From the TUC

More on the case for science

17 Sep 2009, by in Economics

Nigel is spot-on when he criticises the latest outburst from the Taxpayers Alliance in his blog article below. It is important that all serious commentators support the drive for fundamental science, including particle physics and astronomy.

Some good reasons can be found in ‘The Case for Space’, published by Oxford Economics in July.

This found that the UK space industry has grown in real terms by around nine per cent a year since 1999/2000, more than three times faster than the economy as a whole. GDP per worker stood at £145,000 in 2006/07, making productivity in the space sector four times the UK average.

As trade unionists, of course, Nigel and I value the 19,100 jobs in the industry in 2006/07, along with the additional 35,000 UK jobs in the industry’s supply chain. We look forward to the prospect of a possible 115,000 jobs supported by the space sector in 2020 and the value added contribution to GDP of between £8.4 and £14.2 billion by then.

We support the space sector for other reasons too. For example, earth observation has become an essential tool for monitoring climate change (such as measuring water levels), emergency response (for instance, by providing an accurate picture of areas affected by flooding), natural resources, sustainable development and population dynamics. In this era of global warming, our ability to protect our world literally depends on the space industry. Space also inspires young people to study science. It was the second most popular factor motivating physics degree involvement.

Sadly, because it has large up-front costs and its practitioners literally do not know what they are going to find, space struggles to attract funding from the private sector, who are primarily motivated by next month’s or next year’s profit targets. That’s why it sometimes needs protecting from the more forceful free marketeers in our midst.

Actually, a future government couldn’t abolish the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, as suggested in today’s Daily Mail article, because PPARC was abolished two years ago (Has anybody told the Taxpayers Alliance?). PPARC merged with the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils to form the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in April 2007. But that’s neither here nor there. The fact is that fundamental science must be nurtured. The TUC will continue to support it and will defend it from attacks by the Taxpayers Alliance.