4 Research and development (R&D)|
Home Office Review of R&D
166. On 27 January 2011, over a month after the
announcement that the FSS would be wound down, the Home Office
announced a review of forensic science research and development
(R&D), to be led by the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) to
the Home Office and the Forensic Science Regulator (FSR). The
consultation document stated that "it is important that the
Home Office's approach to forensic science includes an informed
analysis of the relevant forensic science research and development".
The aim of the review was to provide Ministers with advice on
the current and likely future status of forensic science research
and development in the UK and to make other recommendations as
report was originally expected to report to Home Office Ministers
by the end of April 2011,
but to date has not yet been published.
167. The Home Office stated that the review was
"not directly related to the wind-down" of the FSS.
Prospect, in its written submission, stated that:
our members are understandably sceptical of the review's
intent given that a genuine review would be expected to inform
a decision whereas in this case the outcome has already been announced.
THE HOME OFFICE'S CONSIDERATION
OF THE IMPACTS TO R&D
168. As part of our inquiry we considered whether
the Government had sought the advice of the Home Office Chief
Scientific Adviser (CSA) prior to the decision to wind down the
FSS. The Guidance for Chief Scientific Advisers and their officials,
published by the Government Office for Science (GO Science) states
that one of the CSA's roles is:
performing an independent challenge function to the
department, ensuring that science and engineering evidence and
advice is robust, relevant and high quality and that there are
mechanisms in place to ensure that policy making is underpinned
by science and engineering.
169. Professor Bernard Silverman, Chief Scientific
Adviser to the Home Office, explained his role and level of independence
from the Home Office:
We are appointed as civil servants. [...] It is my
full-time job. We are appointed under the code of practice for
scientific advisers. I am a member of the group chaired by Sir
John Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, and
independence is written into my job description.
I have a threefold role. First of all, I provide
scientific advice to the Home Office, Ministers and officials
on any scientific matter relevant to our work. Secondly, I head
the Home Office science group, which is a group of about 400 people
who work in every scientific discipline, including economics,
statistics, physical sciences, social sciences and so on; to advise
on Home Office policy matters. Thirdly, I am a member of the group
of scientific advisers across Government, which gives me an over-arching
background to the work that I do. I take my independence extremely
seriously and I am expected to be independent. That is the whole
point of my job.
170. When asked whether he had been consulted
on the decision to wind down the FSS, Professor Silverman stated
I was told about the decision a couple of weeks in
advance; I am not sure exactly how many. I think it was in late
November, or possibly mid-November. But I was sworn to secrecy
until the decision was announced. I was informed and John Beddington
[the Government Chief Scientific Adviser] was as well. [...] We
were told it was going to happen. We were not consulted, as such,
in advance of the decision being made, but we were informed. When
the decision was made, we had been tipped off in advance.
My understanding, at the time and now, is that the
decision was taken on legal and commercial grounds and that it
is not within the Chief Scientific Adviser's remit to advise on
those matters. Therefore, I did not see the process as unreasonable.
171. When scrutinising the Government's proposal
to change the FSS into a Public-Private Partnership in 2005, our
predecessor Committee noted that "the low visibility of the
Home Office Chief Scientific Adviser is a source of concern, particularly
in view of the history of weak scientific culture in the department".
A Departmental Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) has unique independence
and is therefore, rightly, expected to provide a crucial challenge
function to the Department. It may not be within the CSA's remit
to advise on legal and commercial matters, but it is certainly
within his remit to advise on scientific matters relating to the
closure of the FSS, a Home Office-funded centre of scientific
excellence. We consider the CSA's satisfaction with his exclusion
from the decision-making process and his failure to challenge
the decision to be unacceptable. This is a further demonstration
of the ongoing weak scientific culture in the Home Office.
172. When we asked James Brokenshire MP, Parliamentary
Under-Secretary of State for Crime Prevention, whether he had
made any assessment of the likely impact of the FSS's closure
on forensic science R&D in the UK before the decision to close
the FSS was made, he replied that:
There was no formal assessment of the R&D elements
as such but I was very conscious, in making this decision, of
the potential impact on R&D. For example, if we had gone down
the restructuring route, one of the things I was specifically
concerned about was the fact that R&D investment would have
been significantly squeezed as a consequence of taking that option
rather than any other option. While there was no formal assessment,
it would be completely wrong to characterise the decision as not
considering or not taking account of the issues of R&D and
future investment. Indeed, I am very conscious of that and that
is why Professor Silverman has been engaged to conduct the review
he is conducting at the moment.
173. Given that Prospect and its members were
sceptical of its timing, we asked whether the review of R&D
should have preceded the FSS wind-down decision and announcement.
Professor Silverman replied that:
It is obvious that the review was prompted because
of the attention drawn by the closure of the FSS. There is no
doubt about that. If you had started a review before the closure
was announced, it would have signalled that something was up.
I don't think you could do that. It is right that we should have
a landscape within which we can now conduct a review. To conduct
a review against a changing landscape would be difficult. For
example, I wouldn't have suggested starting the review before
the decision was announced. Once I was told that the decision
was going to be made, it made sense not to commission a review
until after the decision had been made. Then we have a landscape
within which we can see what is going on.
174. In answer to the same question, the Minister
responded "no" and explained that:
The reason I say that is that the FSS is only one
part of this. You need to look at the academic institutions and
at the investment that private companies and others are undertaking
as well. Also, consider that we were presented with a situation
where the FSS, as a consequence of the Companies Act, were saying
to us that they were in a zone of insolvency and that they would
be at risk of going into uncontrolled administration unless some
form of action was taken by the Home Office, which would not have
allowed a proper review, at that stage, of these issues. That
is why I talk about this being a commercial decision. It was not
that it was only focused on commercial issues, but it was driven
by the fact that the FSS was presenting itself as being in a zone
of insolvency and of physically running out of cash. [...]
I see the review that Professor Silverman is undertaking,
which will be coming forward shortly, as instrumental in setting
out where forensic research is at the moment, how it may need
to be better joined up and how we need to have a better understanding
of that. But I see that as distinct from the decisions that the
Home Office had to take in relation to the FSS, albeit that, obviously,
the FSS does undertake some R&D investment work at this point
175. We are concerned that no
formal assessment was made of the impact of closing down the FSS
on forensic science R&D before the decision was made and announced.
We have not seen any evidence of an informal assessment. We are
very concerned and disappointed that the Chief Scientific Adviser
to the Home Office was not consulted prior to the decision to
wind down the FSS.
176. We were given various reasons
for the timing of the Home Office Review of R&D. The Chief
Scientific Adviser implied that one reason may have been a preservation
of confidentiality and that the Review may have been prompted
by the attention drawn by the closure of the FSS. The Minister
told us that a lack of time was the driver. The reasons for the
timing should be clarified.
177. The relationship between
recommendations made by the Home Office Review of R&D and
the work of the FSS Transition Board, set up to oversee the wind-down
of the FSS, must be made clear.
UK forensic science R&D
178. Forensic science research is spread across
a number of different organisations. As Professor Silverman noted,
"it is not true at all that the only research being done
is being done by the FSS".
Key players include the FSS, private companies and university
179. Because of the broad definition of forensic
sciences, and the overlap with other scientific fields such as
medical and analytical sciences, it is difficult to arrive at
a conclusive figure of how much is invested in forensic science
R&D in the UK. Professor Silverman stated that:
I don't think it is easy to quantify. If you ask
different companies they will give you figures. [...] There is
no ring-fenced specific budget from public funds for research
in forensic science. What will happen is that there will be projects
which have funding from research councils and there will be academics
who are funded by HEFCE. Sometimes it is quite difficult to identify
exactly what is and is not forensic science, and there is no easy
way of quantifying.
180. Nevertheless, we were able to obtain some
useful indicative figures. Professor Silverman told us that:
The Home Office does fund some forensic science work
itself. It spends £280,000 on fingerprints, the [Office for
Security and Counter Terrorism] spends about £500,000 on
conventional explosives and work is being undertaken on nuclear
forensics at Aldermaston. We also do work on roadside drugs, prototype
drugs and so on. So there is work on drugs, explosives and legal
highs. The total figure that I have is £2.338 million.
This is work on forensics but it is on specific areas
which the market is unlikely to deal with or where there are national
security reasons for it to be done in-house.
181. Dr Gill Tully, Research and Development
Manager at the FSS, told us that:
our spend [on R&D] over the last number of years
has been in the region of £3 million to £4 million a
year. That is only on the central research and development facility.
You have to add to that our IT development of several millions
a year and the development that has happened in our operational
182. FSS expenditure on R&D decreased significantly
between 2009-10 and 2010-11. The FSS spent £4.01 million
on R&D in 2008-09, £4.11 million in 2009-10 and an estimated
£3.3 million in 2010-11.
Dr Tully explained that "this year it has reduced since the
announcement in December".
183. LGC Forensics, the UK's largest private
forensic science provider, spent "between 5% and 10% of [its]
forensics revenues on research every year"
(exact figures were not publicly provided). Cellmark, one of the
next largest forensic providers, spent "about £1 million
last year on R&D".
FORENSIC SCIENCE RESEARCH IN UNIVERSITIES
184. Professor Jim Fraser, University of Strathclyde
stated that "it is difficult to convey the lamentable state
of research in forensic science compared to other scientific disciplines".
Professor Brian Caddy, Emeritus Professor of Forensic Science,
University of Strathclyde, stated that "very few universities
have any research output in the area of forensic science [...]
and this is exacerbated by a great reluctance of the government
science research councils to support such research".
Research Councils UK (RCUK) confirmed that Research Councils "do
not currently support forensic science research as a strategic
Professor Fraser, also of Strathclyde University, stated that:
The research councils talk a great deal about the
"impact of research". What could be more impactive than
criminal justice? What could be more interdisciplinary than forensic
science? It is, fundamentally, by definition, an interdisciplinary
business. It links policing investigation and criminal justice
to science and other areas of activity, yet the word "forensic"
is mentioned in the last five annual reports of RCUK on two occasions
and there is virtually no funding.
185. There was little optimism that the closure
of the FSS would improve the R&D situation. For example, Sir
Alec Jeffreys, Professor of Genetics, University of Leicester,
described the move as "potentially disastrous" and stated
The FSS serves as the natural national focus for
forensic R&D, taking in basic developments arising in academia
from the biological, medical, chemical, physical and mathematical/IT
sciences and, where appropriate, adapting and refining them for
use in forensic analysis. Some of these refinements might occur
in the academic sector but this is unpredictable and again, the
natural conduit prior to forensic implementation should be through
the FSS. Forensic developments are now becoming less common in
the academic sector given that the Research Councils and Charities
are reluctant to fund forensic science, seeing this instead as
the responsibility of the Home Office (reflecting the origins
of the FSS).
186. When he gave oral evidence to this inquiry,
Sir Alec described how some academic forensic scientists' research
had to be "paid for on the back of casework income that they
Professor Peter Gill, Professor of Forensic Genetics, Oslo University,
stated that "it has also proven extremely difficult to obtain
funding via EU programmes".
187. Professor Fraser described the importance
of political will to support forensic science research:
The issue about the research councils [...] is that
they will formulate their objectives on the basis of the political
environment around them, and if there is no political will for
this then they are unlikely to do so. [...] They fund some areas
that overlap with parts of the forensic science [...] So there
is funding for things like security research. A great deal of
that is around very narrow areas, say, digital evidence, detection
of explosives and so on and so forth. With regard to the broader
issues, the real need for research, in my view, in forensic science
has to balance the science and the procedure on investigative
issues linked to criminal justice outcomes. That is not a proposition
that any research council will respond to, until the political
will is developed that shows that that is something that is desirable.
188. Professor Fraser explained that political
will referred to "the aims of the Government and the aims
of the various political parties".
He considered that "if forensic science or science and justice
was considered to be of political importance, then the research
councils would respond to that".
The Forensic Institute stated "it is [...] a sad fact that
no government has made any plan to replace or expand research
in forensic science".
Sir Alec suggested:
a clear concordat between the Home Office and RCUK
agreeing an indicative national budget for forensic R&D and
with a clear understanding of which organisations would be responsible
for funding, together with coherent plans for how national research
priorities will be set and how funding will be allocated.
189. When we asked Professor Silverman whether
forensic science was seen as a priority within Government, he
The research councils do not, at present, see forensic
science as a strategic priority. My understanding is that there
are recommendations and suggestions I can make in my report which
might encourage them to do so. It is not simply a matter of the
research councils announcing that forensic science will be a strategic
priority. It is a matter of the community. It is a matter of articulating.
It is the users at the sharp end getting together and putting
a case to the research councils for forensic science.
Within the Home Office [...] we see forensic science
as something where we should spend some research money on specific
areas. More widely, I don't think there is specific funding of
forensic science research as such.
190. Professor Silverman did not consider that
the closure of the FSS would leave a R&D vacuum in the UK.
He explained that:
A lot of R&D is going on in many different places.
In the sense that other companies, some of which have given you
evidence already, are equally involved in R&D, every scientific
company in every area does R&D. This is going slightly outside
the scientific remit to answer that question. If you ask the question,
"Is there R&D in forensic science other than in the Forensic
Science Service?", which is the question I would rather answer,
the answer is definitely there is, yes.
191. There was scepticism that private FSPs would
increase their R&D expenditure if the FSS closed, with a distinction
made between profitable and non-profitable areas of R&D. For
example, the Centre for Forensic Investigation, Teesside University,
stated that "with a shrinking market it is not conceivable
that the commercial market of forensic providers will fund 100%
of the research".
Sir Alec stated that:
Closure of the FSS will also make the more complex
and interdisciplinary forensic analyses impossible within the
UK, since no commercial provider can give this breadth of service,
nor would wish to given that such investigations are unprofitable.
The private sector quite rightly contributes to forensic
testing in the UK. However, they will only run with tried and
trusted techniques that can be adapted to routine high volume
and profitable testing. They cannot be expected to contribute
to the R&D aspects of forensics and in general do not have
the personnel, experience, culture and financial resources to
so contribute; horizon scanning and R&D are resource-intensive
activities that cannot be supported by companies working in a
192. David Richardson, LGC Forensics, stated
that "we see investment in R&D, particularly at the front
end but throughout the research chain, as being very important,
both to our credibility as a provider and, frankly, to our commercial
success in the longer term".
However, David Hartshorne, representing Cellmark, stated "our
R&D tends to be more at the development stage. To bring scientific
techniques through to the criminal justice process requires huge
amounts of validation and development. That tends to be where
the focus of our research is".
193. The Minister had different expectations
of the private providers, despite having not consulted them prior
to the decision. He stated that:
We have seen that private companies are very much
investing in research and development and innovation moving forward.
Therefore, our expectation is that there will be increased investment
in this field as the private sector's share of the market continues
to expand and grow as we move through that transition. That was
very much our expectation and our consideration when the decision
was taken to opt for the wind-down.
194. Although private FSPs invest
in R&D, it is probably unreasonable to expect private companies
to increase their investment in some areas of forensic science
research, particularly in fundamental research, at a time of market
uncertainty. Private companies do, however, have a key role to
play in development and application of research and ongoing validation
195. Although we are hesitant
to call for increased research funding in the current economic
climate, the case for increased public funding specifically for
forensic science research is compelling. We consider that the
Home Office and Research Councils have an interest in the health
of the forensic science research base and should develop a new
national research budget for forensic science. The views of the
forensic science community should be sought when determining the
size and scope of the budget and details of its administration.
196. The written submissions we received highlighted
the importance of coordination of forensic science research efforts.
For example, the Centre for Forensic Investigation, Teesside University,
The whole research arena is currently very uncoordinated
and not sufficiently integrated. Universities can support forensic
science development but coordination is essential to minimise
duplication and ensure the appropriate areas are explored.
197. Forest Forensic Services considered that:
The move of the FSS to a Government Owned Company
and expansion of the forensic marketplace resulted in a transfer
of strategic development and coordination of R&D at a national
level away from the FSS to the NPIA. A subsequent lack of direction,
difficulties in the introduction of new technology that ensued
[...] and lack of coordinated investment have had a significant
impact on the development of new technology in the forensic field.
198. Forensic Service Northern Ireland (FSNI)
also noted "with concern attempts by the NPIA over the last
year to control forensic science R&D centrally", explaining
R&D in forensic science is essentially the application
of proven science from other areas into the forensic arena and
therefore is best driven by the practitioners in response to their
customers' needs. Whilst coordination is essential, this must
not be centralised control and vetting as currently envisaged.
Neither ACPO nor NPIA are well placed to lead forensic R&D
strategy but should instead restrict themselves to defining their
future needs, rather than the solutions to them.
199. The FSS itself did not escape criticism.
Professor Fraser stated that the FSS:
in their recent guises, as they became an agency,
they have been quite a difficult organisation to work with when
it comes to research. They are very protective. We have had instances
where the research has just fallen by the wayside. The move towards
a commercial organisation has restricted the research focus and
their willingness to exchange information. These collaborations
are really quite difficult to manage but not impossible. If you
look at a company like Philips, they have a huge R&D programme.
They work extensively with universities. They are very effective
at exchanging information for research and development, so it
is not impossible. The research culture in the UK at the moment
cannot support those collaborations. The trust and the understanding
is not there.
And Sir Alec Jeffreys added that:
Another problem is that, if you visit the website
or the annual report of any respectable research organisation,
the first thing you come across is very detailed information on
the research projects and so on. That is crucial; that is the
shop window; that is what gets the message out and starts building
up collaborations. I have spent a considerable amount of time
on the FSS website looking through annual reports and there is
virtually nothing at all. That is a real concern. One of my real
concerns is the effectiveness with which FSS has interfaced with
academia in a two-way process. I have doubts about that. This
applies to transparency and peer review. Are they running their
science programme in a way that I, as a scientist, have to do?
Everything I do has to be peer reviewed, judged by my peers, and,
if it is deemed appropriate, I will get the funding. I am not
sure, again, that that culture is fully pervading the forensic
sciences in this country.
200. The FSS appears to have
worked in a manner that was not conducive to collaboration and
coordination of research efforts. The pressure to act as a commercial
organisation appears to have been a key factor.
201. Coordination and collaborations
leading to exchange of knowledge are vital to the health of any
scientific discipline. We expect that the Home Office Review of
R&D will examine this matter in more detail and that it will
bring forward detailed recommendations on this.
202. A key concern was the potential loss of
skilled forensic scientists from the profession or from the UK,
following the FSS's closure. A loss of skills had already occurred
as a result of the FSS's transformation programme, through which
the FSS had been aiming to reduce its headcount by 608 by the
end of 2010-11
and Dr Gill Tully, Head of R&D at the FSS, explained that
around 90% of the staff who left as a result of site closures
had left the profession completely.
203. Sir Alec pointed out that:
The FSS R&D staff have the range and depth of
experience needed for this horizon scanning and for the multi-disciplinary
work needed to move basic research into forensic utility. The
loss of this expertise would rule out the UK as a significant
contributor to forensic science development, making us dependent
on new technologies developed abroad. There are five consequences:
(1) delay in implementing the latest technologies, (2) lack of
national expertise required to evaluate and implement new methodologies,
(3) lack of representation in those organisations that are actually
doing the science, (4) lack of a central organisation required
to standardise, validate and ensure quality control, and (5) potential
loss of [intellectual property] and downstream revenues.
204. The closure of the FSS may be a deterrent
to future aspiring forensic scientists too. Sir Alec Jeffreys
pointed out that the closure:
will scare off the new people coming into the field.
There are many people going to universities who want to study
forensic science. They are suddenly realising that they are in
a market where the opportunities for employment are dwindling.
While Professor Jim Fraser did not dispute this,
he added a different perspective:
The situation is inflated, anyway. There is a fashion
for forensic science at the moment that is, frankly, unhealthy.
Most of the educational programmes are driven by the business
needs of universities and not by the needs of employers. It was
inevitable that this boom would bust. [...] When it is quite plain
that the employment opportunities are much more limited, the market
will then settle down to something more realistic and people coming
into forensic science will go into it with some realism about
what it is and what kind of education they need.
205. When asked whether he had any concerns about
the potential loss of forensic scientists, Professor Silverman
did not consider that he had "enough information to comment"
and stated that:
One of the issues is that in every scientific area
there is always fluidity of a marketemployees moving around.
If we can create a good environment generally, that should help
deal with that situation. I don't specifically share those concerns
but it would be sad if anything happened which meant that good
work was no longer being done.
206. Andrew Rennison, the FSR, stated that:
we have a considerable number of very experienced
scientists at the top level. There is quite a strongly held view
out there, and it is a view I share, that there are probably too
many of those because there was a recruitment freeze in the FSS
for about 10 years. So we have built up a good deal of very experienced
scientists. There was a bit of a gap behind them, but there are
a lot more very experienced middle-service scientists coming up
through the system now.
What is worrying me is where all these very experienced
scientists will go. I have been speaking to the other commercial
providers about this and there are mixed views. Some say that,
to date, they have had no problems with recruiting those most
experienced peoplebecause they do need themas mentors
for the abundant number of more junior scientists that are left
who do the majority of the desk or bench work. To date they have
not had a problem with recruiting those most experienced scientists,
but there is a concern, in the current climate, whether those
people will stay or go. That is something I will have to monitor.
207. Although we acknowledge
the difficulties in tracking the movements of scientists in the
UK and abroad, it is important that the impact of the FSS's closure
on its forensic scientists is monitored. The FSS and Government
should ensure that the first destination of all forensic scientists
that are made redundant or leave the FSS as a result of the proposed
wind down are recorded. We request an update on this matter by
232 Home Office, Review of research and development
in forensic science: background and terms of reference, January
As above. Back
Ev 60, para 10 [Home Office] Back
As at 22 June 2011 Back
Ev 60, para 9 Back
Ev 65, para 1 Back
Government Office for Science, Chief Scientific Advisers and
their officials: an introduction, undated, para 21 Back
Q 230 Back
Q 231 Back
HC (2004-05) 96-I, para 7 Back
Q 310 Back
Q 236 Back
Q 311 Back
Q 240 Back
Q 245 Back
Q 246 Back
Q 247 Back
Q 72 Back
HC Deb, 26 April 2011, col 337W Back
Q 72 Back
Q 90 [David Richardson] Back
Q 90 [David Hartshorne] Back
Ev 104, para 2 Back
Ev w1, para 4 Back
Ev w167, para 3 Back
Q 94 Back
Ev 63, para 1a Back
Q 98 Back
Ev w20, para 6 Back
Q 99 Back
Q 107 Back
As above. Back
Ev w121, para 12 Back
Ev 64, para 5 (c) Back
Q 248 Back
Q 249 Back
Q 250 Back
Ev w143, para 1.3 Back
Ev 63, para 1(d) Back
Ev 64, para 4(a) Back
Q 90 Back
As above. Back
Q 310 Back
Ev w143, 1.4.1 Back
Ev w49, para 1(b)(i) Back
Ev w75, para 3.1(c) Back
Q 97 Back
Q 97 Back
Ev 84 [Forensic Science Service] Back
Q 45 Back
Ev 63, para 1(b) Back
Q 100 Back
As above. Back
Q 252 Back
Q 255 Back