The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council has finally decided to cap its subscriptions to Cern, the particle smashing laboratory in Geneva.
The decision, taken at a council meeting last week, was prompted by concern over damage to the council's domestic programmes of the spiralling cost of the subscription, that allows British physicists to take part in Cern projects.
The council is determined to establish a ceiling for the total funding it makes available for particle physics - covering both Cern and domestic research commitments - at around its current level of Pounds 95 million. It has recommended that the Government and PPARC should begin talks with Cern and its other member states to limit the level of the UK subscription to help establish this ceiling.
For the period 1995/96 PPARC has paid Cern Pounds 69 million in subscriptions and spent Pounds 26 million on its domestic particle physics programme. But for 1996/97 PPARC is facing a Pounds 74 million subscription for Cern while aiming to increase its domestic spend on particle physics by just Pounds 1.5 million. Since 1994, an extra Pounds 18 million has had to be found out of the global science budget to support PPARC activities at Cern and within the European Space Agency.
The cash-strapped council says that the low level of investment it is now able to afford in its programmes is damaging the balance of all of its activities. This is "no longer acceptable", it says, adding that it does not wish to continue a "managed decline of UK particle physics, astronomy and planetary science".
PPARC is also worried by the low levels of investment forecast for new facilities, missions and projects in its astronomy programme. Its concern has been heightened by a council study which shows that despite cutbacks in research funding, there has been a strong growth in the number of academic appointments in the area.