New! How is the science budget affecting you?
It’s been half a year since the Autumn Spending Review when your support helped protect the science budget from savage cuts. The outcome was a four year cash freeze for the science budget, but of course, with inflation this still means at least a worrying 10% real-terms cut in science funding. As these austerity measures begin to kick in, Parliament needs to know how the squeeze on science funding is affecting science at the coal face – and is likely to affect it in future.
Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee—which is composed of sitting MPs—aims to scrutinize and influence government policy and has invited representations from the wider scientific community and other interested parties on the future impact of the budget allocations (2011/12 through to 2014/15). Perhaps your research department is making staff redundant, has instituted a hiring freeze or has decided not to purchase a key piece of equipment. Maybe the cuts have not yet started to bite, but your institute is worried about what will happen in a year’s time. Maybe you’re a patient or caregiver, concerned about specific or threatened reductions to funding for the disease that you’re fighting. Whatever adverse effects are happening or are feared for the future, be they large or small, Parliament would like to know. The eventual report may influence funding body policies in the next four years and, critically, will make clear to politicians the extent of the damage caused by cuts in funding and will help persuade them to re-invest in science in the next spending review as the economy recovers.
Most of the responses to these sort of enquiries come from senior scientists and science institutions. The voice of grass-roots researchers is often absent. Science is Vital believes it is time that the voice of scientists at the coalface is heard.
Please take this important opportunity to make your views known. You have until 27 April to make a written submission. To help you, we have assembled a handy one-stop page that will direct you to:
- • relevant background reading
- • oral evidence already given
- • guidelines on how to format your evidence
- • where it should be sent
The testimony needn’t be long or complex or take up too much of your valuable time – it can be as brief as you like – so we urge you to have a look and consider taking part. You can participate as an individual, or alternatively your laboratory, department or organization can consider making a joint statement with a number of signatories.
Direct submissions to the committee are the best option but a useful alternative is to complete the brief survey form, designed to capture a nationwide picture of the effect of current spending plans. We may be able to usefully summarize this information within a submission to the committee from SiV. Even if you make a direct submission yourself, completing this form will help us to assemble a more complete picture of what is happening countrywide.
It’s important for the government to realize that we are watching what they do and that we are aiming to keep this issue as high as we can on the political agenda. Speaking with a unified voice, I strongly believe that we can make a difference to our future scientific and economic health.
The information on this page outlines the background to the call by the Science and Technology Committee for evidence of the impact of budget allocations for science announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review last year and explains how you can prepare a submission to help them in their work.
What is the Sci-Tech Committee?
The main role of the select committee is to scrutinise the policy and expenditure of the Government Office of Science and Engineering within Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the spending by the Government on Science and research, and the way that science and engineering is treated across Government and the way the government uses scientific advice. The committee is therefore keen to examine the impact of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review published last October and in the detailed spending allocations announced by the BIS in December 2010.
What does the Committee want?
As part of its examination of the effects of Government spending on science and engineering, the Committee has heard oral submissions from Minister for Science, David Willetts on 24th Nov 2010 (transcript) and from the Chief Executives of several of the Research Councils on 19th Jan 2011 (transcript).
The committee is aiming specifically to gather evidence of what is happening or likely to happen to the research base and the high-tech industrial sector across the country in the light of the budgetary constraints imposed in the Downing review. This evidence will be vital for generating an accurate picture of the consequences of Government policy.
Science is Vital thinks it’s important that, rather than just hearing from senior scientists – who often have a different perspective from those working at ground level – or from scientific institutions, grass-roots scientists should be sending the Committee their views and experiences.
Who should submit?
Anyone working in science and engineering in the public or private sector who is directly affected by the Government spending on R&D. You can write as an individual but your submission may carry more weight if it is representative of the experiences of your colleagues and signed by them. It may be appropriate to coordinate a divisional or departmental submission, or one from your company or organisation.
What should I write?
Please try to give specific information about the effect of the cash spending freeze (or capital cuts) on your working environment, or problems that are likely to arise in the near future. The exercise is about gathering evidence. The committee is helped in its work more by this approach than by merely the expression of strongly held opinion or by speculation about the Government’s aims or plans, however deeply felt.
How should I write it?
The submission should comprise a covering letter accompanied by a memorandum detailing your submission.
The covering letter should give your name and contact details, any request to give oral evidence and any request for the committee to treat all or part of your evidence as confidential. It will be up to the committee to decide whether to agree to such a request. Normally submission are published on the Committee website (see here for examples of previous submissions).
The memorandum should be succinct – submissions are be limited to 3000 words but the committee may well appreciate submissions that are more concise than this. Please don’t feel you have to hit this limit. If your evidence can be expressed in a single paragraph, so be it.
A typical structure is to have a summary, a brief introduction of yourself or your grouping (e.g. to explain your area of expertise), followed by the factual information you wish to highlight and any recommendations for action by the Government that you would like the committee to consider including in its report.
Submissions should be written in Word, with numbered paragraphs and minimal use of colour or logos. Finally submissions should also include a declaration of interests. (Full guidelines here.)
Where should I send my submission?
Please email your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Spending Review 2010’ as the subject. Please also send us a copy (jenny[at]scienceisvital.org.uk) to help us gauge the scale of the response.
What is the deadline?
Your submission needs to reach the Committee by Wednesday 27th April 2011. Please be aware that is in the week after the Easter break.
What will submissions achieve?
An important part of the role of the Committee is to hold the Government to account. To do that effectively they need to gather accurate information from the people who are most directly affected by spending decisions. In this case that means scientists and engineers and others who directly benefit from public spending on research and development; for example those working in high-tech industries or research charities.
The Science is Vital campaign helped to mobilise effective support for public investment in science and engineering among scientists, engineers and people from many other walks of life who see these activities as crucial to the economic health of the UK. One of the most forceful aspects of our argument was our determination to make the case rationally, calling on the evidence accumulated over many years of the positive impact of public investment. The evidence is relatively piecemeal and can be difficult to assemble because of the long lead times between an initial discovery and the emergence of the more visible benefits, and this can sometimes make it difficult to overcome the natural tendency of Government to invest only in those areas that provide visible returns on a timescale similar to the election cycle.
By preparing a submission for the Committee, you can contribute to the ongoing process of accruing evidence of the effects of Government investment in science. Given a 4 year spending freeze amounting to a 10% real terms cut over that timescale and the added uncertainty in the university sector (due the switch from Government funding via HEFCE grant to tuition fee funding) there is a real risk that there will be negative impacts of Government policy in the next few years.
The Government is conducting a bold experiment that affects the whole nation. Let us help to make sure that the results are reported accurately.
Please get in touch at jenny[at]scienceisvital.org.uk
Comments are always, always welcome. If you can suggests ways that we might improve the campaign, please let us know at jenny[at]scienceisvital.org.uk