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Forensic Science Service

Volume 493: debated on Monday 8 June 2009

The Forensic Science Service Ltd, formerly an Executive Agency of the Home Office, was vested as a Government-Owned Company (GovCo) in December 2005. My predecessor my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) set out in a written ministerial statement of 29 March 2006 the criteria to be applied in considering whether to maintain the status of a GovCo or to change it to that of a Public-Private Partnership. These criteria were, in order of importance:

The needs of the UK Criminal Justice System

The state of the UK Forensic Science Services marketplace

The needs of the Forensic Science Service

The needs of the Home Office as shareholder

We have considered carefully the criteria set out by Andy Burnham in his statement, which continues to underpin our approach to status change. He made clear that not all the criteria could be judged clearly at any one time and that a decision had to be taken in the round. He committed that no decision would be taken until summer 2007 and that he would share it with Parliament. In the event, it has not been appropriate to make any further announcement as it has been clear that the developing nature of the UK forensics market meant that the criteria for change have not been met in the ensuing years. The Criminal Justice System continues to be served by the FSS and its competitors. The UK forensic science market continues to develop, albeit at a slower pace than originally envisaged, and the police service is now engaged in a series of competitive tenders which will put the delivery of forensic services on a clearer contractual footing. GovCo status has provided a suitable platform on which the FSS can transition to a commercially effective and robustly competitive organisation.

The FSS is now about to embark on a major transformation programme, with the support of the Home Office shareholder, and I judged that the time was right to inform Parliament of our current plans. Since vesting, and in particular throughout 2008, the FSS has analysed the emerging market in order to clarify the scale of transformation required to reflect its reduced share of the overall market and to optimise its commercial potential. That thinking has been crystallised in the production of a strategic business plan, details of which were presented to the Home Office in December and, after rigorous consultation with HM Treasury, that has now been approved. On Monday 8 June, the FSS embarks upon formal consultations with its staff in which it will set out its intentions to move to a new business model, delivering the same integrated service, more quickly and efficiently, with a reduced but more targeted work force, and potentially working from a reduced estate. The full details remain subject to the conclusions from the consultation.

The future status of the FSS has been a matter of interest to the House generally and to some hon. Members in particular. I want therefore to make clear that we have decided that there will be no change of status for the FSS for the foreseeable future. That will give sufficient time for the FSS to complete its transformation plan and provide more evidence of the operation of the commercial market in forensic science. In recognition of the House’s continued interest in this key component of our criminal justice system, the original commitment to share any decision to change the status of the company remains in place.