Gordon’s Final Word

April 8, 2008

I got another email from 10 Downing Street today. (Yes I know, most of you did too..) I wrote about Gordon’s initial response to the famous petition in this post. Here is the text of the final response :

You signed a petition asking the Prime Minister to “reverse the decision to cut vital UK contributions to Particle Physics and Astronomy.”

The Prime Minister’s Office has responded to that petition and you can view it here:

http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page15216.asp

Prime Minister’s Office

Petition information – http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/Physics-Funding/

If you would like to opt out of receiving further mail on this or any other
petitions you signed, please email optout@petitions.pm.gov.uk

Have a read of the petition. Its a mixture of depressing and encouraging. Of course, the Government was never going to say “Oh dear you are quite right, here is lots more money”. That ain’t how things work. However this :

Claimed reductions in STFC’s budget appear to have been derived from STFC’s aspirations for the three-year Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) period (2008/9 – 2010/11). These aspirations never constituted an agreed set of activities or funding for them, and the suggestion that £80m has been cut from its budget is wrong.

is close to insulting. We are not stupid. Nobody said £80M has been cut from the STFC budget. Merely unfunded aspirations ? That applies to the ILC, but not to discussing plans for several hundred job cuts, sending a message to every UK University saying “how would you respond to 25-40% grant cuts”, and publishing a Delivery Plan announcing “We plan to withdraw from future investment in the twin 8-metre Gemini telescopes” and “We will cease all support for ground-based solar-terrestrial physics facilities” and “We will cease to invest in high-energy gamma ray astronomy experiments”. (I am avoiding plugging the cases that affect me personally). These are facts and quotes and they are cuts. I am not even saying they are wrong to do … I might have done these things too … but saying “there are no cuts, only unfunded aspirations” is more or less spitting in our face. I was actually pretty impressed with the STFC performance at NAM, and so really disappointed they allowed these patronising words to escape Number Ten.

On the other hand .. The response says

It is a tribute to UK science that it will always be the case that there will be more proposals for scientific research than the funding is able to cover. Funding bodies such as STFC will always have to make difficult decisions and it is both justified and understandable for there to be a debate over how these decisions are made.

Which seems to say it was ok for us to make a fuss. Huh. Maybe we are not foolish children after all. Perhaps more importantly the response says :

This follows large increases in funding in recent years and means that there would be no major reductions in physics funding before the outcome of the Wakeham Review is known. (Professor Bill Wakeham, Vice Chancellor of Southampton University, has been asked to lead an independent review of the health of physics overall and we, and the Research Councils UK (RCUK), will pay close attention to his conclusions, which are expected in the Autumn.)

The community and the RAS have been consistently asking for this, so its very good to see. So.. having had my hissy fit … lets all start working to make the best of this. We have time.

Next up, Wakeham. Just got the questionnaire … some thoughts on this soon…