British Science at Risk

The continuing ideological cuts by the coalition government are seriously undermining the future of British science. They are impacting in all areas – no institution or organisation has been left untouched.

With last year’s real term budget cut of 10% the executive agencies of the Department For Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are struggling to cope. The Food and Environment Research Agency, whose workers provide key expertise in areas like plant health, food and environmental safety, are being forced to seek commercial funding which will inevitably impact on the independence and direction of the Agency.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency has announced a cost-cutting strategy that involves ending post-mortem examinations at eight of its fourteen sites. Again the vacuum will be filled by the private sector which will negatively impact on the identification and control of disease.

Workers at the Forestry Commission have seen their numbers cut by 30% with a cut of 26% in Forest Research. These cuts pose risks to control of tree diseases and habitat management. Core research work is increasingly undertaken by PhD students who are not receiving appropriate supervisory expertise, which is having an impact both on the quality of the analysis they do and the training they receive.

Within the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council at least one institute has reported that it is unable to replace senior scientists following a redundancy exercise which is now damaging its reputation. This has also resulted in an increased workload for remaining lab scientists and growing pressures on students, who are increasingly being used as cheap labour.

Back in November 2013 the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee published its report into ‘Scientific Infrastructure’, identifying a number of significant areas of concern:

  • Lack of a clear long-term strategy and investment plan: a series of ad hoc announcements has militated against long-term planning.
  • A damaging disconnect between capital investment and funding for operational costs i.e. building important large scale infrastructure has been budgeted for, but the costs to keep it running have not.
  • Insufficient attention to the need to ensure a suitably skilled workforce, including accounting for training costs and facilitation of viable career paths.
  • Erosion of the ability of Public Sector Research Establishments and national laboratories to deliver national objectives due to underfunding and the wide variety of funding and governance models.

None of these have been addressed or look likely to be in the near future. It is of paramount importance to Britain as a nation that there is a continuous commitment to independent science, recognising that adequate public funding is in the interests of the nation.

Science provides skills, expertise, income and well being for the nation; it cannot be left to the whim of ideological, irrational market forces.

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