The UK privatisations which began under the Conservative government in the 1980s changed the political and industrial landscape fundamentally. The model of privatisation varied widely. Some state enterprises operated in competitive markets or markets with the potential to open up. For these, deregulation and full exposure to competition (rather than change in ownership per se) drove productivity and customer service improvements. The situation for monopoly providers, such as utilities, was different and it generally required the oversight by independent regulators to drive efficiency improvements and lower prices for consumers.

Government scientific establishments were not obvious candidates for privatisation. However, following reviews initiated by The Rt Hon Michael Heseltine when he was President of the Board of Trade, those scientific agencies owned by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) were transferred in various ways to private ownership in the final years of the Thatcher/Major Conservative government. Although it had able scientific staff, it was not clear how the Laboratory of the Government Chemist could manage outside government and, at the time, the risks seemed high. LGC’s transformation from a government agency to a thriving science-based company has been one of the most successful of all privatisations.

LGC: The making of a company is a narrative account of LGC’s transformation from a public sector agency to a thriving private company. It describes the final period as a Next Steps Agency within the civil service and the successful management buy-out bid to purchase the Laboratory from the government.