Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
MONDAY 21 JANUARY 2008
Q140 Dr Harris:
Assuming you are right to restructure in the way you wish to,
would you not have preferred to have been able to do this over
a longer lead-in than what you have, or do you think the way to
do it is through a call of voluntary redundancies which may happen
in departments where actually you do not want to reduce budgets
Professor Mason: It has been claimed
that voluntary redundancies equate to a scattergun approach, well
that is simply not the case. We are looking for voluntary redundancies;
we are not bound to accept applications for voluntary redundancy
and we would not in skill areas that we absolutely know we need
Q141 Dr Harris:
Let us take solar terrestrial physics because that is quite a
wide field with a lot of things in that and you are going to cease
all funding for ground-based work. That is one way of saying that
you are taking one subject and you are not going to fund of it.
An alternative way might be to fund just the best science here.
Is it consistent with a philosophy of funding the best science
to say that you are going to cease all funding for a particular
Professor Mason: As I said that
decision was actually made by PPARC at the last spending review
based on a programmatic review that ranked all the activities
that PPARC funded. For reasons which I will not go into that particular
area came low down on the list.
Q142 Dr Harris:
You say you will not go into it but my understanding was that
research councilsthis was certainly my understanding of
what the Science and Technology Committee's understanding wasfunded
the best science. There are reasons you will not go into, but
they are science based reasons, are they not? The science there
is not good.
Professor Mason: It was lower
priority and we were in a situation of making hard decisions.
We get this in grant applications all the time where we have five
excellent proposals but we can only fund three.
Q143 Dr Harris:
So it is either lower quality or lower priority. I accept you
can set your priorities in quality areas, but it begs the question
why something like solar terrestrial physicswhich is relevant
to subjects like satellite communications and climate changeis
seen as a lower priority than the formation of galaxies. I do
not dismiss the formation of galaxies as being fascinating but
one could say, in terms of what you are asked to do, surely communication
systems and climate change should be a priority and therefore
it must be a quality issue.
Professor Mason: To be fair communications
and climate change were not part of PPARC's remit. The priority
of these facilitieswe are talking about funding again with
international subscriptions in many of these caseswas judged
to be down the priority of what PPARC needed to do.
Chairman: I think you have made that
point; I do not want you to go over it again.
Q144 Dr Blackman-Woods:
I think an obvious question to ask at the moment in the context
of the controversy over the science budget allocation is how is
your relationship with DIUS developing?
Professor Mason: Our relationship
with DIUS is excellent. All research councils' relationship with
DIUS is excellent.
Professor Diamond: We supported
the formation of DIUS. We think it is entirely right that we get
a situation where the whole of higher education and skills is
put in one department. There is an extremely good relationship
between the research councils and Keith and I in this group. There
is an extremely good relationship between the research councils
and the ministers when we have the opportunityand we regularly
have the opportunityto interact with them.
Q145 Dr Blackman-Woods:
How do you feel about the independence that you have? Has it been
affected at all by DIUS or is the relationship exactly the same
as it has always been?
Professor Diamond: With regard
to that specific question around independence the relationship
is entirely the same as it was with DTI. The allocations are made
and we then organise the allocation of those resources.
Q146 Dr Blackman-Woods:
When I asked the secretary of state in an oral question last week
where responsibility lay for these cuts he made it fairly clear
that because he had got to the above inflation supplement and
because of the independence he could not actually affect where
you were making the cuts but these cuts were very much up to yourselves
and not the responsibility of the department. It seems quite clear
cut to me what he said; you do not seem to have said something
that is quite as clear cut this afternoon.
Professor Diamond: I am sorry,
I thought we had spoken in exactly the same way. The allocations
were made by DIUS having seen our draft delivery plans, we have
then implemented the plans against the budgets that we have given
and those decisions have been made by the individual research
councils independent of the view of the department.
Professor Diamond, could I ask you in terms of the science budget
itself, would you like a guarantee from DIUS that it is ring-fenced
throughout this CSR period and beyond? Have you had that assurance?
Professor Diamond: In the context
of the allocations that we have?
The money that is within the CSR for the science budget in total
will not be affected at all by interference from government.
Professor Diamond: Our plans are
all made on the basis of the allocations that we have been given
for the next three years.
Have you asked for that guarantee?
Professor Diamond: We have not
explicitly asked for that guarantee but we have been given allocations
year on year on year and our plans are all based on the trust
with DIUS that these allocations will result in funds within each
On that note can I thank Professor Ian Diamond and Professor Keith
Mason. I am sorry we have overrun but you will appreciate that
this is an important area and we are incredibly grateful for your
time and also for the very frankness of your replies.
Professor Diamond: Could I just
say that if there are other questions you wish to ask us as you
reflect on this issue we are only too pleased to respond to you
at any time either in this form or in written form.