It has been at the forefront of British scientific research since it was established in 1799, becoming home to such luminaries as Michael Faraday and Sir Humphry Davy. But now the future of the Royal Institution of Great Britain has been thrown into doubt by a financial crisis that threatens the position of its director and even its survival. Heavy losses incurred during a major refurbishment have left the RI so short of funds that its auditors have questioned its ability to continue.
‘If the charity is to continue as a going concern, the financial projections for the three years ending 30 September 2011 need to be met,’ said the audit report, submitted to the Charity Commission. ‘There is significant uncertainty as to whether these projections will be kept.’ The RI’s director, Baroness Greenfield, one of Britain’s most prominent female scientists, could face the axe – or at least a ‘slimming down’ of her role, according to The Times.
The 59-year-old Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford, who studies diseases of the brain, led a £22million refurbishment of the RI, under which property it owned near its headquarters in Mayfair, London were sold to raise funds.
But the project ran over budget and fundraising targets were not met, it has emerged. Building works took several months longer than expected, so that while the Queen officially reopened the buidling in May last year, it did not reopen to the public until October
The delays meant that the RI was forced to relaunch in the middle of a recession. The trustees’ report to the Charity Commission for the financial year to September 30, 2008, states that the RI ‘could have coped with any of the four negative factors above in isolation, but could not cope with all four factors happening at the same time’. The RI has provided a home to some of the most influential scientists of the modern era and a forum for scholarly debate over more than two centuries. Fourteen resident scientists have won Nobel prizes at the Central London society, and ten chemical elements have been discovered there. It is where Sir Humphry Davy discovered sodium, and where Michael Faraday conducted his electricity experiments. An advisory committee confirmed the importance of senior positions such as the chief executive at the RI, but identified the role of director as unaffordable