Research institutes go into red to avoid job cuts

May 30, 1997

GOVERNMENT research institutes are playing a dangerous game with their staff's careers, according to the Institute of Professionals, Managers and Specialists.

Following a sudden reduction in Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food funding to Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council institutes last month, a number can no longer maintain staff levels. But rather than paying hefty redundancies, some institutes are setting deficit budgets and keeping permanent staff in jobs in the hope that research income will increase, the union claims.

Geoff Evans, vice chairman of the BBSRC branch of IPMS, said some staff have been redeployed to "inappropriate" positions. He cites a mathematical modeller at the Institute of Food Research who applied for voluntary redundancy but was offered a post in accounts.

He said: "Our view has always been to avoid redundancies, but redeployment at all costs is going to mean people being put into posts for which they are dubiously suited."

Mr Evans said that at the IFR, the BBSRC is paying for eight members of staff rather than make them redundant, which is not sustainable in the long term. The institute has to find an extra Pounds 400,000 to pay them next year. At the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, the decline in MAFF funding has been offset with funds from elsewhere, but has also meant redeployment and not filling vacancies. The Silsoe Institute is starting the year with a deficit budget but has intensified its marketing.

At Roslin, ten posts have been lost. The director, Grahame Bulfield, said: "We have not made as many redundancies as we should have made. We have to obtain funds from every source."

Ben Miflin, director of the Institute of Arable Crops Research, confirmed a cut in MAFF funding of almost Pounds 750,000 had put the institute into deficit. He is still negotiating redundancies.

A BBSRC spokesman said it ran an agreed redeployment and redundancy procedure, in consultation with unions, which recognises the harmful effects of redundancies. Redeployments, with retraining, are considered on a local and national basis.

He said: "In the face of major reductions in MAFF funding, BBSRC has agreed to provide some additional support to institutes that have been particularly hard hit so as to allow more time for new sources of contract income to be realised and for redeployments to take place."

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