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Home office chief science adviser defends his role

Bernard Silverman, chief scientific adviser to the Home Office, has rebutted concerns over his effectiveness following the revelation that he had no input in the decision to close the Forensic Science Service.

At a House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee hearing on 5 July, Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert said he was worried that Silverman’s role was not taken seriously at the Home Office.

Huppert stressed that he was particularly concerned that Silverman was not a member of the Home Office board.

In response, Silverman said that although not on the board, he was “welcome to attend when matters of scientific importance are discussed”.

However, Huppert argued that Silverman should know that “other CSAs … play a lot more prominent roles.

“Do you think it would be helpful if it was standardised across departments that all CSAs were, as of right, on those boards?” Huppert asked.

If CSAs were present on department boards, continued Huppert, they would not have to work out whether or not a question was scientifically important—they would automatically be able to comment on whatever issues came up.

Silverman said he thought this was unnecessary and that he had sufficient access:

“I would say that standardisation across government might not work because the Home Office has an enormous range of activity, whereas a smaller department is, in a sense, more focussed. What’s important from my point of view is access, which I have,” he noted.

In a report on the closure of the FSS on 1 July, the Science and Technology Select Committee had questioned why Silverman was excluded from the decision-making process. The committee’s chairman, Labour MP Andrew Miller, said in a statement that Silverman’s acceptance of his exclusion “raises questions about his effectiveness within the Home Office”.

Asked by the home affairs select committee whether he thought there was sufficient scientific input into the government, Silverman said the Home Office had “immediately accepted” his review on the future of research and development in forensic science, published on 30 June.

The actual decision-making process, he added, was “another issue”.

The home affairs committee also raised concerns about the accreditation and standards of forensic science after the closure of the FSS.

Silverman said such questions were the responsibility of the forensic science regulator, Andrew Rennison.

He expressed confidence that the forensic field would have a “strong research and scientific base, going forward”.