Royal Observatory can focus on a future without job losses

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FEARS of job losses at Edinburgh's Royal Observatory have been eased after the national body in charge of funding said it had found savings elsewhere.

Up to 50 posts at the Astronomy Technology Centre, based at the observatory on Blackford Hill, were under threat after the Science and Technology Facilities Council was left with an 80 million budget black hole.

The ATC was told its funding would be halved over the next three years and the 100-strong workforce was warned half their jobs could go.

But now the STFC has said other savings means the prospects for saving jobs at the observatory have improved. Posts could still be lost through natural wastage and voluntary redundancy, but there should be no compulsory redundancies for the time being.

The news was welcomed by Professor Ian Robson, director of the ATC, which designs and builds instruments for many of the world's major telescopes.

He said: "It means we won't have any compulsory redundancies this calendar year and if we get things right, we won't have any full stop."

He said the threatened budget cut had been "softened".

And he added: "As long as we get extra work in, we should be okay."

Outside work – for other research councils, the private sector and government initiatives – already makes up around 10-15 per cent of the ATC's work.

Professor Robson said the aim was to increase the proportion to about 25 per cent.

"We are quite confident of doing that," he added. "We already have a full order book for the near future."

Tony Bell, a senior official at Prospect union, which has members at the ATC, said the STFC had failed to make the latest funding situation clear.

"The key question is how many redundancies they are wanting across the country. If it's in the hundreds, they are not going to get them voluntarily.

"They are rethinking which bits of the programme to cut and which to fund. That could be better news for the ATC, but we don't know. It's not open and public. It's all still smoke and mirrors.

"We have urged the chief executive to meet us, but he seems too concerned about keeping his job."

A spokeswoman for the STFC said: "Our savings targets remain as they were but we think we have found ways to save the money we need to.

"We may seek further voluntary redundancies once our programme review is completed in July."

She said savings had been made through natural wastage since December.

"There is likely to be another organisation-wide call for voluntary redundancies later in the year, which takes this review into account. As the voluntary redundancies and natural wastage are across all sites, we can't say what proportion will come from any given site.

"However we do not expect to have to make any compulsory redundancies at the ATC at present.

"The situation at the ATC will also depend on how the order book develops over the next year or so."

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