The British Accountants’ War On Science

I’ve been dimly aware that physics in the UK was being hit hard by a financial crisis for a while now. It seemed to be a bit deeper than what people in other countries complain about, but I hadn’t given it much thought until I read this Physics World story on the latest cuts, which includes the following explanation:

The origin of the cuts can be traced back to December 2007 when the STFC announced that it had an £80m budget deficit for the UK government’s current spending round that lasts from 2008 to 2011. It is thought that the deficit emerged by an accounting mistake was made when the STFC was created in April 2007 from the merger of two existing councils: the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and Council (a grant-awarding body) and the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils, which ran the UK’s main research facilities.

What the hell?

I mean, you’re combining two agencies with a budget running to the billions, and you, what, forgot to carry the one? Do they not have spreadsheets in Merrie Olde England? Didn’t it occur to anybody to check the math(s)?

And once the error was noticed, two years ago, there wasn’t any way to fix it? Isn’t that what Parliament is for? Or are they just there for television purposes these days?

There’s got to be more to this, because the simple reading is just insane. Can any of my UKadian readers explain this?

Comments

  1. #1 Paul Crowther
    December 18, 2009

    Origin of funding deficit is long and tedious, but basic curiosity-led physics research was not judged to be of very high strategic priority in 3yr spending plans of UK gov’t. $40m/yr hole in finances not plugged since gov’t couldn’t admit it got allocation wrong now could it? Although a small fraction of total, most of cash is committed to international subscriptions (so mostly paid out in €) plus national labs, so no surprise that `soft’ parts of programmes felt the squeeze the most. Unlike most intl competitors, risk over currency fluctuations not met by treasury. These problems preceded financial meltdown but a fix now v.unlikely because UK finances are in even worse state than US. I see NSF and NASA get increases in funds for next year, but we’re not jealous, honest..

  2. #2 Jonathan Vos Post
    December 18, 2009

    My understanding of UK government is limited to what I hear from my Scottish wife, the “Yes, Minister” episodes, and this question:

    “Why is there only one Anti-Monopoly Committee?”

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