Dear Lord Drayson
First of all, on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society, I write to congratulate you on your appointment and to express our delight that Science will be championed in Cabinet, something that the RAS has long urged on government.
The various statements you have made in the past few days about the importance of fundamental research have been enthusiastically received in our community. Similarly, your acknowledgement that space exploration attracts young people into physics very much accords with our experience. The RAS commissioned an independent report in 2005 which, in addition, outlined the scientific benefits to the UK from being involved in human space flight. However, this cautioned that HMG would need to finance this with additional funds over and above the existing space and astronomy budget, which is already committed to world class research.
This is even more true today following the last CSR which, over the triennium, will result in a significant reversal in the provision of STFC research grants. The community represented by the RAS may have given the impression in recent months that it was at logger heads with DIUS. This is not the case. Rather we have articulated and vented the feelings of scientists at the way in which STFC negotiated and allocated its settlement. It is our belief that Ministers were inadequately briefed about its adverse effects and, understandably, were taken aback by our response to what, overall, had been a good outcome for science.
The report of the IUSS Committee on the Science Budget and the more recent review of the health of physics by Professor Wakeham, coupled with budgetary re-profiling within STFC, have gone some way to recognising and rectifying the damage caused, though we remain deeply concerned about grants. I hope that the organisational review of STFC will lead to significant restructuring so that it better understands and engages with working scientists.
The RAS is committed to working with the government and its agencies to ensure that the sciences it represents , including geophysics, continue to perform at their world leading levels. Preparations for the next spending round will start soon and, because of, rather than despite, the grave financial and economic situation , we hope for a favourable outcome since, as you have yourself have made so clear, the future prosperity of the UK depends on a strong scientific base.
I hope, in the near future, to have the opportunity of discussing our mutual interests
Professor Andy Fabian