Delays in funding the Data, Digital and ICT Strategy are contributing to anxieties over the ability of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) to balance its budget and meet longer term strategic objectives.
Audit Scotland has published a report on the financial outlook for the service that highlights the critical role of the strategy and points out that a funding package to meet the estimated budget of £298 million to deliver the strategy over the next five years has not yet been agreed.
It says the SPA has a three-year financial plan to balance the books by 2020-21 that is dependent on introducing new technology and streamlining processes. It is also aiming to improve its performance under the Policing 2026 strategy.
The Data, Digital and ICT Strategy provides a key element of making this happen, but the report says, while it has been approved by the SPA board, there is still a lack of clarity about how it will be funded. It warns that the scale, cost and complexity should not be underestimated and the delay is placing the overall plan at risk.
The report also notes that there was increased spending on consultancy and external support in 2017-18 due to a lack of capacity in the SPA and Police Scotland to deliver strategic projects. A total of £4.3 million was spent on consultancy fees, more than double the £1.9 million spent the previous year.
Expenditure on agency staff was £4 million, a significant increase from the £1.5 million spent in 2016-17.
Change and progress
Auditor General Caroline Gardner said: "Policing in Scotland continues to go through considerable change. Progress has been made in key areas but there remains a substantial amount of work to do if the SPA is to achieve long term financial sustainability and meet the challenges of modern policing.
"The scale, cost and complexity of the plans needed to deliver that transformational change should not be underestimated. It's vital that the SPA and Police Scotland develop comprehensive strategies for its future workforce, estates and ICT and clarify where the funding is coming from to make them a reality."
In September the SPA published a 10-year digital transformation plan for the national police force, broader than the ICT plan for internal efficiencies and laying the ground for an addition £244 million in capital spending and £54 million in revenue expenditure.
mage by Dave Conner (amended), CC BY 2.0 through flickr