Government Privatisation Of UK Forensics Service Condemned By MP’s
By Graham Vanbergen – Back in March this year I wrote a piece entitled “Mass privatisation masks Britain’s failed economic policies” which tells the story about how the Chancellor at the time, George Osborne was selling off state assets at an unprecedented rate to shore up a failing economic plan.
I stated by the end of this year alone, Osborne will have sold £60 billion of state assets, and by the end of this parliament in 2020 that total will have reached a staggering £100 billion, (not including buildings or land) – more than Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown combined.
In the article I cited the disastrous sale of Britain’s blood plasma facility to a US private equity outfit. Britain’s self-sufficiency for blood and blood products vanished over-night and with it the safeguards most other countries around the world never enjoyed. I also mentioned the calamitous privatisation of the first major hospital in Britain. That failed due to profit concerns and ultimately patient safety – what more could have gone wrong? I mentioned the state of Britain’s ambulance service and the lamentable finances of the fire service and threats to public health because profit is now the primary driver, not saving lives.
I then rambled on about non-critical but highly successful organisations that contribute to the public purse being sold off such as; the Met Office, Ordinance Survey, Nuclear fuel processor Urenco, Land Registry, Channel 4, The Royal Mint, the list goes on.
One I also focused on was that of the national forensic service. The government announced it’s closure almost immediately after arriving at Downing Street in 2010 which happened in 2012. The National Audit Office had warned that the “privatisation of forensic services posed a threat to justice and putting the work in police hands would be disastrous”. With the closure of an independent state run forensics organisation, the burden of proof moved to the police and the private sector where criminal trials could collapse for all sorts of reasons, legitimate or otherwise. The national Audit Office made their case quite clear at the time, that justice should not be traded for profit.
Last month, the MP’s Science and Technology Committee reported back their findings of the government proposal to fully privatise the forensics service. Having digested its contents they demanded the Government redraft its strategy; criticising it as vague, incomplete and lacking a vision for forensic services.
The Acting Chair of the Committee, Dr Tania Mathias MP said:
“The Government’s Forensics Strategy was already two years late, but further delay would have been preferable to this inadequate document. The weaknesses in this document raise the question of whether the Forensics Strategy stands up as a strategy. It is missing a coherent vision for forensic services and a route-map to deliver it.”
It doesn’t get more damning than saying that the government is selling off this important department with no coherent plan other than to make some money.
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Mathias continued – “Government should acknowledge that the Forensics Strategy is an incomplete document which leaves too many issues under-developed to constitute a coherent description of the Government’s policy and direction in this important area.” In other words – the government is not interested in the negative impact this will have on justice more widely.
What Mathias and the committee are obviously worried about is the shameful result of previous sell-offs of critical services, which this one, will no doubt follow.
The committee highlighted areas of concern such as as: there was no consultation before publication of the (so-called) strategy, there is no methodology of how the Police are to universally procure private forensic services in criminal cases, there is no understanding of the suggested merging of the biometrics and forensics proposal (which itself has no strategy) …. at all.
There was another warning given by the Committee. “We cannot know whether the low proportion of forensic cases reaching court is the result of defendants not wishing to contest the forensics or represents a misdirected allocation of resources. The Government should without delay commission the research it promised on the reasons for the low proportion of forensic cases reaching court. The Home Office should press for a greater priority—and share of funding—to be given to forensics research. Furthermore, a significant proportion of any savings achieved from implementing the Forensics Strategy should be ring-fenced to fund forensic science research.”
In other words, the forensics service is now being pushed into the private sector when the government doesn’t even know how or why privatisation would affect court cases and what would happen to the future of forensics research.
In the end, the reason why this all happened in the first place was because in 2012 spending on forensic examinations had been cut by the government by more than £20m and experts warned then of possible miscarriages of justice as police attempted to save money by carrying out work within their own laboratories. The independent state run forensics department was losing £2m a month, but why should a service such as this have made a profit in the first place? We pay for traffic lights out of taxation to stop accidents, which in itself saves lives and £millions as a result – but we don’t put them up to make a profit.
As it is, just three companies have cornered more than 90 per cent of the private forensics market in an industry worth somewhere close to £100million – and that is already showing signs of financial stress. And to prove that point, the private sector has already told National Audit Office researchers that declining profits could make it difficult to properly invest in research and development for the future.