DIRECTORS of the Royal Observatories in Edinburgh and Cambridge are being asked how to restructure the observatories, which are believed to be facing staff cuts of up to 50 per cent.
The exercise is being initiated by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council which runs the observatories.
Sources close to PPARC say that with the completion of the construction of the Gemini telescopes in 1998, the observatories will be overstaffed.
A funding squeeze could require the axing of half the 200 staff, and there is talk of shutting either the Edinburgh or Cambridge site.
Alistair Glasse, section chairman of the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists at the Edinburgh observatory, confirmed that PPARC had invited heads of site to look for "innovative ways" to make savings.
The observatories have been gradually losing staff over the past few years, but attempts to radically cut the workforce were put on hold when the Government's Prior Options programme, which looked at the possibilities of privatising the observatories, was examined. Although a Prior Options approach to the other research council establishments has been recently scrapped, reform of the observatory system is still on the cards.
PPARC is thought to be keen to get on with the task of reform and is expected to present findings of the internal benchmarking to its council meeting in May.
Dr Glasse added that even though the benchmarking exercise was internal, "there is talk of us possibly getting closer to Edinburgh University's department of astronomy to make savings in things such as administration".