Home Office cost-cutting results in 250 jobs going from St Albans crime-busting centre

PUBLISHED: 09:53 28 January 2017 | UPDATED: 09:53 28 January 2017

The Centre for Applied Science and Technology.

The Centre for Applied Science and Technology.

Danny Loo Photography 2016

The roles of 250 people working in a crime-busting centre in St Albans are to be transferred out of the district in a major blow to local jobs.

The Centre for Applied Science and Technology.The Centre for Applied Science and Technology.

Last month the Herts Advertiser broke the news that the Home Office’s Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) at Woodcock Hill in Sandridge was under review.

Although a major employer in the village, the government has been considering whether to close the site, and relocate its services as part of a cost-cutting exercise.

The site’s closure has now been confirmed, in a statement released on Tuesday (24),

CAST’s staff and their projects will be relocated, to become part of the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL).

Scientists and engineers in Sandridge develop technological solutions to fight illegal activity, and support the Home Office in policing and tackling crime, counterterrorism, border security and controlling immigration.

Experts at the isolated, secure hilltop site, located near farms in the village, have long helped the government through contraband detection, community safety initiatives, forensics, public order and surveillance.

But from the end of this year they will be filtered out to join three other government sites, to become part of DSTL. They will primarily, however, be based at the government’s Porton Down research establishment, near Salisbury.

Jonathan Lyle, chief executive of DSTL, said that combining CAST’s and the laboratory’s “capabilities would improve the science and technology support for the MOD and Home Office and enhance the nation’s defence and security.”

While he did not explain how this would happen, Jonathan said the two organisations “already work together on key projects such as forensics, body armour and detection systems”.

Andy Bell, head of CAST, said: “The move will mean that our customers have access to a wider range of scientific and engineering expertise across government, industry and academia, giving broader access to innovative ideas and solutions.

“There is a lot of hard work to be undertaken before we complete the move and we will be providing full support to our staff throughout the transition.”

Staff at CAST have built up years of expertise and knowledge in their fields, with the centre describing itself as “at the heart of the Home Office providing expert advice, innovation and frontline support”.

Another spokesman for the DSTL could not confirm how many employees would be relocated from St Albans.

Also, when asked whether the government site in Sandridge would be sold once vacated, he said it was ‘too early’ to say what would happen upon completion of the staff transfer.

However the ‘integration’ of CAST employees with the defence laboratory is expected to end by 2020.

St Albans MP Anne Main said: “I’m aware that there may be people employed in CAST who live in St Albans, so I asked the Home Office if their jobs are being protected.

“While I’m pleased with the reassurances that there will be no job losses, I am concerned that employees and their families may need to relocate. I’ve have raised with the Home Office if they have looked into the feasibility of merging the offices in Sandridge.

“It’s important that the integration programme team gets these changes right, and properly supports staff during this transition.”

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