FSS (the Forensic Science Service) recently announced its proposal to close the Chorley site (and several others) with a total of 850 jobs lost. FSS is currently "consulting" on these proposals with the Prospect trade union and the newly formed FSS Employee Forum. However, the massive scale and short timescales of the changes being proposed tend to suggest that the "consultation" process is just a sham, as it is difficult to see how any alternatives can be properly considered when the whole "Transformation" process has already been timetabled in by the Company. This would tend to indicate that the best chance of averting these changes might be to apply external pressure on the FSS, which is currently a limited company wholly owned by the UK Government, having been split off from the Home Office a few years ago.
On current information, it seems that the root cause of FSS's problems is the Government's decision to commercialise the provision of forensic science services to the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales, without any provision for any "supplier of last resort". Basically, this means that the provision of forensic science services has been opened up to outside competition, and that the FSS has been told that it must make a profit on all the work that it does, which obviously means that any classes of case / crime / investigation that cannot return a profit will not be performed by FSS (or anybody else), which in turn has resulted in the current proposals for massive job losses and site closures, as "unprofitable" lines of work are abandoned.
Of course, as well as representing a serious blow to the employment situation in the North West of England, this situation is clearly detrimental to the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales, as it means that work on certain classes of case / crime / investigation will not be performed, leading to possible miscarriages of justice because key scientific evidence will no longer be available to the courts in these cases.
Therefore, the obvious way to avert the proposed site closures and job losses would be for the Government to reverse its decision to commercialise the provision of forensic science services to the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales, as I believe that no other Western democracy has taken such an irresponsible step, and, it must be said, enough people/organisations profit from crime in this country as it is without introducing a whole new sector.
Another possible solution would be for the Government to take back into the Home Office any facilities that will not be required by the new profit-chasing FSS, in order to provide a "supplier of last resort" to the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales, so that scientific work can still be performed for those classes of case / crime / investigation that cannot return a profit.
Of course, a powerful argument against the Government's current stance is the fact that, whilst the provision of forensic science services to the Criminal Justice System has been opened up to outside competition in England and Wales, that in other countries (including Scotland) has not been opened to competition, which means that foreign and/or Scottish providers can compete for our work, but we cannot compete for theirs, which is bound to lead to disaster for providers in England & Wales, with consequent job losses. At the very least, we should be entitled to a level playing field.
Furthermore, if the Government proceeds to sell its shares in FSS, then there will be nothing to stop them being bought by a foreign organisation (e.g. German, or other EU), which may then proceed to move all operations to its own country. Of course, this would mean even more job losses in England & Wales, and an even more worring situation for the criminal justice system in England in Wales as our courts will have to rely on scientific evidence submitted entirely by foreign laboratories.
David Kerr, Solidarity Executive member, said:-
"There clearly needs to be a policy shift here. The Government needs to look at the arguments and think again."