Home Office science centre jobs at risk in Sandridge

The Centre for Applied Science and Technology.

The Centre for Applied Science and Technology. - Credit: Archant

The future of a vital crime-busting centre surrounded by high barbed wire fences in St Albans’ Green Belt is uncertain, as cost-cutting measures are being considered.

The Home Office’s Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) at Woodcock Hill in Sandridge is under review, with staff warned that the site might close, its services relocated, or some jobs made redundant.

A major employer in the village, with about 250 people working at the centre, CAST describes itself as “at the heart of the Home Office providing expert advice, innovation and frontline support”.

Its scientists and engineers develop technological solutions to fight illegal activity, and supports the Home Office in policing and tackling crime, counterterrorism, border security and controlling immigration.

Experts at the isolated, secure hilltop site, located near farms, help the government through contraband detection, community safety initiatives, forensics, public order and surveillance. They have been working with the Security Innovation and Demonstration Centre to investigate various equipment or technology that could be deployed to identify and mitigate unwanted, intrusive or hostile activities by drones.

But, sources have told the Herts Advertiser that staff were told in September that the centre was under review.

Various options are being considered, including closing the site, or merging it with the government’s Porton Down research establishment, in Wiltshire.

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This paper understands that there are discussions between the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) about the possibility of moving CAST staff to the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), which supplies specialist defence and security services to the MOD and wider government.

One source said that a decision on CAST’s future is not imminent as the review process was likely to take some time, and there are many ‘sensitive’ issues to work through.

But, a spokeswoman for the Home Office refused to be drawn on the centre’s future, confirming only that it was ‘under review’.

She added: “I can’t say anything beyond that as discussions are ongoing. I can’t say when anything will be announced.”

A spokeswoman for Prospect, the trade union for scientists and engineers, said: “One of the concerns we have is the potential for job losses, and that people will feel they have to leave their place of employment because they are unable to, or don’t want to relocate.

“Staff at CAST have built up years of expertise and knowledge. We have met with them, and I don’t know how it will go, beyond this point. As far as CAST is concerned, their communication with staff at the centre has been excellent. The timescale [for the review] is around three years.”