Union leaders are calling for public scrutiny after the Government announced plans to wind up the Forensic Science Service, putting hundreds of jobs at risk in the West Midlands.
The public service, which employs 1,600 people including more than 300 at its Solihull base, is to be wound up and its activities transferred to individual police forces and companies over the next 15 months.
The Home Office said the Midland facility was losing £2 million a month and could run out of cash as early as next month.
Crime Prevention Minister James Brokenshire said the aim was to sell off the operation so there would be “no state interest in a forensics provider” by March 2012.
But Prospect – the main union at FSS said the announcement came as a “bolt out of the blue” for the forensic scientists they represented now left pondering their futures and that the decision would “make a mockery of the criminal justice system”.
“Cost will now determine justice in the UK,” said deputy general secretary Mike Clancy. “They have made a decision with no thought. They did a similar thing with the Audit Commission which also impacted the Midlands region.
"What they have got to prove is that the FSS which is still needed can be done more efficiently and cheaply in an untested market.
“We will be pressing for public and debate and scrutiny.”
FSS dates back to Home Office forensic labs set up in the 1930s. More recently it has played an important role in the development of DNA testing – a technology invented in the UK. But it has been losing increasing amounts of money in competition with private companies.
The previous Government had earmarked FSS for privatisation. It became a Government company in 2005, with an £18 million loan, and received a £50 million restructuring grant in 2009.