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Minister replies to RAS

Science Minister Malcolm Wicks has replied to the RAS letter over cuts to PPARC's budget at the end of March 2007.

'Thank you for your letter of 16 March to Alistair Darling, about Research Council funding.  I am replying as this matter falls within my portfolio.
The Chancellor announced in Budget 2007 a significant increase in the Department of Trade and Industry's ring fenced Science budget, alongside a settlement for Department for Education and Skills.  Together, these will ensure that investment in the public science base will rise by an annual average rate of 2.5% in real terms over the Comprehensive Spending Review period.
Building on the more than doubling of the budget since 1997 from £1.3bn to £3.4bn this year, the Department of Trade and Industry's Science budget will increase to £3.9bn by 2010-2011.  These early settlements provide long term certainty for the research community, and meet the commitments set out in the Government's 10 Year Investment Framework.
In the context of a tight spending review period, this represents a very good settlement for science.
As part of the settlement the Treasury has also agreed to the drawdown of unspent funds into the Science Budget.  Again this should be very helpful in enabling the Research Councils to plan forward with clarity, and make the most of the substantial resources now being provided for the nation's research base.
The Government remains committed to science, which s vital to the future of the British economy and as this budget announcement demonstrates, it continues to be a high priority for us.
On PPARC in particular, it is always unfortunate when new commitments have to be constrained, but in this case I believe the impact on the UK astronomical community overall will be relatively small and short-lived.
I understand that 18 astronomy students will be affected, which is less than initially expected and whilst it would be regrettable if any of the students affected were unable to eventually pursue their research careers I am confident this will not be the case for the majority of students.  The commitment that the RAS has shown to its future research community by exploring ways to assist any students affected is commendable.  I would like to reassure you that the Government is also fully committed to the UK's future astronomical research community.
The measures undertaken by PPARC must be seen in the context of the record investment the Government has made to astronomy in the last 10 years and the future increases in investment in the public science base which I have outlined above.
I do not believe that the measures taken by PPARC will have an extensive impact on the commitment the Science and Technology Facilities Council can make for 2007/8.
Yours sincerely'

MALCOLM WICKS

The letter to which this is a response follows

'I am writing to you about the impact on the astronomy community of the reduction in funds available to PPARC (and its successor body STFC) in 2007/08 as a result of the budgetary difficulties elsewhere in the DTI.
The scientific community was surprised by this announcement, the more so in view of the government’s impressive record of support for science over the past ten years. While PPARC’s share of the reduction is only £3.1m, it nevertheless has a significant impact on what PPARC can commit for 2007-8 .  Specifically PPARC has stated that it is unlikely that it will now be possible to start new projects this year and will delay the start of new postdoctoral posts by six months.  The RAS is concerned that a group of students finishing their PhDs, and hoping to continue to a postdoctoral position in the UK, will find themselves unemployed for 6 months.  There is a risk that the UK will lose promising talent to overseas countries or that they will leave scientific research.                       
While not wishing to over-dramatize the situation, the RAS is extremely concerned about postgraduate students placed in this position and is investigating the scope of the problem and whether there is anything we can do to help them.
We very much hope that you can do something to mitigate the very negative impression this action has conveyed to the scientific community'.

Michael Rowan-Robinson
President RAS