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UK National Oceanography Centre preps for significant staff cuts

The United Kingdom’s national centre for ocean research is slashing the number of  scientific staff as it struggles to cope with government austerity measures, Nature has learned.

Staff were told yesterday that 35 jobs in the centre’s Directorate of Science and Technology will go, yielding £1.5 million (US$2.4 million) in salary savings. As a result of changes to the budget of the research council responsible for funding research in the natural sciences, the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), which has sites in Southampton and Liverpool, needs to make a total savings of £3.5 million a year on a £45-million budget.

“We have identified a group of staff ‘at risk’ of redundancy, using a range of criteria agreed with the relevant trade unions, and those staff were informed yesterday. We are now calling for volunteers for early release before deciding if we need to also have a compulsory redundancy phase,” the centre said in a statement to Nature.

The NOC is one of the world’s leading oceanography research centres and employs 540 staff. Many UK institutions are feeling the pinch as the country’s research councils struggle with flat budgets or cutbacks, but the loss of so many staff at such a renowned research centre is already sending ripples through the community and is being discussed among scientists attending this week’s high-profile Planet Under Pressure meeting in London.

Additional reporting by Geoff Brumfiel.

This post was updated on 30/3 to reflect that the NOC has a site in Liverpool as well as in Southampton.

Comments

  1. Report this comment

    Andrew Reeves-Hall said:

    I understand that this relates just the 135 or so scientific staff – the remainder of the 540 total staff like admin and maintenance crews have yet to have their notices. So, 35 out of 135 is much worse. Mind you, not as bad as shutting down completely, like the government did to the Forensic Science Service (FSS)!

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    David Cromwell said:

    As a former NOC researcher who fortuitously left 18 months ago, it saddens me to see so many good scientists, and capabilities in climate science, being identified as ‘at risk’. Yet again, we are seeing the harsh consequences of the government’s so-called ‘austerity’ measures.

    But where are the austerity measures for the banks who were bailed out at vast public expanse; or the billions in tax ‘legally’ avoided by piratical corporations; or the hugely expensive wars being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan –estimated costs in excess of £20 billion – and with likely over one million civilian deaths at ‘our’ hands; or the considerable state subsidies and tax breaks handed out each year to climate-wrecking fossil fuel industries?

    There is a bigger, largely unreported, context to damaging cuts in research council budgets: it’s about horribly skewed government priorities and what we can all do, as responsible citizens, to set society on a saner course.

    David Cromwell
    Natural Environment Research Council employee (1993-2010)

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    Richard Williams said:

    The original post is mistaken in saying that the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) is in Southampton, as it is instead split across two sites in Southampton and Liverpool. Out of approximately 45 scientists at Liverpool, 15 scientists have been told that they are at risk with the expectation that 90% of the number at risk will be lost. Within the internationally-renowned sea level group, the numbers are even more drastic, with 7 out of 17 staff at risk (representing a proposed cut of 41%), which is at odds with repeated assurances that sea level is a high priority within the NERC-funded National Capability – the source of funding which is at the heart of this exercise.

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    Andrew Reeves-Hall said:

    Correction – I believe it is 150 of the UK’s top scientists affected across both sites. Worrying if the process ends up causing the curtailing of national strategic projects as side-effect. Dare I say, “tipping point”?

  5. Report this comment

    Andrew Reeves-Hall said:

    Correction – I believe it is 35 out of 150 (not 135) of the UK’s top scientists affected across both sites. Worrying if the process ends up causing the curtailing of national strategic projects as side-effect. Dare I say, “tipping point”?

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