The Council of Ministers today approved a package of urgent measures to eliminate some of the bureaucratic obstacles that have been weighing on Spanish science since 2014, when the Government of Mariano Rajoy imposed a new tax regime for prior intervention that involved the landing of a tax auditor in each public research organization. The Executive of Pedro Sanchez has approved a Royal Decree-Law that includes the elimination of this previous intervention and the return to the situation of 2014, the audit of expenses afterwards.
"That is the real ballast of Spanish science: that it is de facto intervened by the Treasury. I have had problems even to be able to buy chairs, because the projects do not explicitly indicate that we need the chairs concept ", I reported a year ago the biochemist Óscar Fernández Capetillo, from the National Center for Oncological Research (CNIO), in Madrid. The Science Minister, Pedro Duque, announced in November the end of this previous intervention in an interview with EL PAÍS. Then, he said that the shock plan would be ready before the end of 2018.
The Royal Decree-Law will facilitate the hiring of personnel indefinitely
The new package of measures addresses other historical claims of Spanish science, such as the streamlining of recruitment and the stabilization of personnel. For years, highly qualified scientists have chained fraudulent temporary contracts, sometimes for more than a decade, to cover permanent needs. The chemistry Cristina García, for example, she was fired after denouncing the Center for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research (Ciemat) for having spent 10 years working with temporary contracts. Garcia, among other tasks, calibrated since 2006 the radiotherapy machines of hospitals so that cancer patients receive the proper dose. A court in Madrid considered his dismissal unlawful and assessed fraud by law for covering a fixed position with temporary contracts.
The Royal Decree-Law approved today modifies the Law of Science of 2011 so that centers and universities can hire staff indefinitely for projects that have specific funding. The Ministry of Science believes that this measure "will contribute greatly to reduce the temporality and instability of scientists, especially young people."
In recent years, judges have forced compensation or readmit hundreds of workers from scientific institutions, including a chemistry used by the current number 2 of the Ministry of Science, Angeles Heras, in his time leading a research group in the Complutense University of Madrid. In Spanish laboratories –Heras explained to this newspaper after being named Secretary of State for Universities, Research and Innovation- "a collection of young people was developed, all very valid, but there was no other way to hire them and they ended up putting many resources [judiciales]"
Bureaucratization has made requests for materials to investigate cancer arrive months late
Heras then accused the fraudulent recruitment of chemistry to "the totally fragile situation that both research groups and young researchers have had", with "a single normative figure, which is that of contracting for work and service". On January 25, the Government has already approved the stabilization of 1,454 temporary places in public research organizations.
"The bureaucratization is tremendous and makes everything slow down. If a request for material arrived earlier in two weeks, now it arrives in three months, "denounced a year ago Giovanna Roncador, a 51-year-old Italian biologist who heads the Monoclonal Antibody Unit of the CNIO. The bureaucratic machinery did not take into account that the delayed orders were urgent and consisted of materials to investigate molecules for the diagnosis of cancer.
The Royal Decree-Law streamlines the purchase of materials and instruments for scientific projects. The research centers and universities will be able to execute minor contracts of services and supplies up to 50,000 euros with the same provider and for different units, as announced by the Ministry of Science. This measure will facilitate, for example, the purchase of laboratory equipment for two different projects of the same university.
The Government also attends to another measure that is very demanded by the scientific mothers. The Royal Decree-Law modifies the Law of Science of 2011 so that researchers in a situation of maternity or paternity, and also those with a temporary disability, are not discriminated against in the selection and evaluation of their scientific activity. For example, if a researcher is out of work for six months after being a mother and to apply for a call from the Ministry of Science, her work over the last four years is evaluated, from now on her merits will be prorated so that motherhood does not penalize.
Biochemist Luis Serrano, president of the Somma alliance of research centers of excellence, applauds the new package of measures. "You have to see the fine print, but it sounds good. It deals with two of our main demands: allow indefinite hiring and facilitate the purchase of materials, "he says. However, Serrano misses other measures, such as "that science is considered an economic activity and is exempt from VAT."
Most of the research groups in Spain, according to Serrano, depend on the national plans, which in theory are granted every year and provide funding for three years. For seven years, as reported a few days ago in an interview with this newspaper, the National Plan is called randomly, with differences of seven or eight months. There are years, even, in which the call is not published until the following year. These delays "sink small research groups," alerts Serrano, who asks for a multi-year budget so that the State Agency for Research can ensure that national plans always leave on the same day of the year.