The Government has replied to the Downing St petition, which attracted over 17,000 signatures, protesting the cuts to the physics budget.
The petition read...
''Due to cost overruns the UK's funding agency for particle physics and astronomy, STFC, is recouping £80M with deep cuts to UK physics operations in these areas. These include ending the UK's involvement in the International Linear Collider - the next generation of particle physics experiment. This risks relegating the UK to second tier involvement in future research and critically damaging the country's standing within the community. Furthermore UK Astronomy will be seriously hit with up to a 25% cut in grants. This is incompatible with the government's stated aim of making Britain a world leader in science. A review of this decision has recently been announced and we urge the Prime Minister to press for another solution to this problem before UK physics is set back by decades."
In reply the Government said:
* In October 2007, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) received an overall budget of £1.9 billion for the CSR period, an additional £185 million over the CSR period compared to the 2007/08 baseline. This represents an overall increase in funding of 13.6%. There has been no cut in the STFC's budget, and the funding provided was consistent with the guidance given to all Research Councils.
* Like all Research Councils, the STFC's Science Board, and its advisory peer review committees, has undertaken a programmatic review and prioritisation exercise, the results of which have been made available for public consultation. On 7 February 2008, the STFC Council announced that the underlying funding for physics exploitation grants would remain broadly level in the next financial year (2008-09). 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.
* There have been concerns about UK access to the Gemini telescopes. Contrary to statements made by the Gemini Board, STFC has never issued formal notice to withdraw from the project and continues to negotiate the terms under which UK researchers have access to Gemini telescopes in future, whilst seeking to reduce its financial contribution. In the meantime STFC intends to pay the UK's 2008 contribution to maintain UK access to the Gemini telescopes for the 2008A semester (February - 31st July 2008).
* There has recently been press discussion about the future of Jodrell Bank, which is owned and run by Manchester University. STFC is supporting a project called e-Merlin, which is a UK network of radio telescopes being developed by researchers at Jodrell Bank. You may have heard that e_Merlin received a relatively low ranking in STFC's Programmatic Review. One of the factors in the ranking of e-Merlin is that the project is running behind schedule by at least two years. While the project is expected to be completed within the capital budget provided by the University of Manchester and NWDA, this is costing STFC £2.5 million for every year of delay. STFC has consulted about this and a number of other projects. It will take no decision about e-Merlin until this consultation process is complete, but it has however made it clear that the e-Merlin project is part of its strategy for radio astronomy, and that it wants the UK to play a leading role in the next large radio astronomy project, the Square Kilometre Array, which for reasons of radio interference could not be built in a densely populated area such as the UK. Jodrell Bank hosts the European Headquarters for the project, and therefore has a major role to play in it.
The day after the Government's statement the BBC 'Newsnight' programme broadcast a piece on the funding crisis