Select Committee on Science and Technology Fifth Report


The Royal Society

71. Two of the UK's academies which are concerned with science, the Royal Society and the British Academy, benefit from accommodation paid for by the Government and the others, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the recently formed Academy of Medical Sciences, do not. The Royal Society was first given rent-free accommodation in 1780 by George III. This was in Somerset House, which also accommodated several other societies. Over the next 80 years, the Royal Society expanded and eventually requested larger premises. After a lengthy search, the Royal Society moved in 1857, again with others, into Burlington House on Piccadilly. The Royal Society grew larger still, especially its library, and other societies moved into Burlington House which led to overcrowding. In 1967 the Royal Society moved to 6-9 Carlton House Terrace where it remains. A 99-year lease was signed on the property by the then Department of Transport and an assurance made that the rent would be covered by the Government for the length of the lease. Carlton House Terrace is Crown Estate property. Today the rent is paid by the Royal Society out of grant-in-aid provided for that purpose. In 2001-02, the rent was £306,000. The Royal Society received £230,000 for external decoration in its grant-in-aid in 2001-02. It has also recently finished an extensive redevelopment of its lobby which was funded entirely from private sources.

72. Mr Cox of the Royal Society told us "Carlton House Terrace is not just for the Royal Society. 1,800 meetings a year are held at the Royal Society. We are a facility for the whole of the scientific community".[111] He also said "The Royal Society is the UK Academy of Sciences, it represents the UK not only in an intellectual way but in a physical sense as well. It is right, proper and appropriate that the Royal Society should have premises so that it can undertake this representational role".[112] The Society charges for the use of its rooms; there are commercial and charitable rates. Charitable charges, which would apply to most if not all of the learned societies who use it, start at £85 for half a day in a committee room and rise to £805 for the hire of the Wellcome Trust Lecture Hall for a day, compared to the commercial rate of £1,425.[113] We acknowledge that the Royal Society's premises in Carlton House Terrace provide facilities for other learned societies. Given that these societies may not have prestigious offices of their own or large budgets, we hope that the Royal Society will provide these facilities at cost price to learned societies.

73. The Royal Society occupies a prime piece of real estate in an expensive part of London. We accept that it is of value to the scientific community to have a focal point in the capital and that the facilities offered by the Royal Society are of a high standard and used by many. As the UK's 'academy of sciences', the Royal Society should have a prestigious site in the centre of London and we believe that government funding is appropriate.

The Royal Academy of Engineering and other academies

74. The Royal Academy of Engineering has occupied its current premises in 29 Great Peter Street, in Westminster, since 1994. It pays the rent from its private income, and does not receive any subsidy for doing so. The British Academy receives grant-in-aid from the Department for Education and Skills to the value of £265,000 for the rent of 10 Carlton House Terrace. A further £90,000 is met by the other occupants of the building, and £100,000 is raised from charges to external bodies for use of facilities.[114] The Wellcome Trust made a grant of £1.8 million to the British Academy and the Royal Society for refurbishment of their premises, £1 million of which went to the British Academy with the proviso that the Academy of Medical Sciences be given rent-free accommodation for five years at 10 Carlton House Terrace. This agreement ends in 2003 and the Academy of Medical Sciences will then pay rent to the British Academy.[115]

Burlington House

75. The Royal Society of Chemistry, the Geological Society, the Linnean Society, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Society of Antiquaries all occupy accommodation in Burlington House. They benefit from an agreement made with the Government, when they moved from Somerset House in the nineteenth century, that they would be housed rent-free. The then Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) valued these premises for us in 2002.

Table 10: Estimated rental values of premises in Burlington House

Learned Society

Estimated Rental Value £ 000

Royal Society of Chemistry


Geological Society


Linnean Society


Royal Astronomical Society (including the British Astronomical Association)


Society of Antiquaries




The Burlington House societies pay no rent but bear the running and refurbishment costs of their accommodation. The Royal Society of Chemistry estimate that they have spent £600, 000 in the last three years on Burlington House on the fabric of the building over and above running costs.[116] In oral evidence, Dr Giachardi told us "I cannot answer the questions [as to] what the rental value would be but we have spent a lot of our own money restoring the fabric ... to the exacting standards of English Heritage".[117]

76. The Burlington House agreement is subject to a legal dispute between the societies and the Government. The Crown owns the freehold of Burlington House and until May 2002 DTLR was responsible as the holding Department. This responsibility has now passed to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. DTLR's memorandum states that legal advice obtained by the learned societies suggests that they might have a freehold interest in Burlington House and/or be able to stay in the property on a rent free basis. The Department does not accept this, based on its own legal advice.[118] It is preparing its draft legal case for submission to the learned societies.

77. We were interested to note that several of the Burlington House societies told us that they were opposed to the idea of government funding on the grounds of preserving their independence. The Royal Society of Chemistry wrote in its memorandum -

"many bodies, including the RSC, act in an advisory capacity to government and view this as a core activity. It is essential that this advice is independent and seen to be so. Hence it is necessary that the bodies themselves, and any co-ordinating associations that act on their behalf should be financially independent of government".[119]

We asked the RSC about this in oral evidence and Dr David Giachardi, Chief Executive, told us that they worried that their advice would be considered less reliable by the media if they were to receive government funds.[120] He thought however that the "indirect" funding they received "has been around for so long that I do not think it does [compromise the RSC's independence]".[121] We would like to see all Burlington House societies acknowledge that subsidised accommodation constitutes a form of government funding.

78. We do not intend to comment on the Burlington House agreement, since it is subject to legal dispute. The Burlington House societies benefit from a historical agreement and it is by chance that this is with the Government and not some private organisation. Certainly withdrawing the arrangement would impact on the good work that the Burlington House societies are able to do. This would be a net loss for science.

The British Association for the Advancement of Science

79. The BA was also based in Burlington House until 1958 and moved out to obtain more space. It also benefited from the "Burlington House agreement" and was offered alternative rent-free accommodation. Since 1972 it has occupied space in 23 Savile Row which is owned by English Heritage. However the BA is now set to move to the new Wellcome Wolfson Building at the Science Museum. Dr Roland Jackson, incoming Chief Executive of the BA, told us "the BA is effectively moving out of government funded rent-free accommodation into accommodation that is funded by a separate body".[122] A condition of the Wellcome Trust grant towards the cost of the Science Museum building was that the BA should have one floor of the new wing at a peppercorn rent for forty years.

111   Q 27 Back

112   Q 32 Back

113   Http://  Back

114   See volume II, appendix 3 Back

115   Ibid. Back

116   See volume II, appendix 41 Back

117   Q 199 Back

118   See volume II, appendix 45 Back

119   See volume II, appendix 41 Back

120   Q 202 Back

121   Q 201 Back

122   Q 253 Back

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Prepared 1 August 2002