Employees at the government’s secretive laboratory Porton Down suffer from low morale, have worries about pay and lack confidence in its leadership, according to a Labour analysis of a staff survey.
It comes as British scientists working at the world-renowned Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) have been at the centre of Britain’s response to the use of the military-grade nerve agent in Salisbury and the poisoning of a former Russian spy.
According to an internal civil service staff survey, just 26 per cent expressed confidence in the decisions made by DSTL’s senior managers while 19 per cent agreed that change is managed well within the organisation.
When asked whether the organisation motivates them to help it achieve its objectives, 33 per cent of those who replied to the annual survey either strongly agreed or agreed.
The results have led to Labour pointing to the survey – conducted at the end of 2017 – as evidence that on the watch of the Conservative government the “morale of defence staff is falling as fast as their budgets are”.
Of those who responded to the survey just 22 per cent added that they believed their pay adequately reflected their job performance while just 15 per cent said their pay was reasonable compared to equivalent professionals working for other employers.
Responses to the survey formed part of the Annual Civil Service People Survey, which measures staff opinion in nearly a hundred public agencies and involves tens of thousands of responses from civil servants.
Labour MP Stephanie Peacock told The Independent: “All this week has shown too clearly, Porton Down is in the front line of developing Britain from attacks like the Salisbury poisoning. But these disturbing results show that even this world-leading laboratory is being undermined by the government’s refusal to invest in our services, with millions of pounds and hundreds of staff axed under the Tories.
“Our scientists are at the global forefront of protecting people here and abroad from chemical and biological warfare or terrorism, and they deserve better.
“The consequence of Tory cuts are now being laid bare. On their watch, the morale of defence staff is falling as fast as their budgets are. When ministers’ own civil servants have no confidence in their leadership, it is clear that the government is letting down the people who work hard to keep us safe.”
But a Conservative defence source replied: “Given their love for the little red book, perhaps it isn’t surprising Labour is now turning to the Kremlin’s playbook for inspiration, using disinformation tactics to try and score cheap political points from a chemical weapons attack on British soil.”
They also highlighted that last month Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, said the secretive laboratory will receive an extra £48m following its instrumental work in identifying the novichock nerve agent that was used to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
The source continued: “Just last week the prime minister increased this year’s defence budget by £800m – including an extra £600m to kickstart our nuclear submarine replacement programme, a scheme the Labour leadership wants to axe, putting lives at risk and costing thousands of jobs.
“It is Labour who would leave this country defenceless against the the most deadly of threats at a time when the dangers we face as a country are growing drastically.”
An Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesperson added: “This is an internal survey that does not make any reference to the secretary of state or ministers.”