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Select Committee slams Government... and my boss - ePepys

30th Apr 2008

02:06 am - Select Committee slams Government... and my boss

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The Science Select Committee just released the report into its enquiry about the present funding crisis in Particle Physics and Astronomy. It was pretty damning of the DIUS and the management of my employer, the STFC. I've not yet finished the full report, but from what I have read, I haven't found anything to disagree with. I am impressed by how they seem to have grasped the essential issues and make excellent recommendations (and not just those that say we should be fully funded).

I think a nice summary of how we got into this mess can be made with quotes from the report.

  1. "in merging two Research Councils [to form STFC], one research community [Particle Physics and Astronomy] has been saddled with the debt of another [Diamond and ISIS TS2], despite assurances from the Government that STFC would be formed without any legacy issues."
  2. "the Government’s expectation that STFC, having been formed in April 2007, would be ready for the 2007 CSR was overly ambitious"
  3. "The Science Budget increases do not fully cover Government-determined spending commitments, such as the requirement for [all] Research Councils to cover 80% of the full economic costs of research." "Additionally, large parts of the budget are tied to cross-council programmes that largely follow a Government agenda. It is of course acceptable for the Government to set priorities for UK research but not for it to micromanage individual Research Council budgets." "All the other Research Councils have marked increases [while] STFC has received a flat near cash allocation that will erode against inflation." This "turned the Government’s PR fanfare into a PR disaster."
  4. "DIUS left STFC with a large hole in its budget, and STFC managed its allocation poorly." "MPs are particularly critical of the way the STFC’s management has handled decisions to withdraw from, or reduce involvement in, projects, such as the International Linear Collider, Gemini Observatories and ground based solar terrestrial physics facilities." "This raises serious questions about the role and performance of [STFC's] Chief Executive, especially his ability to retain the confidence of the scientific community as well as to carry through the necessary changes outlined here."
A few more comments on recent developmentsI can't find the press releases on the official web sites, but here are links to copies from the Particle Physics Action Group.

Comments:

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From:zengineer
Date:30th April 2008 11:00 am (UTC)
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I read the full report and it really was damning of DIUS for interfering and of the STFC for poor management and poor communication. Rutherford seems to have come off quite well compared to Daresbury and Edinburgh.
DIUS and STFC have said that they can't afford to wait for the Wakeham review but if they pay any attention to this report they will have to. In the end STFC have 80 million less than they need to keep everything running as normal so unless more money is made available people will lose their jobs (hopefully not you or me) and research will be scaled back.
I heard today at coffee that Edinburgh have decided to gamble on getting more work in and will run at a loss so if they don't get the work the whole thing will close down. Good for them I say.
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From:vicarage
Date:30th April 2008 04:05 pm (UTC)
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Does all these cockups mean that recruitment at RAL has dried up on the computing side, as I was hoping to apply for jobs there when I get back to the UK?

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From:e_pepys
Date:30th April 2008 10:27 pm (UTC)
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They have rather dried up, I'm afraid. We did hire a couple of people recently (to replace people who had retired), but that might have already been in progress before the recent funding crisis (hiring takes ages). In any case, they were both hired internally as a result of people who had had their posts cut.

Maybe if the decision is reversed, or alleviated, next year we'll have to hire people to make up for all the people who left. It wouldn't surprise me.
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From:vicarage
Date:1st May 2008 09:15 pm (UTC)
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Oh well, I'm in no great hurry. 2 more months travelling, and I expect to spend a fair time updating my CV skillset, as I really must buckle down and learn C++ properly. By then of course the recession will be biting, and I'll be facing a long tunnel of doom...
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