UK astronomy cuts in Parliament

One of the great innovations in UK democracy was Hansard which provides edited (minus the jeering) verbatim records of things said in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Thankfully Hansard is in the digital age and you can read the comments of our elected (and non-elected) representatives online.

Yesterday various MPs tackled Ian Pearson - the Science Minister - over the £80 million of cuts to hit particle physics and astronomy with suggested closures of many facilities and huge cuts to university physics departments. Ann Winterton (Con, Congleton - constituency containing Jodrell Bank) started the ball rolling at question 4 and was joined by Dr Brian Iddon (Lab, Bolton South-East), Mr Phil Willis (LD, Harrogate and Knaresborough) and Adam Afriyie (Con, Windsor). The Science Minister Ian Pearson replied with his standard response which says how wonderful the Government is and how it has increased the science budget by 13% (over the next three years). Most agree with that statement but it isn't the issue. The issue is over a very short term funding crisis that will probably cause wide-spread and longer term damage to particle physics and astronomy in the UK. Personally I hate politicians referring to increases (or decreases) over time periods not equal to one year without specifying the time period clearly. It often seems designed to give the wrong impression. Tricksy hobbits.

The issue was re-iterated a while later by Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods (Lab, Durham). Mr Denham (Secretary of State at the DIUS I think) responded by invoking the Haldane Principle "to protect the autonomy of research councils in deciding where research should take place". Of course nobody is actually asking for Government to make the decisions on what should be funded but instead to provide money so that STFC can carry out the projects it had planned to do before the problems with its budget in this financial year.

What those financial problems are nobody seems entirely clear. They are partly due to increased subscriptions to CERN, ESA and ESO which are linked to GDP rather than the Government's science budget and partly due to full economic costing that was brought in. Whatever the causes are they don't involve Diamond at all, nosiree, definitely not. I did hear a story (possibly an urban myth) that because 14% of Diamond is funded from a private partner, the whole project was landed with a VAT bill (17.5%) by the Treasury.

The sessions in Parliament are also archived on Parliament TV for the next 28 days for those with Windows Media Player. Ann Winterton's question is at 20:51 and Roberta Blackman-Woods's question is at 55:20. You even get to watch Ian Pearson accidentally elevating Dr Brian Cox to a Professor!

For all the latest news and gory details on the STFC funding crisis check out Paul Crowther's page.

Save Astronomy

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 11th Jan 2008 (17:34 GMT) | Permalink
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]