Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 150)



  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 for.

  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 to keep.

  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 area?

  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 councils—this was certainly my understanding of what the Science and Technology Committee's understanding was—funded 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 physics—which is relevant to subjects like satellite communications and climate change—is 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 facilities—we are talking about funding again with international subscriptions in many of these cases—was 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 opportunity—and we regularly have the opportunity—to 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.

  Q147  Chairman: 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?

  Q148  Chairman: 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.

  Q149  Chairman: 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 spending year.

  Q150  Chairman: 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.

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