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ISIS operating hours face cuts—again

The Science and Technology Facilities Council’s neutron source, ISIS, could run for as few as 95 days a year—less than half the time recommended by the National Audit Office.

The warning came in the minutes of an STFC council meeting on 29 May, at which the council approved the 2012-13 operating plan.

The notes from the meeting say that although the 2010 spending review provided sufficient funding for 120 user days per year—which is the commitment in the STFC’s delivery plan—this was based on 2010 prices and ISIS has since “had to absorb all inflation increases”. The STFC Council therefore agreed that it would be “unwise to commit to a level of delivery in the operating plan that is unachievable”.

The government cut capital spending for the STFC from £85 million in 2010-11 to £21m in 2011-12 in its research council allocations in December 2010. That led to ISIS’ operating hours being cut from 150 days a year to 120.

However, the National Audit Office has previously stated that the facility should run for 220 days per year to ensure value for money.

The notes from the meeting add that “everything possible will be done throughout the year to actively secure additional funding to help achieve the target 120 days on all instruments”. They also state that a council communications plan should be put in place before the operating plan is published.