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Science facing funding crisis, MPs warn

VAT discounts could help

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Educational science centres are facing a funding crisis, a group of MPs has warned in a new report.

The Science and Technology Select Committee (STSC) is calling on the government to intervene and provide centres with a short-term cash boost to keep them going. It also suggests that "steps are taken" to reduce the tax burden such centres face.

The problem is that there simply isn't a huge market for educational science, and once the initial period of funding runs out, the centres can't pay their own way. The report found that most struggle to raise even 80 per cent of their running costs.

Some facilities have already closed, including Doncaster's Earth Centre and Aurshire's Big Idea. Both had been funded by the Millennium Commission, which made £450m available to science centres across the country.

Not all science centres are a financial washout: for example, The Eden project in Cornwall has been a resounding success. But other attractions have fared less well. For example: At-Bristol, another science centre, has closed two of its three exhibitions and had to lay off 45 staff.

The STSC says it is not advocating long-term and continuing government support for centres that are "failing", but wants a short-term cash injection to see centres stay open long enough for their value to be properly assessed.

It also argues that the centres' VAT obligation ought to be reduced, and proposes that successful centres could be given subsidies, in the same way as museums are given support from the public purse.

You can read the report here. ®

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