Why is the Forensic Science Service being privatised ?
According to a Ministerial Statement by Home Office Minister Caroline Flint, the Government seems to be on its way to moving the FSS another couple of steps down the road to privatisation.
Nobody would object to the FSS deriving income from training foreign scientists in the latest techniques etc, but realistically just what is the attraction to private investors ?
How is the "market for forensic science services" in the UK anything but a state controlled monopoly ?
What does this mean for the privacy of the growing National DNA Database that this service controls ? Will private sector companies get access to this data in return for "investment" ?
The Ministerial Statement:
Future Status of the Forensic Science Service (FSS)
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint): On 17 July 2003, the then Home Secretary announced that the Government have accepted the recommendation of the independent review of the Forensic Science Service (FSS) that it should be transformed from a trading fund into a Government-owned company (GovCo) prior to development as a Public Private Partnership (PPP).
Since then, officials have worked closely with the FSS, the police, as the organisation's main customers, and treasury officials to ensure that we are clear about how the transformation of the FSS can best be managed.
We now have a clearer and more detailed analysis of the business and its prospects, together with its strengths and weaknesses. This confirms the conclusion of the independent review that the trading fund model would
11 Jan 2005 : Column 13WS
not allow the FSS to deliver to its full potential, or indeed to remain at the leading edge of forensic science in the UK and internationally, thus wasting an important asset in our drive to improve detections and reduce the fear of crime.
In particular, the analysis has confirmed that the market for forensic science is changing rapidly in the face of increased competition. The pace of change is accelerating as technology develops and in response to action by police forces and police authorities to achieve strategic market management in line with public procurement best practices.
To ensure that the FSS has the commercial agility and the appropriate governance structure needed to respond to this increasingly dynamic market, the Government have decided to transform the FSS into a wholly owned Government company.
This will be a transitional structure. In the light of FSS performance as a GovCo the Government will consider what next steps are necessary to facilitate the growth of the business, ensure the future of the FSS, maintain its position at the forefront of forensic science, and maximise its contribution to reducing crime and the fear of crime.
The future form and direction of the FSS will stem from a balance between the realisable value to Government, the benefits to the business of private sector participation, changes in the forensic science market and the potential future need to access private capital.
The timing of the next stage will depend upon reaching agreement with key stakeholders that conditions are favourable and the move would be advantageous to the business. We will also use the interim period to fully test the merits of the FSS as a Government owned company in its own right.
We recognise the uncertainty for FSS employees, suppliers and customers that a process of this kind entails. The Home Office and the FSS management are working together to ensure that all staff and stakeholders are kept fully informed of the process.
I am aware that many Members whose constituents work for the FSS have made representations about the transformation, but we must ensure that the FSS is able to respond to the changing face of the market and the demands of its customers, and to seize the opportunities presented by emerging technologies, while retaining its public sector mission.
In following this process through we will continue to keep all stakeholders informed."