2 The forensics market |
Forensic science provision in
ENGLAND AND WALES
13. Forensic science provision in England and
Wales has evolved since the 1980s when one provider, the Forensic
Science Service (FSS) had a virtual monopoly, to the current situation
with several private forensic science providers (FSPs). The changes
were driven by the concept and emergence of a market in forensic
14. The FSS is a 100% Government-owned, contractor-operated
(GovCo or GoCo) organisation. It provides services to police forces
across England and Wales, together with other agencies such as
the Crown Prosecution Service, the Serious Organised Crime Agency
(SOCA), Ministry of Defence Police and Guarding Agency, British
Transport Police and HM Revenue & Customs.
The FSS works on more than 120,000 cases per year and employs
around 1300 scientists.
In addition, the FSS assists more than 60 countries worldwide
with services including consultancy, training services, systems
and databasing technology and casework. It helps overseas governments
to establish or enhance forensic resources, particularly in the
field of DNA technology,
a field in which the FSS was an international pioneer.
15. There are several private forensic science
providers (FSPs); the largest is LGC Forensics.
SCOTLAND AND NORTHERN IRELAND
16. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their
own publicly-funded FSPs: the Scottish Police Services Authority
(SPSA) Forensic Services and Forensic Science Northern Ireland
(FSNI). We have not examined forensic science provision in Scotland
and Northern Ireland as part of our inquiry.
Recent history of the FSS
17. The table below summarises the recent history
of the FSS.Table
1: Recent history of the Forensic Science Service
|1991||The Forensic Science Service (FSS) became an Executive Agency of the Home Office.
|1999||The FSS gained Trading Fund status.
|2002||FSS stopped being the "preferred supplier" of forensic services for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
|2003||The Home Office's Review of the FSS recommended the FSS become a Public-Private Partnership (PPP), via the Government-owned, contractor-operated (GovCo) model.
|2005 ||FSS changed from a Trading Fund to a GovCo company.
|2008 ||With a £50 million Government grant, the FSS launched a transformation programme to reduce costs, aimed to deliver by mid 2011. This included the closure of three FSS sites: Chepstow in December 2010, Chorley and Priory House by March 2011.
|2010||On 14 December, the Government announced closure of the FSS, stating "we have [...] decided to support the wind-down of FSS, transferring or selling off as much of its operations as possible. [...] our firm ambition is that there will be no continuing state interest in a forensics provider by March 2012."
18. A key factor in the story of the FSS is the
development of a market in forensic services. Prior to becoming
an Executive Agency in 1991, the FSS did not charge customers
for its services.
Executive agencies enable executive functions within government
to be carried out by a business unit focused on delivering specified
outputs, within a framework of accountability to Ministers.
The FSS gained Trading Fund status in 1999. As a trading fund,
the FSS was still part of government and was set specific financial
targets by HM Treasury. The change was intended to improve the
FSS's financial flexibility.
In 2002 the FSS stopped being the "preferred supplier"
of forensic services to police forces and multi-sourcing
of forensic services was adopted by the FSS's biggest customer,
the Metropolitan Police, in 2003.
These changes spurred the growth of private forensic science providers
and the FSS gradually began to lose market share.
19. Against the background of the developing
market in forensic science and the changing relationship between
the police and the FSS, a review of the FSS was announced in July
2002 by the then Home Office Minister of State for Policing, John
Denham MP. In 2003
the Home Office published the Review of the Forensic Science
Service, which had been led by Robert McFarland, a consultant.
The McFarland Review recommended that the FSS become a Public-Private
Partnership (PPP), via the Government-owned, contractor-operated
(GovCo) model. The Review considered that this would increase
the FSS's private sector flexibilities and relieve the Government
of responsibility while allowing it to partly realise its investment.
The GovCo phase was intended to enable a contract between the
FSS as an embryonic PPP and Government to ensure continuity of
services, quality, standards and prices, as well as identifying
an appropriate private partner.
20. Reactions to the suggested move to a PPP
model were mixed. In 2005 our predecessor Science and Technology
Committee published Forensic Science on Trial, reporting
on its inquiry into the McFarland Review's recommendations. The
Committee noted the "vehement opposition" from the trade
unions and FSS staff, contrasted with the view from Forensic Alliance
(now LGC Forensics) that the move to PPP was a "logical progression"
that, according to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO),
would enable the FSS to have "access to the same market freedoms
that other competitors enjoy".
The FSS itself welcomed the decision to move to PPP via a GovCo
company and stated that "more freedoms than Trading Fund
could offer were needed".
However, the Government appeared to send mixed messages on the
FSS's status change. Having announced its intention to develop
the FSS as a PPP in July 2003, the Government then stated, in
January 2005, that it would test the GovCo model in its own right,
a move that the Committee considered to be inconsistent with the
original acceptance of the McFarland Review in July 2003, which
invoked GovCo only as a precursor to PPP.
The Committee characterised the Government's presentation of the
decision as "misleading and confusing".
In fact our predecessor Committee was sceptical of the whole process
and warned that "the Government's poor track record at managing
PPP projects does not inspire confidence in its ability to make
a success of developing the FSS as a PPP".
Ultimately, however, the Committee concluded that "it should
not be assumed that a GovCo is merely a transition step leading
to a PPP and, if the FSS is successful as a GovCo, it should remain
as such". In
November 2005 the Committee held a follow-up evidence session
with Andy Burnham MP, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State,
Home Office, who stated:
no irrevocable decision has been taken with regard
to any further development following PPP. It is my intention,
and that of the Home Office, that the GovCo structure should be
given an opportunity to succeed in its own right.
21. The reasons for a lack of progress to PPP
are explored further in paragraph 235, where we consider alternatives
to the closure of the FSS. We assess, and express our criticisms
of, the historical handling of the FSS, which includes the move
to GovCo status, from paragraph 208.
22. The transition to PPP was never completed
and the FSS remains a GovCo organisation. Prospect, representing
around 1,000 FSS staff, referred to GovCo in its written submission
to this inquiry as a "failed experiment", and stated
that the FSS's poor financial position was "entirely a consequence
of previous decisions to contract out an essential public service".
FORENSIC SCIENCE FOR PROFIT?
23. The concerns of FSS staff over the move to
GovCo appeared to be based on an objection to the marketisation
of forensic science services, a view that still prevails. Prospect
stated that "it is simply not appropriate for the UK's forensic
science capability to be run on the basis of pure commercial disciplines".
Steve Thomas, Officer for the FSS, Prospect Union, stated that:
Prospect's view was that embarking on this course
was a dangerous one. In part [...] we were very concerned about
commoditising forensic science and looking to secure a profit
in a market that was not developed and in which there was only
one main customer. [...] We were concerned that it would lead
to our members working on profitable grounds, which would mean
that work that was unprofitable would be marginalised. We believe
that the concerns we expressed at the time have come to fruition,
24. In the written submissions we received from
FSS staff many considered that forensic science and the criminal
justice system were unsuited to a market approach. For example,
John Haley, FSS employee, considered that "there is no real
[forensics] market in the UK" as "you cannot put a value
on the criminal justice system". 
25. We also heard the opposite view from other
submissions. For example, Professor Jim Fraser, Director of the
Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Strathclyde,
noting the importance of effective regulation, stated that:
I do not believe that one can legitimately object
to privatisation in principle since private provision of services
exists in many other areas of society, including the criminal
justice system. Furthermore the main private forensic science
providers appear to have served the needs of the CJS to date.
There also appear to have been valuable benefits that have been
forthcoming in England and Wales, such as very fast turnaround
times for products and services. This contrasts with most public
sector laboratories around the world that have very large backlogs.
26. The Forensic Science Society feared that
closure of the FSS would mean that "the less profitable areas
of forensic science will be neglected"
and Shailes Jagatiya, scientific area manager, FSS, stated that:
In-order to undertake this volume of work, some of
which is not financially lucrative, it will almost certainly require
some level of investment on the part of another [forensic science
provider]. It is likely that a business case which delivers a
promise of a financial return would be readily approved, however
for other services where profits cannot be guaranteed it is unlikely
that the board of any commercial organisation would be committed
to investing. The commercial providers are not obliged to undertake
out all types of forensic analysis and many prefer to focus on
the high value services.
27. Andrea Grout, forensic scientist at the FSS,
The FSS has always proudly provided all types of
forensic discipline, in order to best serve the CJS, whether profitable
or not. Private sector providers have however carefully selected
only profitable areas of forensic science, and left specialist,
costly disciplines to the trusty supplier of last resort, the
FSS. Inevitably, the FSS has therefore suffered financially where
other private companies may seem to have succeeded. Clearly, overall
forensic science is not a profitable or sustainable business arena.
It is an essential service, requiring government support, in order
to serve its sole function: to contribute toward a successful
criminal justice system.
28. The commoditisation of forensic science through
the current procurement framework is explored further in paragraph
29. At the time its closure was announced, the
FSS held around 60% of market share in forensic science provision
although its share of the market had been declining over many
years. FSS market share varied across the country (for example
in Wetherby, where the FSS worked with police forces primarily
in the North-East, it was 90%)
and by scientific discipline (for example it had 75% of the forensic
The next largest forensic provider was LGC Forensics, a private
company with around 20% of the market.
30. As well as providing services to police forces
across England and Wales, the FSS provides services to other national
law enforcement agencies too. However the police forces comprise
the majority of the customer base for forensic science services
and therefore the market for forensic testing is largely driven
by police expenditure.
31. In September 2010 the report Analysis
of the Forensic Marketplace, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers
(PwC) for the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), was
produced. The report gave an indication of the current and future
stability of the market,
and subsequently the Government stated that a decline in the market
from £170 million in 2009 to £110 million in 2015 was
projected. The report
has not been published to date, although the NPIA provided copies
to us. It was clear from the announcement made on 14 December
2010 that the Home Office had sought information on the market
from the police and PwC, as it had stated:
The police have advised us that their spend on external
forensic suppliers will continue to fall over the next few years,
as forces seek to maximise efficiencies in this area. HMIC [Her
Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary] concur with this assessment.
Chief Constable Chris Sims, Association of Chief
Police Officers (ACPO), clarified that:
The discussion with ACPO was to get a view of the
degree to which we thought the position was manageable should
the FSS be brought to a conclusion.
We provided a report through PwC about the stability
of the market. It was the Home Office then, quite rightly, that
made the decision. We were asked about how we would manage the
32. Given the importance that was attached to
the future of the forensics market, we explored the issue further.
A SHRINKING MARKET
33. Police expenditure on forensic science falls,
broadly, into two categories: external and internal. The external
expenditure is spent on procuring forensic services from external
providers such as the FSS and private companies, and drives the
external forensics market. Internal expenditure refers to spend
on forensic science carried out in-house, that is, by the police
themselves. Analyses of finger marks (fingerprinting), for example,
have long been carried out in-house.
34. The NPIA, a non-departmental public body
that supports policing, provided us with figures for police expenditure
on forensics in England and Wales between 2005-06 and 2009-10,
showing that while spend on in-house forensics had been increasing
up to 2008-09, external spend decreased; a decrease in both had
occurred in 2009-10.
35. James Brokenshire MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary
of State for Crime Prevention, estimated that external spend was
£138 million in 2010-11.Table
2: Police forensic expenditure in England and Wales
Figure 1: Police forensic expenditure in England and Wales
|Internal forensic spend
£ Million (%)
|External forensic spend
£ Million (%)
36. The NPIA stated that "the reduction
in the internal forensic spend will accelerate in 2010-11 and
The internal expenditure is primarily on pay for
crime scene and fingerprint analysis (work not carried out in
the private sector). The external expenditure is split between
commodity testing (DNA, Drugs and Toxicology) and casework [...]
the casework is likely to include some DNA analysis depending
on the type of case to be examined.
37. The state of the external forensics market
has a strong influence on the willingness and potential for private
FSPs to fill the gap left by the planned withdrawal of the FSS
from the market. David Richardson, LGC Forensics, stated that:
It is important that [the] market has stability for
the future if the private sector provision is going to continue
to invest at the levels it is doing at the moment. [Police in
sourcing of forensics work] is an important factor in the sustainability
of that market.
38. The Minister's view was that "when the
commercial market is allowed to flourish properly and effectively,
as we intend with the wind-down of the FSS, it will drive further
efficiencies and underline the quality and assurance which can
be obtained through the private market".
However, witnesses from FSS, LGC Forensics and Cellmark were not
even confident about the current size of the market, with Bill
Griffiths, Chairman of the FSS, estimating it at around £110
million. David Hartshorne,
Cellmark, stated that:
We have seen a decline in the market. As we see it
at the moment, the most important thing is having some level of
certainty as to what the market size is likely to be. Clearly,
there is an issue at the moment about the capacity that the FSS
currently has and how that is going to be accommodated. We, and,
I am sure, other private service providers, are poised in a position
to be able to make investment, to be able to provide the sorts
of additional capacity that is required. To make those investment
decisions, we really need to have some understanding of where
the market is likely to end up.
39. LGC Forensics and Cellmark were unaware of
the figures we had received from the NPIA on police internal and
external forensic expenditure, summarised in Table 2.
40. LGC Forensics stated in its written submission
that it would be difficult "to attract further private sector
investment in the market while there remains a perceived risk
that one state subsidised market participant (the FSS) is being
replaced by another (in the shape of in-sourced provision from
Despite the concerns we heard from private companies, when we
asked the Minister whether he had heard concerns from the private
sector about the police's internal forensic expenditure, he responded
"not as far as I am aware".
Witnesses from LGC Forensics and Cellmark confirmed, while giving
oral evidence on 30 March, that they had not been consulted prior
to the closure decision.
41. There was a widespread view that the forensics
market was fragile
and Mike Silverman, Reporting Officer, Metropolitan Police Forensic
Science Laboratory, stated that:
This is only partly as a result of the FSS wind-down.
Of more impact are the shrinking market, financial constraints
on the only realistic customer for forensic science (the Police
services) and the pressures to find cuts in forensic science police
budgets (perhaps through in sourcing or unwarranted reduction
in submissions to the laboratory). [...]
Although I am sure that any competent forensic service
provider would be able to complete process upscaling in time to
manage the volume of work currently being carried out by the FSS,
I am at a loss as to why they would want to take such a risk.
What is the commercial sense in the risk of an investment in additional
staff and equipment and accommodation without any assurances from
the Police customer that there will be a continued demand for
42. Given that the Government
expected private forensic science providers (FSPs) to pick up
the FSS's 60% share of the external forensics market, it is disappointing
that the Government does not appear to have gathered any market
intelligence on the capacity and commercial willingness of private
forensic science providers to take on the FSS's work.
43. The apparent lack of transparency
over the size of the forensics market is unacceptable and we see
no reason why the FSS and other forensic science providers should
have been unaware of police forensic expenditure figures. The
levels of police expenditure on internal and external forensics
should have been published, and we recommend that they are published
in detail in future. If the Government expects the private sector
to pick up the FSS's market share, it must be clear with private
forensic science providers about the size of the market and anticipated
44. The Minister's lack of awareness
that private FSPs have concerns about police expenditure on forensic
science is worrying. The Government must now ensure that the views
of private FSPs are sufficiently taken into account during the
transition period; it runs the risk otherwise of having unrealistic
expectations about what private FSPs can deliver in a shrinking
FULL COSTS OF POLICE INTERNAL FORENSICS
45. We have made clear our views on transparency
of police expenditure. Therefore we were concerned when the hidden
costs of police labs were questioned, for example by David Sawney,
Principal Scientist, FSS, who stated in his written submission
that "the bill for work done by external [providers] may
well be reduced, but the cost of the inhouse work [the police]
do is often hidden".
We took this issue up with Chief Constable Chris Sims, ACPO, and
Dr Simon Bramble, Head of Police Science and Forensics, NPIA,
but were unable to get to the bottom of the matter. It was eventually
acknowledged that the figures provided to us by the NPIA (see
Table 2) included training but did not include capital expenditure.
Chief Constable Sims stated that capital spend would be "tiny",
although he could not give us any figures. We requested the information
in writing and were told that:
Unfortunately it has not been possible to obtain
capital expenditure specifically for forensics for the period
requested [2005-2011] but we have been able to review such expenditure
in West Midlands Police as a case example. Over the last three
years there has been no capital expenditure in that force in the
area of forensic science, following an earlier re-fit of the facility.
Chief Constable Sims explained that "under government
policy to reduce central demands for data on forces, we are constrained
to use existing data sources rather than carry out new data gathering
46. When the issue was raised again on 17 May
2011 during a debate, Rt Hon Damian Green MP, Minister of State
for Immigration, stated that:
The operational expenditure of individual police
forces is a matter for chief constables. [...] it would be
wrong for Home Office Ministers to try to detail every piece of
expenditure by every police force in the country. By going down
that route, we have over-managed police forces and other public
services, to their detriment. [...] the police operational independence
is an important way to improve the service.
47. The Home Office sent us an additional written
submission on 17 May, stating that:
The Home Office does not compile details of police
expenditure as it is up to individual Police Authorities and Chief
Constables to decide how best to spend their money.
For expenditure information we rely on CIPFA (the
Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) which compiles
expenditure figures in its annual 'Police Statistics' publication.
Although the 'Police Statistics' publication is quite detailed,
it does not go down to the level of detail the Committee were
looking for on police capital expenditure on forensics laboratories.
We have asked CIPFA why this is not included in their data. They
explained that spending on forensics laboratories was a very niche
area which meant there was little or no demand for the information
to be collected. However, CIPFA did say that if the Committee
did want the information to be collected in future, a request
could be submitted to the CIPFA-led Working Group that agrees
the data-collection questionnaire that goes out to forces.
48. Given our desire to report on this inquiry
as soon as possible, we did not have time to approach the CIPFA
for the figures.
49. In our view, collecting
data on police expenditure is not at odds with enabling the police
to have operational independence. We are concerned that neither
ACPO nor the Home Office could provide us with the full cost of
internal forensic science activities. We recommend that ACPO and
the Home Office gather and publish data on the full police expenditure
on internal forensic activities, including capital, training and
skills, forensic testing and administration over the last five
years, and continue to publish this information in future. If
the Government's policy of a market in forensic science services
is to operate effectively, it is important that the full costs
of internal forensic expenditure are fully and accurately reported.
In addition, we consider that the statement given to Parliament
on 14 December 2010 was inadequate as the information on police
expenditure, on which it was based, was incomplete.
Spending review 2010
50. The precise impacts on police forensic expenditure
following the Spending Review 2010 are yet to be seen. The 2010
Spending Review, published on 20 October, announced a reduction
in Home Office spending by 23 per cent in real terms by 2014/15
and a 20 per cent real terms cut to core police funding over
the next four financial years.
David Sawney, Principal Scientist, FSS, considered that "in
the current economic climate where police budgets are being dramatically
cut, the police as primary customer are seeking to reduce their
spending on forensic science as much as possible".
51. When we asked the Minister whether, given
the decrease in the external market of £27 million between
2009-10 and 2010-11 and reductions in police budgets, the market
may reduce to £110 million significantly sooner than the
projected date of 2015,
he responded that:
It would be wrong to speculate around that. We can
only work to the information that we have received from PwC and
HMIC who looked at this at that point in time. Clearly, efficiency
savings have been made by the police. The way in which they are
procuring services is quite clear. I don't necessarily see it
in the way that you have characterised it.
52. The figures provided in the PwC report, Analysis
of the Forensic Marketplace, were produced in September 2010,
before the 2010 Spending Review and the announcement of the decision
to close the FSS. Given
the marked decrease in the external forensics market in 2010-11,
it is reasonable to expect that the market may shrink to £110
million or less before 2015, particularly given that spending
cuts have yet to bite on police budgets. While we agree with the
Minister that it would be wrong to speculate, we recommend that
the Government re-evaluates the future of the forensics market
in light of the cuts to police budgets and planned withdrawal
of the FSS from the market.
National Forensic Framework Agreement
53. The means by which the police procure forensic
science services also affect the forensics market. The National
Forensic Procurement Project was established in 2007 to formulate
a strategy for procurement of forensic analysis, leading to the
development of the National Forensic Framework Agreement (NFFA).
The NFFA is managed and supported by the NPIA. The NFFA is used
by most of the police forces in England, although other qualifying
agencies can use it too.
Procurement under the NFFA is not compulsory, for example the
North West and South West regions are not currently covered by
the NFFA: they purchase forensic services collaboratively under
the "North West South West consortium".
54. Under the NFFA, 14 categories of "product"
are identified and suitable forensic providers are identified
for each product.
Table 3: NFFA
products and providers
||Forensic Service Provider
|1. DNA PACE||Eurofins Genetic Services Ltd, Forensic Science Service Ltd, LGC Forensics Ltd, Orchid Cellmark Ltd
|2. DNA Crime Scene Stains
||Eurofins Forensic Services, Forensic Science Service Ltd, Key Forensic Services Ltd, LGC Forensics Ltd, Orchid Cellmark Ltd
|3. Drugs||Forensic Science Service Ltd, Key Forensic Services Ltd, LGC Forensics Ltd, Mass Spec Analytical Ltd, Scientifics Ltd
|4. Fire Investigation
||First Forensic Ltd, Forensic Science Service Ltd, Key Forensic Services Ltd, LGC Forensics Ltd, Orchid Cellmark Ltd
|5. Footwear Marks||First Forensic Ltd, Forensic Science Service Ltd, Key Forensic Services Ltd, LGC Forensics Ltd, Napier Associates, Orchid Cellmark Ltd, Manlove Forensics Ltd
|6. Casework - Gun Crime A
||Forensic Science Service Ltd, Key Forensic Services Ltd, LGC Forensics Ltd, Orchid Cellmark Ltd, Manlove Forensics Ltd
|7. Casework - Homicide & Violent Crime A
||Forensic Science Service Ltd, Key Forensic Services Ltd, LGC Forensics Ltd, Orchid Cellmark Ltd, Manlove Forensics Ltd, Forensic Access Ltd
|8. Casework - Sexual Offences
||Forensic Science Service Ltd, Key Forensic Services Ltd, LGC Forensics Ltd, Orchid Cellmark Ltd, Forensic Access Ltd
|9. Casework - Volume Crime
||Forensic Science Service Ltd, Key Forensic Services Ltd, LGC Forensics Ltd, Orchid Cellmark Ltd, Forensic Access Ltd
|10. Questioned Documents
||Forensic Science Service Ltd, Key Forensic Services Ltd, LGC Forensics Ltd
|11. Road Traffic Incident/ Collision Investigation
||Forensic Science Service Ltd, LGC Forensics Ltd
|12. Toxicology||Eurofins Genetic Services Ltd, Forensic Science Service Ltd, Key Forensic Services Ltd, LGC Forensics Ltd, Mass Spec Analytical Ltd, Randox Laboratories Ltd, (ROAR) Forensics Ltd
|13. Casework - Gun Crime B
||Forensic Science Service Ltd, Key Forensic Services Ltd, LGC Forensics Ltd, Orchid Cellmark Ltd
|14. Casework - Homicide & Violent Crime B
||Forensic Science Service Ltd, Key Forensic Services Ltd, LGC Forensics Ltd, Orchid Cellmark Ltd, Forensic Access Ltd
55. Axiom International Limited, a company that assists overseas
governments by providing forensic science and police training,
explained the history of the current procurement strategy and
its subsequent effect on the FSS:
[The growth of] police forensic budgets [...] prompted greater
focus on value for money. This highlighted the difficulty of comparing
one forensic supplier with another because they all described
their services and calculated prices in different ways.
To overcome this and provide a greater degree of
control, the police introduced a new procurement system for forensic
science. This specified, through a series of 'products', the precise
nature and level of service required, timescales for delivery,
and quality and reporting standards to be met, with price the
only real differentiator. Prices fell substantially which suited
the police. But scientists were dismayed because they were left
with little or no opportunity to use their skill and ingenuity
to develop more effective investigative strategies than allowed
by simple lists of 'products' chosen by their customers. There
was also less money to be channelled into research and developmentthe
life blood of any scientific enterprise.
Compounding the difficulties was an all or nothing
approach to contracts, resulting in huge swings of work between
unsuccessful and successful providers which started to have a
seriously destabilising effect on the market. The first to bear
the brunt of these swings was the FSS because they had the largest
share of the market, reflecting their historic monopoly.
56. The NFFA's drive towards commoditisation
of forensic services into priced products was widely criticised
by forensic scientists from the FSS, private companies and academics.
The Northumbria University Centre for Forensic Science considered
that the NFFA:
appears to have maximised commodification and disaggregation
of supply (i.e. a number of different providers might handle different
tests in a single investigation). Thus the lowest possible prices
might be obtained at the expense of optimising value through the
effective use of scientific expertise.
57. Dr S P Day, FSS employee, considered the
NFFA to be incompatible with the complexities of forensic interpretation:
Forensic Interpretation products are characterised
by their reliance on expertise (not process), by their unpredictability,
and their focus on solving a problem. Like CSI on television,
every case is different. They are expensive because they require
investment in an individual's knowledge, scientific research,
and innovation. [...]
In the submissions where investigative skills are
required the [NFFA] drives the wrong behaviour in [police] Scientific
Support units. Cases where inadequate or insufficient samples
have been submitted or where the strategy for the forensic investigation
has been set based on cost or policy rather than effectiveness
Because of the way the [NFFA] is constructed the
forensic interpretation products often find themselves competing
against forensic testing products. Getting a DNA profile does
not necessarily solve a crime but is a lot cheaper than interpretation
of how the DNA got there, which is the more important aspect of
successfully solving a crime.
Dr Day concluded that "forensic interpretation
is a holistic service not a series of discrete products and the
market should be re-constructed to trade services, not products"
and that "there is a risk that some Forensic Interpretation
disciplines will not be available to solve major crime in the
58. Axiom International too considered that the
procurement system needed adjustment to reflect the complexities
of forensic activities.
Forensic Science Northern Ireland (FSNI) stated that "the
ACPO-led procurement approach to date has been poorly conceived
and is driving commoditisation and price reduction and reducing
the value added services, thus suppressing providers' profit margins".
59. Others took a positive view of the procurement
strategy. For example, David Hartshorne, Commercial Director,
Cellmark, considered that:
The procurement exercise dictates some very good
quality standards by which police forces and we need to be able
to work. In that regard, you might argue that the procurement
exercise is raising some of the quality standards in forensic
Mr Coe-Salazar, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS),
considered that standardisation had improved quality and efficiency,
and that "operationally from a prosecutor's perspective,
we have not noticed a difference in the sense of cases being taken
to court and so forth".
Dr Bramble, NPIA, stated that:
One of the other objectives with the framework was
to spread the work across a number of private sector suppliers.
We now have four organisations that are able to offer the majority
of what the Police Service wants to procure, which adds additional
competition. That is not to say that we are not continually looking
for improvement. We recognise there are some frustrations [...]
We are feeding those lessons in.
60. The NPIA emphasised that the NFFA, rather
than police in-sourcing, was a more significant reason for the
decline in external police spend on forensic science:
Although increased in-sourcing of forensic services
is offered as a reason for the drop in external forensic spend,
it is important to note the significance of the application of
commercial tendering arrangements to forensic services making
the service more effective [to] buyers.
The NPIA has developed a National Forensic Framework
Agreement which allows forces to tender their forensic services
in a relatively simple way [...] This is being adopted nationally.
The East Midlands region were the latest region to
put their entire forensic services out to tender under the NFFA
agreement. This has resulted in an 18% reduction in their total
cost of external forensics and the cost of drug analysis dropped
When savings of this magnitude are compared to the
fall in the value of the forensic marketplace, it can be seen
that the introduction of competition into the forensic process
is the single biggest factor in the reduction in forces external
61. David Hartshorne, Commercial Director, Cellmark,
considered that both the procurement strategy and police in-sourcing
had influenced the market. He stated that:
[The market] has been influenced by a number of factors.
One is that the procurement exercise that has been ongoing for
a number of years has been driving down prices. So the amount
of expenditure is affected as a result of that. We also see that
there is a restriction on expenditure as a result of public procurement
and public expenditure restrictions at the moment. Overall, there
has been a reduction. We are also seeing some in-house work provided
by police forces, which, again, is restricting the amount of external
62. It is our understanding
that some areas of forensic science provision, particularly complex,
interpretive analyses, are not profitable under the current procurement
strategy, although this does not make them less important to criminal
justice. In considering the proposed closure of the FSS and development
of a future procurement strategy, the Government must recognise
and address this issue.
63. Another criticism of the NFFA was that it
encouraged fragmentation of forensic science provision, whereby
exhibits from the same crime scene might be sent to different
FSPs. Dr Gill Tully, Research and Development Manager, FSS, stated:
We have seen in recent years that the forensic procurement
approach has been towards driving the work down to commodities
and simple analytical tests, and potentially losing the wider,
interpretive value. [...] forensic science is a puzzle and if
you split up this process then you won't see the whole picture.
It is very much an issue of concern to all our caseworking scientists
that, more and more, they are being directed very clearly just
to examine small fragments of evidence in a case in an analytical
way and they are not able to see the whole picture and put that
together. We have already seen instances where that has led to
problems with quality and problems in court.
64. Forensic Service Northern Ireland (FSNI)
A [...] negative effect of commoditisation has been
the "fragmentation" of casework as different exhibits
from the same crime are dispersed to multiple providers based
on the apparent cost of a particular piece of work or product.
This greatly impedes the overall forensic interpretation and planning,
introduces additional points of failure in continuity and contamination
control and compromises the ability to optimise the recovery of
multiple evidence types from the same exhibit (known as forensic
integration). An example of this is a mobile phone first sent
to a small provider whose expertise is in data recovery from the
phone memory will have any potential for DNA, fingerprint and
fibre evidence destroyed because the phone specialist provider
does not have the facilities or expertise to examine and recover
multiple evidence types in a contamination controlled environment.
Only a few forensic providers (FSS and FSNI amongst
them) have the ability to integrate forensic examinations across
a wide range of specialisms. Breaking up FSS will likely damage
or destroy this rare capability.
65. We put FSNI's views to Dr Gary Pugh, Metropolitan
Police Service, who responded that:
I have no experience of the fragmentation to which
I think that refers in which individual cases are being fragmented
so that different materials are sent to different providers. That
is certainly not the case in the Metropolitan Police and I don't
know of any other force that operates forensic science in that
66. When we put FSNI's statement to Chief Constable
Sims, he responded that "I disagree with virtually everything
in that statement", yet he also stated that "you could
always have a highly specialised piece in a case that required
it to go to a niche provider who was, in effect, the only provider.
That has always been the case".
67. Continuity, also referred to as the chain
of custody, refers to the movement and treatment of physical evidence
from the crime scene, including removal, storage and processing.
Fragmentation poses risks to continuity, which is vital to the
acceptance of evidence in court. Roger Coe Salazar, CPS, highlighted
the importance of continuity in criminal cases:
One of the very first questions that comes up in
a criminal case around any form of exhibit is continuity. Has
continuity been established? Can it be maintained? Is there integrity?
It is called the golden threadan umbilical cord that is
running through the case.
On the issue of fragmentation, he stated:
Does it naturally follow that fragmentation is a
bad thing? It is how it is managed. The proof is in the pudding
here. We prosecute over 1 million cases a year. There is a distinction
[...] between specialisms as opposed to moving one particular
article from one place to another, to another and to another.
If, indeed, fragmentation is taking place, a risk is inherent
in that and the risk is to do with continuity. But, if it is managed
properly, then it is not a problem. It is like most things. On
the face of it, operationally, from our perspective, if it is
taking place, it is not creating an operational delivery problem.
68. We consider that fragmentation, whether caused
by exhibits from the same crime being sent to different FSPs or
the transfer of articles from one to another, poses risks to continuity.
While the CPS considered that such risks could be managed, there
were mixed views on whether fragmentation actually occurs. The
risks of fragmentation cannot be managed if the extent of fragmentation
and the reasons for it are unknown. It is the responsibility of
the police to monitor whether fragmentation, whereby crime exhibits
from the same crime are sent to different FSPs, has been occurring.
ACPO and the NPIA (or its successor) should conduct a survey of
police forces to determine the extent to which fragmentation has
occurred under the National Forensic Framework Agreement, and
reasons for any fragmentation. This should be fed into future
forensic procurement frameworks and continually monitored.
THE NEXT PROCUREMENT FRAMEWORK
69. The NPIA will close by March 2012 and the
NPIA is working with Home Office and ACPO to identify which services
should be discontinued, and which services should transfer to
successor agencies after 2012.
When asked what would happen to the NPIA's functions, Dr Bramble
told us that:
It is my understanding that the Home Office has requested
that non-IT procurement returns to the Home Office as soon as
is feasible. I believe that work is under way. That would suggest
that the procurement element of the national framework, in terms
of the skills and capabilities, will sit in the Home Office.
[...] at the moment my understanding is that the
NPIA will be phased out. At the general level, there are a number
of reviews that we are waiting upon [...] These will help decision-making
processes, which ultimately will decide where the functions that
remain in the NPIA may end up. That is a process, according to
my understanding, that is going to take most of this financial
year, I suggest.
Chief Constable Sims added that:
It is still very much up for discussion. Our understanding
from ACPO's point of view is that different parts of the NPIA
will migrate to different homes. Some of it will, perhaps, go
back to the Home Office, some of it, potentially, will be within
the National Crime Agency that is being established, and some,
potentially, within lead force arrangements within policing. As
yet, the route map is not clear.
70. Dr Bramble stated that:
part of the PWC report was to help us work out the
next framework, because this framework comes to an end in 2012.
We need to replace it. We want to take those lessons on board
and try and find even better ways of procuring for both sides.
71. Chief Constable Sims told us that the procurement
strategy had "driven down costs" and that "it has
hugely and massively driven up quality, in terms of timeliness,
standards and so on".
However he acknowledged that it had "probably" contributed
to market instability.
72. The expiration of the current
procurement strategy provides an ideal opportunity for the NPIA,
ACPO and the Home Office to review the successes and failures
of the National Forensic Framework Agreement. We recommend that
the following questions are answered and resolved: (i) whether
all forensic services, particularly complex interpretations, are
adequately valued; and (ii) whether the procurement strategy has
encouraged fragmentation of casework.
Financial position of the FSS
73. Although the reasons put to us varied, there
was no dispute over the fact that the FSS had been in a poor financial
position. The FSS had been subject to Government-led interventions
designed to improve its operation within the market, most recently
a transformation/restructuring programme funded by a £50
million Government grant.
THE TRANSFORMATION PROGRAMME
74. The objectives of the FSS's transformation
programme were to:
- Align core operational business
to the future customer requirement;
- Make the FSS a profitable and sustainable business
within a "right sized operating platform";
- Develop the FSS position as employer of choice;
- Provide the best positioning and value for the
shareholder and the UK criminal justice system within the marketplace.
By December 2010, three FSS sites were planned for
closure and the FSS was "on course to have reduced its headcount
by 608 from 1874 to 1266 by the end of the 10/11 financial year".
75. Despite the £50 million grant for restructuring,
of which £37.9 million was spent in 2009-10, the FSS's sales
revenue continued to decrease while losses increased. Table
4: Summary of FSS's accounts for 2008-09 and 2009-10
||Exceptional costs: restructuring (excluded from operating costs)
||Profit/(loss) on ordinary activities
76. Bill Griffiths, FSS Chairman, explained that
"the exceptional costs were the costs that were funding the
reduction in staff and the efficiencies", which "was
not just headcount reduction [...] the purpose was to leave a
business that was smaller and could still operate across the whole
range of services that we had to provide".
Mr Griffiths stated that:
the benefit of [the restructuring] funds comes through
later because the transformation is done, the cost base falls
and the number of people falls. The idea was to bring the business
back to a stable and more profitable basis. We should say that
there was a headcount and a level of costs. We had to resize the
business. We could not do it in a rash way. We did it carefully,
and the transformation, which was necessaryI would, again,
pay tribute to all involved, including the trade unions and the
employeeswas praised as being a success because it did
get the business to a new basis.
77. In their written submission, the FSS explained
that the transformation programme, funded with a £50m government
grant, "was on track to deliver the anticipated benefits
by mid 2011" and that:
The losses of £2m per month quoted in the December
14th announcement do
not reflect the prospective savings from the transformation programme.
The first FSS site closed at the end of December 2010, as planned,
with two further sites on track for closure in March 2011 in anticipation
that FSS would lose market share as the commercial market developed.
78. Mr Griffiths, FSS Chairman, told us that
the loss for 2010-11 was expected to be £19 million. When
asked whether this figure was the source for the Government's
quoted £2 million monthly losses, he replied:
I am prepared to agree that that is where they got
it from, yes. There were months where we lost £2 million,
literally. We think it is £19 million but that is not counting
the benefits of transformation because we have only just closed
some of the laboratoriesin December and Marchand
so we are looking forward.
79. The Government confirmed in a written answer
on 31 January that:
The Forensic Science Service (FSS) operating losses
of £2 million a month, which we referred to in our announcement
on 14 December 2010, are current losses and therefore do not take
into account any savings delivered through planned FSS site closures,
nor do they take into account further likely declines in FSS'
80. The Government announcement
that the FSS was losing £2 million a month was not the full
story. It should have been made clear that (i) the figure did
not take into account the savings expected to be delivered by
the transformation programme; (ii) it did not account for potential
further declines in business; and (iii) while some monthly losses
may have been £2 million, the average monthly loss over the
past year was lower. As a result, evaluation of the proposal to
close the FSS from the taxpayer's perspective was difficult.
81. A significant number of FSS employees who
wrote to us expressed surprise that the transformation programme
had not been allowed to finish before the Government took a decision
on the FSS's future. Dr Fiona Perry, Forensic Toxicologist, FSS,
pointed out that "the amount of money required [to support
the FSS until the end of the transformation programme] is tiny
compared to the billions used to bail out the banks and subsidise
Amanda Meaby, Forensic Biologist, FSS, stated:
The FSS was given the opportunity to re-shape in
order to meet the increasing demands of the police customer yet
maintain its high standards and this transformation programme
had gone exceptionally well. Unfortunately, the Home Office announcement
on 14th December halted the transformation programme and now we
will never know the true benefits of this investment in staff
and intelligent property.
82. A minority of FSS staff appeared to have
less faith in the transformation programme, stating, for example,
that "the transformation process which the FSS has been undergoing
for the past two years [...] has not and will not result in a
cost effective service".
83. Ultimately, however, we heard that the transformation
could not have been successful because of the shrinking forensics
market. Mr Griffiths explained that since the change to GovCo
in 2005, the market had not reformed as expected and that the
raised these concerns and asked for a formal market
review to be undertaken. We asked for that a number of times.
We wanted to know what kind of a market it was and how big it
was so that our plans could be formulated to address that. [...]
the plan could only be as good as the assumptions we had made
and we said that we would like those assumptions to be validated.
We did not get any formal validation for the market. We wanted
an external, broad, independent review. [...] We were unsighted,
other than the trend of submissions that we got into the business.
Mr Griffiths explained that better information on
the state of the market:
would have shown following the transformation of
our business [...] whether that would have been a stable platform
to deal with the market changes or whether we would have to do
other things, be it further restructuring or whatever. [...] the
level of decline in this current year, from about the time we
submitted the plan in April, has been very severe. It is of the
order of 20% plus, and it was more severe in the second six months
than the first six months. We had a very unstable situation throughout
the period up to the decision.
I don't know what detailed information was available
to the officials when they were preparing the case for the eventual
announcement. We know some work was done by Pricewaterhouse. We
did not see that until February, but, in itself, it may not have
been the only piece of information that was available. I am not
sighted on the whole lot.
84. Mr Griffiths stated that the transformation
programme would "absolutely" have delivered the FSS
back into the black had it not been for the market situation.
He considered that the Government may not have been fully convinced
If you take the full evidence that they would have
had at their disposal, and some of it is alluded to in their announcement,
there is a worry about the size and the contraction of the market.
That overwhelms, potentially, the benefits. We were trying to
get a business that was smaller, stable and still able to operate
across the full range of services, preserving all the skills and
all the integrity. If the marketplace, the environment and, indeed,
the appetite for police forces to in-source were going to carry
on at a pace, then I can imagine that that would overwhelm even
the success of transformation.
[...] If the appetite for in-sourcing is fulfilledprobably,
more than half the police forces have some appetite for itthen
you could imagine a market very much smaller than now. The transformation
was not intended to resize the business for a very small market
of £50 million, £60 million or £70 million.
85. The Minister explained why restructuring
was ruled out as an option for resolving the FSS's financial situation:
It is worth talking about some of the evidence and
issues that we looked at in the context of forming our decision.
One important part of that was an assessment of the size of the
market and what was expected to happen in the future. The estimate
that we received, in terms of the size of the existing external
forensic market, was around the £170 million to £160
million range and that was projected to reduce to around £110
million by the end of 2015. We looked at that and at the fact
that every time the FSS had gone out to the market as part of
the procurement framework, it had lost businessevery time
that it had sought to go out to the competitive market and when
police forces tendered for the work.
Seeking to examine the issue of a reducing market
with the FSS having a declining share of that market, we could
not satisfy ourselves that, by investing what would be a significant
sum of money, that sum of money would, potentially, be smaller
than the revenue that the FSS would be receiving in that reduced
86. We are dismayed that the
FSS was not privy to information on the forensics market. There
has clearly been a persistent failure to communicate information
to the FSS about the market environment in which it was expected
to find a way to thrive. The PwC report on the state of the forensics
marketplace and figures on police expenditure should have been
87. We have expressed our concerns at the decline
in the external forensics market, which, although partly attributable
to the savings brought about by procurement strategies, has also
been influenced by the increased police in-sourcing of forensic
science. The Minister attributed the FSS's current situation to
its inability to compete under the NFFA rather than in-sourcing:
The FSS's challenges were that it was set up as a
GovCo with the intent of establishing some sort of private-public
partnership or moving to a fully commercialised basis. But it
got stuck. It had an inherently high cost base attached to it
which fettered its ability to compete when new contracts became
available through the National Forensic Framework model and, consequently,
continued to lose business every time a police force or a region
came through seeking to procure its services. I would characterise
that as being the weakness rather than issues on in-sourcing or
the challenges around that. It was largely that the FSS was not,
perhaps, in the right state and condition to be able to compete
in an increasingly competitive market.
The Minister's view did not quite agree with the
Home Office's written submission, which stated that the Government
was "advised that neither ongoing nor further restructuring
would solve the key underlying problem: reducing levels of customer
88. When asked whether the decline in the external
market could be attributed to police in-sourcing, the Minister
The interrelationship between police-provided internal
services as against police triage and assessment of their forensic
need, whether that be external or internal, as well as the provision
of services in the external market, is a complex position. There
is a fair degree of complexity around this and I would not necessarily
point to one issue being more significant than any other. There
is a range of factors that all interrelate here. I would not necessarily
place the greatest amount of weight on any one of those specific
89. When we asked the Minister what influence
the Home Office had over police expenditure, he replied that:
Clearly, we set the overall budgets for individual
policing, but it is for individual police forces to make the determinations
as to their need. Certainly from the Home Office, we don't see
it as our role to micro-manage police spending in relation to
the activities of the police.
90. The Minister also explained that the Government
was "looking carefully at the issue of mandation" with
respect to police in-sourcing and that:
We made the decision not to use mandation at this
point in time, given the nature of the forensics transition work
around the FSS, mandating, for example, that all police forces
should go out to the National Forensic Framework Agreement. It
is something that we will continue to keep under review, moving
forward, in terms of the utilisation of mandation to see that
police forces are harnessing moneys effectively in that context.
It is in that mandation framework, which has been allowed and
permitted on the way in which the police service procures certain
contracts and services and facilities to itself, that that may
On mandation, the Government will decide whether
to proceed with the services regulations that we have. The effective
mandation could be, for example, that nothing bought in the market
in the future by the police could be undertaken outside of the
National Forensic Framework Agreement that is being delivered.
That would prevent in-sourcing of anything bought in the market
that is available through the National Framework. Regulations
could be amended in the future, for example, to address successor
frameworks when the current National Framework expires. It could
be used in that way. It is something that we will continue to
keep under examination. At this point in time, with the transition
of the arrangements with the FSSthe transition that is
taking placenow is, perhaps, not the time to be using that.
91. If the Government wants
a competitive market in forensic services it must ensure that
the market is not distorted by the police customer increasingly
becoming the competitor. Otherwise the ambition for a truly competitive
market is fundamentally undermined. We consider that the Government's
ambitions for fully privatised forensic science provision are
jeopardised by its complacent attitude towards police forensic
92. We are concerned that there
are no measures in place to curb further in-sourcing. We recommend
that the Government introduce measures to ensure that the police
do not further in-source forensic science services that are already
available from external providers through the National Forensic
Framework Agreement. Regulations should apply to any successor
frameworks. We disagree with the Minister that the FSS transition
period may not be the right time to put these measures in place
- given the fragility and uncertain future of the market it is
the ideal time to do this.
11 "What we do: General FAQs", The Forensic
Science Service website, www.forensic.gov.uk Back
Ev w165, para 1 [Royal Society of Chemistry] Back
"What we do: General FAQs", The Forensic Science Service
website, www.forensic.gov.uk Back
HC (2004-05) 96-I Back
HC (2004-05) 96-I, para 17 Back
HC Deb, 14 December 2010, col 95WS Back
HC (2004-05) 96-I, para 17 Back
Cabinet Office, Executive Agencies: A guide for Departments,
Cabinet Office, October 2006, para 1 Back
Ev 61, para 22 [Home Office] Back
Ev w152, para 12 Back
HC (2004-05) 96-I para 19 Back
Home Office, Review of the Forensic Science Service: a report,
17 July 2003; HC (2004-05) 96-I, paras 22-24 Back
As above. Back
HC (2004-05) 96-I, paras 27-28 Back
HC (2004-05) 96-II, Ev 154 Back
HC (2004-05) 96-I, para 41 Back
As above. Back
HC (2004-05) 96-I, para 35 Back
HC (2004-05) 96-I, para 47 Back
Science and Technology Committee, Oral evidence, Wednesday 23
November 2005, Forensic Science on Trial: follow-up, HC
685-i, Q 10 Back
Ev 66-67, paras 12, 15 Back
Ev 66, para 12 Back
Q 11 Back
Ev w11, para 10 Back
Ev 105, para 5 Back
Ev w163, para 4 Back
Ev w142, para 4 Back
Ev w7, para 9 Back
Ev w80, para 14 [Gemma Escott, Elizabeth Harris, Nicola Taylor
and Michelle Walton] Back
Ev w68, para 4.3 [FSS London Toxicology Team] Back
Ev 69, para 4 [LGC Forensics] Back
Q 82 [David Hartshorne] Back
Q 215 Back
Ev 62, para 26 Back
Deb, 14 December 2010, col 95WS Back
Q 135 Back
Q 215 Back
Ev 106 [National Policing Improvement Agency] Back
Q 331; ACPO provided a slightly different figure of £140
million, see Ev 109. Back
Ev 107, Table 1 and Q 331 Back
These figures do not include capital expenditure: this is explored
from paragraph 45. Back
Ev 108 [ACPO] Back
Figure provided by the Minister, see Q 331. Back
Ev 106 Back
Ev 107 Back
Q 82 Back
Q 328 Back
Qq 3 and 123 Back
Q 124 Back
Q 123 Back
Ev 70, para 17 Back
Q 329 Back
Q 77 Back
For example, Ev w139, para 4.0 [Mike Silverman] Back
Ev w139-140, paras 4.0-4.1 Back
Ev w55, para 4.5 Back
Qq 175-87 Back
Q 186 Back
Ev 108 Back
As above. Back
HC Deb, 17 May 2011, col 57WH Back
Ev 63 Back
"Crime and policing news October 2010", Home Office,
28 October 2010, www.homeoffice.gov.uk Back
Ev w53, para 1.2 Back
Based on the PWC report Back
Q 332 Back
"National Forensic Framework Agreement", National Policing
Improvement Agency, www.npia.police.uk Back
As above. Back
As above. Back
As above. Back
Ev w148, paras 9-11 Back
Ev w153, para 14 Back
Ev w46, paras 14-16 Back
Ev w46, paras 19-20 Back
Ev w147 Back
Ev w76, para 3.4 Back
Q 86 Back
Q 158 Back
As above. Back
Ev 107-108 Back
Q 83 Back
Q 32 Back
Ev w74-75, paras 2.4-2.5 Back
Q 163 Back
As above. Back
Q 224 Back
Q 164 Back
"Our future", National Policing Improvement Agency,
Q 162 Back
As above. Back
Q 158 Back
As above. Back
As above. Back
Ev 83 [Forensic Science Service] Back
Ev 84 [Forensic Science Service] Back
Forensic Science Service, Report and financial statements:
year ended 31 March 2009, 2009; Forensic Science Service,
Report and financial statements: year ended 31 March 2010,
Q 17 Back
Q 19 Back
Ev 78, paras 8-9 Back
Q 25 Back
HC Deb, 31 January 2011, cols 653-54W Back
Ev w28, para 5v Back
Ev w38, para 3 Back
Ev w103, para 12 [Jeffrey Gray and Sara Gray] Back
Q 4 Back
Q 5 Back
Qq 20-21 Back
Q 23 Back
Q 299 Back
Q 321 Back
Ev 62, para 28 Back
Q 322 Back
Q 324 Back
Q 325 Back
Q 326 Back