Malcolm defends and praises Edinburgh's Forensic services
Debate on Forensic Science Services Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
I learned everything I know about the issue from constituents who work at either Howden Hall or Fettes. I hope that the cabinet secretary will also meet his constituents who work in the local forensic service as that is not inconsistent with his position and responsibilities. I welcome his and my constituents and others to the public gallery today.

We all know that we have to make hard decisions about saving money in the next few weeks and do that in a way that is consistent with not having a serious adverse effect on services, but what is strange about the subject before us is not only that striking adverse effects would result from centralisation but that centralisation does not even save very much money. In the official costings in the options paper, there is very little difference between options one and three or between options two and four. Also, questions have been asked about some of the costings. To give one of several examples, the stated transport costs of centralisation are questionably low, at 160,000, and there is no allowance for the initial capital cost of vehicles for transporting samples around Scotland. Moreover, the hidden costs to customers are not addressed at all.

I will go on to talk about that, but before I do, I want to mention a general concern about the lack of detail in options three and four and the lack of detail on the views of stakeholders. An e-mail from Tom Nelson to staff said that no unanimous view has come from stakeholders. We would not expect that, but was there a clear majority view? We need to know how the selection was arrived at. There has to be a clear presentation of the selection process, with documents, to show how customers' views were taken into account. If that is not released, I am sure that it will be asked for in a freedom of information request.

Of course we need modernisation and savings, but whichever option is chosen, we already have a common IT system and a five-year transformation plan. Moreover, option two includes provision for centralising less-used services, standardising procedures and systems and integrating the four sites into one management system although, strangely, the use of automated disclosure processes is applied only to options three and four.

Brian Adam:
Will the member take an intervention?

Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
I will if I have time, but I will see whether I can get through my material first.

Turning to Edinburgh, my main concern is that the excellent facility in the city should not be closed or radically downgraded. It is a highly respected facility and its closure would lead to results not being obtained fast enough and to investigations being jeopardised. Only yesterday, the forensic service in Edinburgh had a key role to play in a massive drugs operation in my constituency, on which I congratulate the police and the forensic service. Without the forensic service, it simply would not have been possible. The 24-hour drugs service that we have in Edinburgh allows the charging within six hours that various members have mentioned, but it also allows a rapid turnaround for test purchasing and other purposes.

Brian Adam:
Does the member agree that, although the SPSA produced four options in its consultation, it is clear from the submissions that we are aware of that variations on those options are already before the SPSA? Would it be unfortunate if members decided that they were in favour of only one of the SPSA options rather than modifications of them that could be beneficial all round?

Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
I listen to my constituents, and I am sure that Brian Adam listens to his constituents. Those who have put views to me are in favour of option two.

Over and above the drugs service to which I have referred, the service is important for many other types of investigation. For example, it provides crucial DNA analysis and fingerprint identifications in many cases. Local scientific experts are also able to attend major scenes quickly. Fast responses in all such areas are vital for the police and the procurator fiscal, but speed is not the only issue. I will give just one example. I have been told that, in Edinburgh, the percentage purity of drugs in all seizures over 1g is analysed, whereas the figure in Strathclyde is over 250g. Therefore, if there was centralisation in Glasgow, there would be either a greatly increased workload there or a significant loss of an element of the service for Lothian and the Borders.

Finally, there are some strange assumptions about a reducing workload in the options paper. For example, it mentions having two or three gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, or GCMS, machines for the whole of Scotland, but I have been told that control samples have not been factored into the calculations. A second example is Cozart testing. The paper assumes that that will reduce the workload, but I have been told that there has been no significant drop in demand for laboratory analysis in Edinburgh. That is the chemistry side. There has also been a big increase in biology cases and in the demand for DNA analysis.

I will conclude, as my time is up. Options three and four are full of risks. There are cost risks, but more important, risks that perpetrators will not be identified and that insufficient evidence will be generated to secure convictions. Members should therefore reject options three and four and support option two.
September 23rd 2010, (Column 28854-7)