UK scientists ‘let down by govt’

Britain’s scientific research sector is suffering because of the government’s mismanagement, a group of MPs says.

The Commons’ innovation, universities, science and skills committee says the government has plunged the future of scientific research in Britain into doubt because of its “poorly allocated” budgeting.

At the same time, MPs say, the government is interfering with funding decisions and providing “ineffective and secretive management” of the vital Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

As a result institutions like Jodrell Bank face an “uncertain future” while many individuals are “in the dark about their employment prospects”.

MPs want the government to cease making funding cut decisions until after a government-commissioned review of physics in Britain completes its study.

They also want “substantial and urgent changes” to the management practices of the STFC, committee chairman Phil Willis said, “in order to restore confidence and to give it the leadership it desperately needs”.

Mr Willis added: “The events of the past few months have exposed serious deficiencies within STFC’s senior management, whose misjudgments could still significantly damage Britain’s research reputation in this area both at home and abroad.”

Sector representatives have condemned the government’s treatment of Britain’s scientists following the report’s publication.

Professor Peter Main of the Institute of Physics said the report was right to identify “poor communication and lack of consultation” as key concerns of the scientific community.

“The important thing now is for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) to regain the confidence of the physics community, by learning from recent mistakes and making their future intentions clear,” he said.

A report published today by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) warns physicists and chemists could begin leaving the UK if science does not attract more funding and a greater profile in the coming years.

General secretary Brendan Barber said the £80 million funding shortfall for the STFC seen in the comprehensive spending review needs to be made up “or many world-beating science projects may close and their scientists [will] leave to work elsewhere”.