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HOME DEPARTMENT

Forensic Science Service

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): During the debate on the Forensic Science Service Trading Fund (Revocation) Order 2005, which took place on Wednesday 14 December, I undertook to clarify the criteria we intend to apply when considering whether the Forensic Science Service (FSS) should continue as a 100 per cent. Government-owned company (GovCo), or whether there would be advantages in changing the status of the organisation to a Public-Private Partnership (PPP).

The context of this statement is the policy decision following the McFarland Review (2003) to promote greater competition in the forensic science market and to convert the FSS into a fully commercial business, allowing it to compete effectively in an increasingly dynamic forensic science market. The McFarland Review originally recommended that the FSS become a GovCo for an interim period (12–18 months) before a change of status to PPP. Whilst accepting that a move to a more commercial status was the right approach for FSS, I, and my predecessor in this post, my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), have been clear that there is no inevitability about a move to a PPP. It remains the Government's position that FSS Ltd
 
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must be allowed to establish its viability as a GovCo. We shall only agree to a further change of status to PPP if there are convincing reasons to do so.

The decision as to whether to change status is complicated by the fact that the Home Office is responsible for how forensics benefit the UK criminal justice system overall and is also owner of the leading provider of UK forensic science services. There are, thus, a wide range of sometimes conflicting criteria, which need to be considered and balanced. Moreover, not all criteria will be able to be judged clearly at any one time. Any decision, therefore, needs to be taken in the round. In general, there are four sets of criteria: the needs of the UK Criminal Justice System; the state of the UK forensic science services market; the needs of the FSS; and the requirements of Home Office as shareholder.

The needs of the UK Criminal Justice System

This is the most important set of criteria. Any proposed change in status for the FSS needs to demonstrate that it would deliver clear benefits to the UK Criminal Justice System. Whilst there are many factors which could be taken into account, the Home Office believes that (i) quality and reliability, (ii) service levels, (for example in satisfying customer turnaround time requirements) (iii) value-for-money and (iv) level of innovation, are the key criteria.

The Home Office will consult the principal UK Criminal Justice System forensic science service stakeholders (principally, the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service) to seek their views as to whether a change of status would be beneficial to the overall UK Criminal Justice System.

The state of the UK forensic science services marketplace

In keeping with the recommendations of McFarland, Home Office will need to be assured that a fully competitive marketplace is likely to develop, whatever the merits of GovCo and PPP status in other regards. This assessment will need to take account both of the demonstrated state of the marketplace at that time and the likely future development.

The key criteria to be assessed are: (i) evidence of real competitive behaviour in the UK forensic science services marketplace (e.g. price movements for forensic services; movement of market share on competitive tenders; new entrants to the marketplace; (ii) a level "playing field" for all forensic science service suppliers; (iii) development of appropriate procurement practices within the police authorities (e.g. contractualisation); and (iv) a regulatory framework which is clear and fit-for-purpose.

The needs of the Forensic Science Service

The FSS has many exciting plans for enhancing its services to its UK Criminal Justice System and other customers. These include continuing research to develop the next generation of forensic techniques, upgrading its accommodation to modern, state-of-the-art facilities, being more flexible in its delivery of services to customers, and broadening the base of its science-related businesses. Delivery of this vision will require substantial investment, both in physical and human capital, development of new and existing capabilities and exercising strong implementation skills.
 
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In coming to a decision on status change, the Home Office will consult the FSS Board as to the respective merits of GovCo and PPP status in implementing the company's strategy and agreed business plan. Key criteria in this regard are: (i) access to finance; (ii) access to capability; and (iii) freedoms required to implement the agreed Business Plan.

The needs of Home Office as Shareholder

As a Government-owned business, the FSS has to compete with other calls on public funds and consequently Home Office's investment in it needs to demonstrate an appropriate risk/return profile.

In coming to a decision on the relative merits of GovCo vs PPP, the Home Office will need to consider: (i) assessment of the financial value of the FSS; (ii) the financial risks to Home Office associated with ownership of the FSS; and (iii) Home Office's funding priorities.

Summary

As outlined above, no decision has been made as to whether FSS should remain a GovCo or change status to PPP. The Home Office's principal requirement in coming to a decision is whether a change of status represents the best long-term outcome for the UK Criminal Justice system forensic science marketplace and its stakeholders, bearing in mind the needs of the FSS and Home Office's requirements as a shareholder.

In the debate I set out my intention not to make a firm decision until summer 2007, with the proviso that, if the FSS Board, or Home Office exercising its shareholder responsibilities, outlined a pressing need for an earlier decision, I reserved the ability to consider this request and share it with Parliament.

INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Disaster Risk Reduction Policy

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The Department for International Development (DFID) will launch its disaster risk reduction policy on 30 March 2006. This policy provides a framework for DFID to integrate disaster risk reduction measures more effectively into its own work, as well as strengthening the international system's capacity to manage disaster risks, thus helping to reduce the threat that disasters pose to sustainable development and the millennium development goals (MDGs).

DFID made a public commitment to reducing disaster risk in its 1997 White Paper "Eliminating World Poverty: A Challenge for the 21st Century" and has a good track record of providing prompt and appropriate humanitarian assistance in developing countries. DFID has also supported a number of international organisations in tackling disaster risk reduction, including UN agencies and the International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent. However, in the wake of a series of large-scale disasters, including the 2004 Asian Tsunami, the 2005 Niger humanitarian crisis and the Pakistan earthquake, it is clear that both DFID and the international community must do more.

In my speech on humanitarian reform in December 2004, I committed DFID to giving a higher priority to disaster risk reduction. DFID's new disaster risk
 
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reduction policy sets out how this commitment will be put into practice. The goal of the policy is to contribute to sustainable development by reducing the burden of disasters on the poor and most vulnerable. This is in line with DFID's efforts to meet the millennium development goals, all of which are affected by the impact of disasters. The policy will also support the international commitments agreed at the 2005 World Conference on "Disaster Reduction in Kobe", as articulated in the Hyogo Framework for Action. DFID's policy has three objectives. First, it aims to promote the more effective integration of disaster risk reduction into development and humanitarian policy and planning. This includes working with the governments of developing countries and the World Bank to consider how disaster risk reduction can be incorporated more effectively into national-level planning, including through integrating disaster risk reduction into a country's nationally-owned Poverty Reduction Strategy. DFID will also ensure that disaster risk concerns are incorporated into our own planning in disaster-prone countries.

Secondly, DFID will aim to strengthen institutions, at both national and regional level, aimed at reducing risk in developing countries. DFID will work to ensure that governments have the right systems in place to manage disaster risk reduction. At the international level, DFID will work with other donors, the EU and UN to improve the international system and ensure that international commitments are put into action. DFID will work with the international financial institutions and other donors to increase the quantity of financing for disaster risk reduction and will increase our own funding, through the international system and bilaterally.

Thirdly, DFID will help to reduce the vulnerability of the poor by building their resilience to disaster risk. This will include support to the community-level disaster reduction work of civil society organisations, such as the International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent and non-governmental organisations, as well as supporting a better understanding of the private sector's role in risk reduction.


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