The director general of research councils, Sir John Cadogan, warned this week that the cost of British particle physicists' participation in the international particle-smashing research programme at the CERN laboratory in Geneva is becoming unaffordable for the United Kingdom.
Announcing the science budget allocations for the research councils, Sir John said that currency fluctuations mean the UK's subscription to CERN is rising rapidly.
For 1996, some Pounds 18 million over the 1994 baseline of Pounds 58 million will be allocated to international subscriptions, with CERN accounting for Pounds 15.7 million and the rest being used for the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council's ticket for the European Space Agency programme. The total increase for international subscriptions is Pounds 10 million over last year.
Sir John said: "We cannot afford to continue paying increases of this magnitude and a way will be sought urgently to limit this cost to the UK. If it stays at Pounds 18 million next year it will be very bad. If it comes down the saving can be put back into the domestic research programme. But if it goes up it will be horrific."
Sir John's concerns over CERN were echoed by PPARC's chief executive, Ken Pounds: "The projected subscription is so large as to continue to threaten the whole balance of the UK programme. I believe I have the support of the UK particle physics community in endorsing the Office of Science and Technology comment that the rate of increase in our CERN subscription is now unaffordable."
Announcing the funds available to the research councils and bodies such as the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering from the Pounds 1.3 billion science budget, the OST said that 1996/97 will largely be a period of "consolidation and some restructuring" of existing priorities and initiatives.
The next round of the Realising Our Potential Award university-industry scheme is expected to result in awards only to the value of Pounds 6.2 million in 1996/97. The research training support grant is to be increased from Pounds 600 to Pounds 800 per annum and the Royal Academy of Engineering has been allocated Pounds 500,000 to enable it to launch its Engineering Foresight Awards.
The OST says that it has received more than 500 research bids for funds under the Technology Foresight Challenge scheme to help implement the Foresight findings and is planning to spend Pounds 10 million on the initiative in the first 12 months starting in October.
The Medical Research Council, which wants funds for high quality research, said that its Pounds 282 million settlement was a 1.5 per cent cut in real terms compared with 1995/96. MRC chairman Sir David Plastow, said it "will further erode our ability to support long-term internationally competitive British research. It would be wrong to underestimate the damaging implications that flow from having to turn down outstanding applications in areas relevant to the country's health and wealth."
Ronald Amann, chief executive of the Economic and Social Research Council, said his council's settlement of Pounds 63 million was "a very fair one in what was a very tight spending round." He said it was a vote of confidence in social sciences research.