I just received a response to my email to David Willetts MP about the use of ‘The Big Society’ as a ringfenced funding area by the AHRC. Here’s the text.
Dear Dr Farrow
Thank you for your email of 22 June, addressed to the Rt Hon David Willetts about your support for the campaign to remove the “Big Society” from the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) delivery plan. As you may be aware the Minister is unable to answer as many emails as he would like and on this occasion I have been asked to reply.
Under the Haldane Principle, prioritisation of an individual Research Council’s spending within its allocation is not a decision for Ministers. The Government supports this principle as vital for the protection of academic independence and excellence. A statement of the Principle was published alongside the science and research funding allocations on 20 December 2010, the web link is attached for your convenience.
I hope this helps to explain the Government’s position in this matter.
BIS MINISTERIAL CORRESPONDENCE UNIT
Leaving aside the fact that trawling through Hansard is never a quick way to find the answer to a question, this isn’t very reassuring. Simply restating the principles of Haldane does nothing to prevent this from being a violation of them. ‘The Big Society’ is a conservative party political slogan (and not even a very good one) and doesn’t belong in the delivery plan of a putatively independent research council.
Perhaps we shouldn’t expect anything more from the AHRC… not that I’m bitter at never getting a bean from them. But they have a responsibility to stand up for the values which they purportedly enshrine rather than going whichever way the wind blows in order to keep the money flowing. Arguably, the coalition government contravened the principles of Haldane when they made certain disciplines so fearful of their own demise that they indulged in a kind of mediated suicide.
Please consider signing the petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/thebigsociety/.