Up to 100 jobs may go in astronomy shake-up

April 18, 1997

PROPOSED restructuring of Britain's Royal Observatories will cost Pounds 7.5 million over the next four years, according to the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council's latest business plan.

The plan, to be submitted to the Office of Science and Technology later this month, shows that redundancies at the observatories, which are expected to total up to 100 staff, will cost Pounds 1.5 million next year alone.

The cuts are said to be necessary to cope with what is expected to be a stagnant astronomy budget, increased operational costs and higher subscriptions to international partnerships such as the European Space Agency.

But the wisdom of the restructuring, the cost of which was revealed by PPARC chief executive Ken Pounds at the UK National Astronomy Meeting in South-ampton, was challenged by Phil Charles, head of astrophysics at Oxford University. He calls the spending on redundancies "crazy" at a time when British astronomy groups are leading their fields internationally.

"Astronomy is booming and we are thinking of doing this," said Professor Charles. "The amount they are trying to save from the astronomy budget is not much more than they are putting into restructuring the observatories."

He also warned that restructuring in Britain could give a negative impression to our international collaborators.

"We have to show ourselves to be reliable international partners. If I was in another country watching us beginning to close telescopes, I would worry," he said.

The business plan also shows that despite a predicted standstill in government support for astronomy, PPARC plans to protect funding for education and training over the next few years.

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