Go it alone quickly, Hunts business guru tells threatened forensic scientists

FORENSIC scientists in Huntingdon facing losing their jobs when the Government closes the Forensic Science Service should grab the opportunity to set up on their own.

Chris Thomas, chairman of Huntingdonshire Business Network (HBN), a molecular biologist with extensive experience of DNA technology, and now a business adviser, is urging nearly 200 staff at the FSS Hinchingbrooke Park operation to jump now before they are pushed, set up a private company to carry on the good work.

As well as less high-profile cases, the Huntingdon scientists helped the criminal justice system nail Soham schoolgirl-killer Ian Huntley and Ipswich serial prostitute murderer Steve Wright. They also helped to convict the West Yorkshire kidnappers of nine-year-old Shannon Matthews.

But the Government says FSS’s �2million-a-month losses nationally are no longer sustainable, and plans to close the service.

That, Dr Thomas says, is an opportunity for the Huntingdon scientists to package their facilities, expertise and client base in some sort of buy-out deal, using expert advice from someone with a successful track record in the field to attract commercial backers.

Through the Huntingdonshire Business Network, he is offering to advise scientists, who may be thinking the redundancy they are facing is the end of the road for them and their work.

“The Forensic Science Service laboratories in Huntingdon should jump now and seek a rapid route into becoming a private company,” he told The Hunts Post.

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“As a former DNA scientist, I know that the value of the FSS is not just the highly-qualified staff. It includes the high-tech facilities and strict standard operating procedures. It takes years to get an efficient system running. The combination of people, facilities and procedures is of real commercial value.

“Going private early has three advantages: a working unit has a shorter route to profitability; overall staff losses will be substantially lower than through a slow disintegration where only a few staff are cherry-picked by the competition; and staff are spared the negative effects of a slow decline and shut-down into 2012,” he explained.

Ironically, any buyout company would probably end up being too big to benefit from membership of HBN, which usually represents much smaller organisations.

However, Dr Thomas, who has worked for much larger enterprises, believes the rewards for acting quickly could be huge for the Huntingdon scientists.

“The media quote the FSS as currently having a 60 per cent share of a dwindling market. This can also be seen as an opportunity for growth into the vacuum created by the closing down of the FSS.

“Other private forensic service companies will be open to the opportunities, but a lean ‘child’ of the FSS taking an early plunge could also benefit.”

The prime need would be for interim finance, Dr Thomas said. “My two recommendations for action are to prepare a clear business plan that will convince either banks or potential investors to invest, and to tap into the abundant expertise in high-tech company start-ups available in our area.”

In particular, Dr Thomas sees potential synergies with other hi-tech organisations already operating in and around Cambridge.

He has also asked Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly, who is concerned about the possible loss of high-grade expertise to Huntingdonshire, to help in facilitating a new future for the forensic operation.