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Letter from Chris Skidmore to the science minister

Image: Martin McQuillan for HE

Former minister writes to his successor to request £25m rescue fund for UK science centres

Dear Amanda,

I am writing in support of science centres from around the UK, who under the campaign ‘Science Centres For Our Future’ led by the Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ASDC), urgently need additional financial support during the current crisis to prevent irreparable damage to this vibrant and essential sector.

Science centres provide a vital resource to society. These charitable organisations are STEM engagement and learning hubs, and cultural centres in the hearts of regional cities and towns across the UK providing hands-on interaction with cutting-edge science. Science centres are a valued part of life for millions across our nation, with regional landmarks such as Glasgow Science Centre, ThinkTank in Birmingham, Techniquest in Cardiff, Newcastle’s Centre for Life, W5 in Belfast and We The Curious in my own constituency of Bristol.

Together they engage over 20 million children and adults each year with all areas of science, from health and life sciences to physics and climate science. They support teachers and schools, families and communities. They inspire children to pursue careers in science, inform adults and families of the latest scientific developments, and use science to engage the most disadvantaged in our communities, an important contribution to the government’s levelling up initiative.

Due to Coronavirus, the UK’s lively and successful network of science centres had their entire incomes cut off overnight. These robust and sustainable organisations receive no government funding and are not eligible for the Coronavirus support packages that the government has made available to heritage and arts organisations, zoos and frontline charities.

Throughout this crisis, science centres have been engaging schoolchildren and adult learners across the UK with science online. After the crisis they will play a unique role in educating, informing and inspiring the public, including children with science, upon which our future economy, resilience, and international standing depends.

This crisis has brought the value of science centres for the millions of school children, young people and communities they engage, into sharp focus. We will continue to need these centres inspiring innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit if the UK is to maintain its position as a global leader in science in this uncertain future.

It is clear to see that sharing the latest science with the public forms an integral part of the government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy. Creating a well-informed scientifically knowledgeable society is vital if we are to overcome major global challenges such as this pandemic and climate change.

Science centres provide a unique environment to facilitate science learning and engagement across the UK but are under serious threat. If lost this infrastructure of over 40 centres, employing over 5,000 professionals, with a turnover of over £200m would take decades to re-establish.

This is why I am supporting the ‘Science Centres For Our Future’ campaign in its call for a £25m Emergency Resilience Fund to ensure the future of this world-renowned network. It is imperative that BEIS takes the lead on supporting this national sector that is essential to the future of science, research and innovation in the UK.

It has taken years to build the UK’s world-leading science centre network. Without emergency support, many of the nation’s science centres will cease to exist during the next months.

I strongly urge you to support this vital asset to the UK.

Yours sincerely

Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP