Forensic Science Service plan to close Birmingham lab puts 180 jobs at risk
Aug 19 2009 By Graeme Brown
Up to 180 jobs are under threat amid plans to close a forensic science laboratory in Birmingham.
The Forensic Science Service (FSS) laboratory on Gooch Street North, which is currently used for analysing evidence from crime scenes to help detectives solve crimes, has been earmarked for closure according to union leaders.
A 90-day consultation into cutbacks at the FSS is expected to end next month after announcing plans to axe 800 workers across the UK in June.
Birmingham Ladywood MP Clare Short said the move was in danger of undermining Britain’s world class forensic science service, as well as dealing another blow to the West Midlands struggling jobs market.
She said: “These are real, serious jobs and if these cuts are allowed then all that expertise in the Birmingham area is going to be lost.
“There is also a fear over what happens with the criminal justice system if all of this is commercialised, and the cost to the taxpayer isn’t all that great.”
She added: “We are used to having a forensic laboratory in Birmingham and if there is no major centre in the city it is going to take longer to get things done. People are going to spend half their lives on trains because they have closed a laboratory right in the middle of the country.”
The FSS analyses evidence from crime scenes on behalf of police forces in England and Wales, dealing with more than 120,000 cases each year.
The company employs a total of 1,900 UK staff, with more than a quarter based in its a headquarters in the West Midlands.
According to union Prospect, the company plans to close the Gooch Street laboratory, as well as sites in Chepstow and Chorley, but keep a smaller laboratory at its headquarters in Solihull.
Prospect said it feared the cuts at FSS were “softening up” the company for a sell-off.
Negotiations officer Mike Sparham said workers at Gooch Street faced redundancy or having to relocate miles away under the proposals.
He said: “We are resisting the closure of any of the labs. We are happy to talk about a reduction of staff but we do not believe there is a case to leave England and Wales with only four labs.
“We think this is going to destroy the company – which isn’t a clever thing to do with an election coming up.
“Also there is a close relationship between West Midlands Police and the forensic service and our concerns are that it is going to lengthen the time it takes to get to crime scenes.
“If someone is called to a rape scene in Birmingham from Priory House then they are going to get there quickly but not if they have to come all the way from Huntington.”
A spokesperson for the FSS said the company was briefing its staff on plans to reorganise the business. It wants to focus on types of crime instead of regions and if accepted, the changes will be rolled out over the next 18 months.
She added: “The company has entered formal discussions with unions representing employees on these proposals.
“The new structure will be split broadly into five areas – drugs, DNA taken from crime scenes and suspect samples, sexual offences, violent crime and volume crime.”