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Royal Society Funding

June 2, 2012

By Paul Homewood




Andrew Montford has already produced a detailed and damning study on how the UK’s Royal Society has become politicised in recent decades. His conclusions are clear.


Immense damage has been done to the reputation of the Society by its last three presidents. While the fellows’ rebellion has improved matters considerably, the continuing desire of the Society’s leadership to engage in political controversies represents a serious ongoing risk to the Society’s reputation and an abandonment of its principles.

Montford touches on the issue of funding

In the 50 years since Lord Adrian warned of the dangers that a flood of government money represented to the Royal Society, all of his worst fears have come true. Despite repeated claims that the Society is independent of government, the reality is rather different. Although the fellows still have to pay subscriptions to the Society, the total raised in this way is dwarfed by sums routed through the Society by government – recently of the order of £40–50m per annum. Although much of this sum passes through the Society to grant recipients, £2.4m per year remains within the Society itself, supporting the salaries of administrative staff. This figure represents over 40% of the unrestricted funds of the Society.

A closer look at the most recent set of accounts for 2010/11 show just how reliant the Society has become on government funding.


First let’s look at income from all sources.




Parliamentary Grant in Aid


Other grants for activities


Fellows Contributions


Donations and Legacies


Investment Income


Realised Foreign Exchange Gain


Publications & services


Trading through subsidiary





So government funding (Parliamentary Grant in Aid) amounts to 67% of total income. Similar amounts have been fixed for a 5 year period to allow the Society to plan ahead properly. It is also worth noting the income generated from commercial activities, such as investment income and publications.

Government money is channelled through the Dept of Business, who insist that it is allocated to specific projects and programmes. Most of this is therefore paid out by the Royal Society in the form of research grants etc. However in 2010/11 £2,265,000 was allocated to “Support and Central Expenses”, in other words overheads costs.

According to the accounts, overhead costs, including salaries, rent, office expenses etc., break down as follows.



Press and Public Relations


Finance, IT and HR


House and Office Services


Corporate Management





In other words, the government grant for administration amounts to 67% of the total cost of administration, a significant proportion.

Although staff numbers and salaries are not broken down by sector, there is information given on employees earning £60,000 or more.


Number of employees earning £60000 pa or more 2011 2005
£60000 – £70000 3 1
£70001 – £80000 1  
£80001 – £90000 2 1
£90001 – £100000 1  
£100001 – £110000 1 1
£110001 – £120000 1  
£120001 – £130000    
£130001 – £140000    
£140001 – £150000    
£150001 – £160000    
£160001 + 1  
TOTAL 10 3


Assuming salaries fall in the middle of each band, the total salary cost for 10 employees currently listed would be £920,000, an average of £92,000. This, of course, does not include social security or pension costs, which would typically add a further 25%. I have added the comparative numbers from 2005, and the difference is, quite frankly, astonishing. With inflation, it would be expected that a couple of staff might have crept over from the £50,000 band – though it should be added that since the 2008 recession most private sector employees have not any wage rises at all. But an increase in the numbers from 3 to 10 suggests that the gravy train has well and truly arrived at Carlton House Terrace.

Equally astonishing is the fact that 4 employees now earn over £90,000 pa, compared to just one in 2005.

There has also been a large increase in the cost of administration between 2005 and 2011. The cost, excluding Corporate Management (which is not itemised in the earlier year), has increased from £1,398,000 to £ 2,583,000, an increase of 85%. Governance/Corporate Management costs also increase from £640,000 to £1,007,000, or 57%.

So where has this largesse appeared from? That’s easy – government funding between the two years has increased from £31,890,000 to £48,782,000.

The Royal Society still claim to be “an independent scientific academy”. Andrew Montford, however, describes it as “being something more akin to a government department”. To which I would add, a very well paid one.



1) Nullius in Verba – by Andrew Montford

2) Royal Society Accounts 2010/11

3) Royal Society Accounts 2005/6

  1. Coldish permalink
    June 3, 2012 6:43 am

    A term sometimes used in the UK to refer to institutions which function like the RS is ‘Quango’ – Quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation.

  2. Brian H permalink
    June 4, 2012 8:28 am

    Gov’t: “Jump!”
    RS: “How high?”

  3. Jordan permalink
    June 4, 2012 4:07 pm

    New Labour corrupted everything it touched.

  4. August 28, 2012 1:51 pm

    The two money tables don’t make a lot of sense. I presume that the figures are in thousands of pounds? Why were all expenditures not shown? What is the total headcount?

    • August 28, 2012 5:27 pm

      Yes that’s right, it’s £K.

      Most of the money paid out is on grants etc, but staff & operating costs come to £10.7 million p.a. There are 140 staff on the books.


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