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Astronomy Centre

Volume 472: debated on Tuesday 4 March 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (1) what steps he is taking to ensure the future of the Institute for Astronomy on the Blackford Hill site in Edinburgh; (177874)

(2) what the proposed change in Science and Technology Facilities Council for funding the Astronomy Technology Centre (ATC), Edinburgh is in (a) percentage and (b) cash terms; and what assessment he has made of the likely effect of that change on the ATC's work;

(3) what staff changes are being considered by the Science and Technology Facilities Council for (a) Daresbury, (b) the Astronomy Technology Centre, Edinburgh and (c) the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

The UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC), which is owned by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), is a world leader in the design and construction of instruments for many of the world's major telescopes. However, the STFC's demand for its services has declined since the UK joined the European Southern Observatory in 2002.

The STFC is looking at the future of the Astronomy Technology Centre in relation to the potential demand for its services and the council's science budget allocation. The STFC is exploring the possibility of a partnership that makes use of the unique skills in the ATC and applies them to a wider portfolio, and it will seek to work with the local universities and local funding agencies in taking that forward. It is too early to say what the outcome of these discussions will be.

STFC issued a notice on 2 January calling for voluntary redundancies across all its activities. In line with previous announcements, the SRS (Synchrotron Radiation Source) at Daresbury will close on 31 December 2008, but the STFC has not taken a decision on whether any compulsory redundancies (other than those relating to SRS) will be needed.