The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has recently issued a report that laments the embarrassing lack of efficient planning and strategy of science funding in the UK. Namely, the report speaks primarily of the seemingly lack of communication between the people who write the funding projects for infrastructure and those who write the funding for operation costs.
For instance, the report cites the ISIS site in Oxfordshire – a cutting edge scientific facility where beams of neutrons and muons are used to probe material properties. It’s rather clear that ISIS is an extremely important facility, but nevertheless it has recently been operational only 120 days a year, down from the typical 180 days a year. We’re in a tough economy, sure, but when you look at the the savings from truncating the hours one realizes that these are only marginal.
Another hilarious example is the case of the high performance computers at the Hartree Centre near Manchester, for which some £37.5 million of government funding were allocated in 2012 to upgrade systems. That’s a nifty sum of money, but apparently the government didn’t accurately take into account the potential electricity bill a supercomputing facility gobbles up each year. In consequence, a part of the facility is shut down because they can’t afford to supply electricity.
Obviously, one would think that operational costs would be taken into account with the initial, new infrastructure plans, however it seems UK politicians like to go ahead of themselves. When inquired about these infrastructure vs operational costs discrepancies and mismanagement, John Womersley, chief executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council which oversees much of the UK’s government-owned science infrastructure, said:
“It has been difficult to invest in the routine maintenance and upkeep of existing facilities, because [government] ministers very naturally are interested in new initiatives and transformative change in entirely new projects.”
via Nature Blog