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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 November 2007, 02:12 GMT
Science budgets 'must be robust'
Scientist
MPs said the UK was at the forefront of "exciting" research
Funding for major scientific projects in the UK must be dealt with in a more "robust" way to stop them running over budget, MPs have said.

The public accounts committee found the cost of 10 of the biggest projects of the last few years had exceeded estimates by 55.3m in total.

Chairman Edward Leigh said research councils had to get a "better handle from the outset" on budgets.

The government said it was working to improve planning for large projects.

Since 2000, the Department of Trade and Industry and the research councils have allocated more than 860m to constructing 10 large scientific schemes and have earmarked 270m for five more.

The recently formed Department for Innovations, Universities and Skills (DIUS) is now responsible for science funding.

'Expertise'

The 10 projects the committee looked at included an Antarctic Research Station - with a budget of 26.2m - and a 383.2m Diamond Synchrotron, which will produce intense X-rays and shorter wavelength emissions for examining structures at molecular and atomic level.

Mr Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, said: "Exciting new large scientific facilities are now coming on stream and I do not doubt their work will help to keep Britain among the leading centres of research and discovery.

"But the teams who plan and take forward these projects must have the project management expertise and commercial skills to deliver them to time and budget.

"The research councils have to get a better handle from the outset on the likely through-life costs of projects."

Mr Leigh said it was "alarming" that two of the six most advanced projects had gone "a whopping 80%" over budget.

He added: "Scientists are the best people to do science but, when it comes to which large new facilities should be chosen above others and where they should be located in the country, the wider scientific community and industry should contribute to the decision-making process."

The committee also said the government should do more to interest young people in science by teaching them about the most exciting projects.

A DIUS spokeswoman said: "We welcome this report and will be responding to the recommendations fully in due course.

"Large scientific facilities play an increasingly important part in leading-edge research and development for our research councils, and we are working closely with them to ensure that these developments are planned and developed in a strategic and effective manner."

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