Budget shortfall at PPARC

January 25, 2002

Particle physicists are bracing themselves for cuts after it emerged that up to £12 million of savings will have to be made in research spending over the next three years, writes Steve Farrar.

The budget shortfall in the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council's particle physics programme - which costs £120 million a year excluding international project subscriptions - emerged during the analysis of forecast spending.

Details of how the budget might be balanced have yet to be established. Options include delaying projects, making cuts in others and slashing travel budgets.

The problem was outlined to scientists last week. Proposals will be firmed up by the PPARC over coming months, although no irrevocable decisions will be made before the government spending review.

James Stirling, chairman of PPARC's science committee, said: "We hope that more funds will come into the programme as a result of the 2002 spending review, but there is no guarantee and we have to plan for that scenario."

The problem originated in the 2000 spending review, which did not raise core funding in line with inflation. This was partly masked by £26 million of funding for the PPARC's e-science programme, but little of that cash will be available to compensate for shortfalls elsewhere. The situation has been exacerbated by commitments to a number of international projects.

The UK's particle physics community faces further uncertainty as the Large Hadron Collider at the European particle physics laboratory (Cern) is forecast to overspend by as much as £335 million. A review into how this can be tackled - and who will have to foot the bill - is under way.

Ken Peach, director of the particle physics department at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, said: "Cuts on this scale would lead to a significant loss of particle physics research in the UK."

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