taken by France, Germany, Italy or Spain and we will not
be able to compete across the full range of science.
Mr Bell: The work we have done
shows that those who are made redundant from sciencewe
followed our members who had been made redundantthe vast
majority of them do not remain so it is not as if you can make
them redundant now and pick them up in two or three years at another
location. A lot of them will have drifted out of science, they
will have gone abroad, they will have changed careers or whatever;
they do not just sit around in the wardrobe waiting to be lifted
back out for another project.
I was not suggesting that; I was suggesting that overall within
the budget there will be new opportunities.
Mr Bell: But it is the lead time
between one and the other; you will lose people.
Q59 Mr Marsden:
Professor Main, earlier you referred to some of the international
reactions or concerns that have been expressed about the cuts
in this budget. I declare an interest as a north west MP and am
profoundly concerned about any implications of savage cuts that
would affect Daresbury's viability. My colleague Brian Iddon went
through the job numbers but there are other issues as well. For
example, Prospect, in their written evidence to us, say that if
this results in the withdrawal of STFC from science programmes
key to the future of the Daresbury site (they mention the Linac
Prototype for a next generation light source and the EMMA project)
that this again will completely nullify the intention of the department
for Daresbury to act as a focal point for collaboration and knowledge.
Is that too stark a prospect?
Professor Main: I do not think
so. I find it very difficult to comment specifically on the Daresbury
project partly- as Tony has hintedbecause of a lack of
transparency in the decision making process. We know next to nothing
about how these decisions were reached. I have heard John Denham
say in public that he puts Daresbury at the top of his priority
list; he says that he will see that Daresbury will continue.