Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report

6 Research and Development

Home Office and police R&D


116. On 26 May 2004 the Home Office published the Police Science and Technology Strategy 2004-2009.[270] The Strategy "deals with the application of technology and the physical sciences to policing in England and Wales" and "includes, but is not limited to, ICT, forensic science and technical equipment".[271] The three core aims of the strategy are as follows:

  • To establish priorities for current and future science and technology applications and research;
  • To co-ordinate the development and implementation of technology between users and suppliers to ensure a coherent and effective process;
  • To implement processes for future scanning to ensure that the police service can exploit new technology at the earliest opportunity and is prepared for new technology-based threats.[272]

117. The Police Science and Technology Strategy Group, which plays a key role in drawing up and implementing the Strategy, includes representatives from the Home Office, ACPO, Association of Police Authorities, FSS, Police IT Organisation, Home Office Police Scientific Development Branch and staff associations. It also has independent input from the Office of Science and Technology and the Royal Academy of Engineering.[273]

Forensic Integration Strategy

The Forensic Integration Strategy 2004-08 is the successor to the DNA Expansion Programme, which ran from 2000-04. It is comprised of a number of workstreams, including R&D, DNA, forensic medicine and integrated intelligence, the aim being to develop a more co-ordinated approach to the various different elements and activities associated with forensic science in the police. The strategic vision of the Forensic Integration Strategy is: "the optimal use of forensic science and technology to reduce crime, bring more offenders to justice and increase public confidence".[274] The Forensic Integration Strategy is being developed by the Police Science and Technology Strategy Group.

Police Technology Database

118. The Police Science and Technology Strategy Group is also in the process of establishing a Police Technology Database. This will contain "information about the science and technology initiatives being conducted by the 43 forces in England and Wales as well as data on crime and policing projects being carried out by the Home Office".[275] The database will be hosted by the Criminal Justice Extranet and will provide a central information resource for forces, with the aim of giving the police an insight into developments taking place across the service and reducing duplication. The project is currently in the data collection phase.


119. We were interested to know what funding the Home Office was providing for forensic science R&D. Mr Wilson, Head of the Home Office Science Policy Unit, said: "We have very modest amounts of investment going into forensic sciences but we do invest directly and about £500,000 a year has regularly gone to the FSS to support their R&D work […] The Home Office more widely is engaged in a very broad range of scientific and technological research but clearly that is very much prioritised".[276] Police expenditure on R&D is also low. Only 0.01% of expenditure on science and technology by police forces is committed to R&D (compared with 57% on operational costs, 13% on deployment, and 30% on maintenance).[277] If total expenditure on police S&T, including funding from the Home Office, is taken into account, the percentage rises to 1.3% spending on R&D.[278] The Police Science and Technology Strategy 2004-2009 notes that "Although the figure of just over 1% spend on research and development appears to be rather low, it must be remembered that most police use of science and technology is of commercial 'off the shelf' equipment provided by industry".[279]

Other sources of funding

120. We heard from various sources that it was difficult to find funding for forensic science R&D. The Forensic Science Society, for instance, complained that: "Forensic science as an interdisciplinary activity is not well served by the normal funding processes via the UK research councils".[280] Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys also pointed out the difficulty of finding funding for research in forensic applications: "My own research is funded by the Medical Research Council and it was made very clear to me that now that it had gone forensic it was a job for the Home Office and the MRC at that stage were no longer terribly interested in supporting it. […] I think that is a culture that is somewhat alarming, that forensic science belongs to the Home Office and medical science belongs to the MRC".[281] We have drawn attention to the problems faced by researchers working in interdisciplinary subject areas and on applied research, as opposed to more blue skies research, in a number of recent Reports.[282]


121. One of the few sources of funding specifically targeted at research of relevance to the police and criminal justice system is the EPSRC "Think Crime" initiative.[283] This programme, which provides funds for research on crime prevention and detection technologies, was praised by researchers and the Home Office alike, although the funding available is limited. In addition, Professor Steve Haswell, a Professor in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Hull and chair of the next EPSRC Think Crime Programme, drew attention to the fact that applications from researchers in biology and chemistry were poorly represented: of the 29 projects that have been funded under the EPSRC Think Crime programme, only four or five were in biology or chemistry; most of them were in the area of digital processing data and manipulation.[284]

Exploitation of research

122. Professor Haswell interpreted the low numbers of applications in biology and chemistry as a reflection of the lack of awareness by researchers in these fields of the relevance of their research to forensic applications. He told us: "the academic community out there—which is a formidable resource in terms of the UK being equipped to pull on that resource—are not guided well and they are not informed well of what the needs are".[285] We put Professor Haswell's points to the Minister, who "noted the concern" and told us that communication between researchers and practitioners was "clearly fundamental to the future success of the FSS" and expressed her intention to tackle the issue when agreeing the capital structure for GovCo.[286]

123. Professor Haswell was also troubled by the UK's weakness in exploiting research of relevance to forensic science. He told us: "When I look around at what people do in their research profiles you can always see tremendous opportunities to develop forensic support and forensic technology. That is simply not being tapped into. I think it is a kind of management problem more than a science based problem. It is just not being managed properly and exploited properly".[287] These sentiments are reminiscent of a Nature article in 2003 in which Ken Pease, a visiting criminology fellow at University College London, said that so many opportunities for exploitation of science for crime prevention were being missed that he "could walk into any laboratory and generate a crime-prevention application from their last few papers".[288] QinetiQ additionally commented on the "highly fragmented" approach to public sector procurement in the field of law enforcement and the "reluctance of any one organisation to take the lead", which together generate a "strong disincentive to companies and organisations with ground-breaking technologies to develop them into product".[289] At this time of heightened security, it is unacceptable that so many opportunities to develop technologies that could assist in the battle against crime and terrorism are being squandered due to a lack of information for researchers and poor management of the research process. We recommend that the Home Office, Police Science and Technology Strategy Group and the Research Councils examine ways to resolve this.

124. The Police Science and Technology Strategy provides a framework identifying areas of priority for R&D for crime prevention and detection and was developed in consultation with bodies such as the Royal Academy of Engineering. However, the evidence we have received suggests that there are poor channels of communication between the Police Science and Technology Strategy Group and the researchers who will play a key role in making the aims of the Strategy a reality. We asked the Home Office in writing what action it was taking, apart from having developed the Police Science and Technology Strategy, to accelerate the development of key forensic technologies. The only action cited by the Home Office was the Forensic Integration Strategy, which is actually a workstream of the Police Science and Technology Strategy.[290] In oral evidence, the Home Office also pointed to its support for the EPSRC Think Crime initiative and said that the Science Policy Unit was beginning to have direct engagement with universities.[291] The Home Office has published a high level Police Science and Technology Strategy and developed complex vehicles for its delivery. Yet it has singularly failed to engage with the scientists and engineers working in academia whose research is so essential for meeting the objectives identified in the Strategy.

125. The police have expressed particular interest in "lab-on-a-chip" technology which could enable them to undertake DNA testing and other forensic analyses at the scene of the crime.[292] A recent policy seminar on Science and Crime heard that microfabrication combined with solid-state technology is enabling the miniaturisation of chemical analysis and researchers from the Open University have already produced a miniature automated analytical laboratory that was carried on board the Beagle 2 lander.[293] We asked Professor Haswell what progress was being made by the UK in creating lab-on-a-chip technologies that could be used by the police. Professor Haswell's response reflected his frustration: "It is painfully slow. We have taken quite an early lead in this I believe in this country and it has all slowed down, part of that is due to the very slow through-put through the research councils. It can take two years from an idea to funding, by the time you have gone through an outline and a full proposal. Fast-tracking has to be looked into; we need better focus; management has to be looked into".[294] It is disheartening for researchers who have helped to give the UK a competitive advantage in a particular technology to see their efforts going to waste due to bureaucracy and a lack of vision. Current police and Home Office expenditure on R&D is very limited. We recommend that the Home Office introduce fast-track grants for moving promising technologies from the proof-of-concept to the market-ready stage. In addition to funding, these grants should incorporate support to expedite the technology transfer process.

Implications of GovCo/PPP

126. The FSS told us in its written memorandum that, in 2003-04, it invested 12% of turnover (£18 million) on development and business processes.[295] However, the amount spent on scientific research was equivalent to only 2% of turnover (£2.6 million); the remaining 10% was spent on other product and service development activities, the DNA automation strategy and information services strategy development.[296] Forensic Alliance, by comparison, invests approximately 3% of revenue on self-funded R&D.[297] However, Prospect and PCS noted in their memorandum that whilst "FSS staff have authored or been co-authors of 84 scientific papers" between 2000 and 2004, which "have been cited a total of 300 times", Forensic Alliance has in the same period "published only 6 scientific papers, only one of which has been cited and then only once".[298]

127. There is no consensus on how PPP is likely to affect the amount or quality of R&D conducted by the FSS. Prospect and PCS trade unions told us: "As a trading fund the FSS has targets set with respect to investment in research and development […] As a private sector company the FSS will no longer need to comply with these targets".[299] The Royal Society of Edinburgh was also of the view that R&D would be likely to suffer if the FSS became a PPP: "Investment in R&D by the FSS is likely to fall if more emphasis is put on purely commercial issues, and R&D can be a significant drain on the resources of a commercial enterprise in the short term. Any fall in R&D investment could be detrimental, but this may only come to light in 5 years or more".[300] However, the Home Office asserted that, as a result of Trading Fund status, the FSS "risks being left behind in the introduction and deployment of new technology".[301] The Home Office also commented that "the nature of the procurement procedures which the FSS is obliged to follow" as a Trading Fund "not only cause delays in research projects but also expose in the process matters of a business confidential nature which the FSS would rather not disclose".[302] It is not possible to predict with any certainty the impact that development as GovCo and possibly as a PPP will have on the amount of R&D undertaken by the FSS. We are concerned that this impact could be negative. Should there be any significant fall in the percentage of R&D conducted by the FSS, the Government may need to introduce incentives to stimulate R&D in this sector.


128. ACPO suggested that "the police service has been slow to see the potential cost implications arising from the ownership of Intellectual Property Rights" and told us that there was "a strong argument for government to retain ownership of IPR currently owned, under government auspices, by the FSS, or at least make provision during the PPP process, for it to be freely available to Criminal Justice agencies", despite the effect that this could have on the sale value of the FSS.[303] When the majority of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency was developed as a PPP, subsequently known as QinetiQ, most of the IPR generated within those parts of the Agency that were transferred to QinetiQ became QinetiQ's property. However, the Ministry of Defence retains the right to use this IPR free of charge for defence purposes and a procedure was put in place that compels QinetiQ to seek clearance from the Ministry of Defence for any proposal that would entail exploitation of sensitive technology.[304]

129. The Home Office told us that at present IPR developed within the FSS is held by the Crown. In view of the decision to develop the FSS as a GovCo, the Home Office said that the FSS management, the police and police authorities would be consulted regarding the future IPR arrangements, the objective being "to ensure an appropriate balance between public policy objectives, VFM [value for money] for the Police and the successful development of GovCo".[305] The IPR that has been developed within the FSS must remain freely available to the police once the FSS becomes a GovCo and potentially a PPP.

270   Home Office, Police Science and Technology Strategy 2004-09, May 2004 Back

271   As above. Back

272   As above. Back

273   As above. Back

274   Ev 207 Back

275   Ev 204 Back

276   Q 602 Back

277   Home Office, Police Science and Technology Strategy 2004-09, May 2004 Back

278   As above. Back

279   As above. Back

280   Ev 157 Back

281   Q 382 Back

282   e.g. House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2003-04, Research Assessment Exercise: a re-assessment, HC 586 Back

283  Back

284   Q 368 Back

285   Q 368 Back

286   Ev 213 Back

287   Q 369 Back

288   Jim Giles, Crime prevention: The lab arm of the law, Nature 422: 13-14, 6 March 2003  Back

289   Ev 145 Back

290   Ev 202 Back

291   Q 603 Back

292   Ev 131 Back

293   Science & Crime, Report of a seminar organised jointly by the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Institute of Biology, 10 June 2004 Back

294   Q 423 Back

295   Ev 175 Back

296   Ev 175 Back

297   Ev 118 Back

298   Ev 123 Back

299   Ev 123 Back

300   Ev 136 Back

301   Ev 99 Back

302   Ev 101 Back

303   Ev 131 Back

304   HC Deb, 14 December 2004, col 1030W Back

305   Ev 158 Back

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