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MPs rebuke Home Office over National Law Enforcement Data Service

09/12/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has slammed the Home Office’s effort to deliver its National Law Enforcement Data Service (NLEDS) programme.

It has published a report on the programme, saying the department has “wasted vital time and scarce funding without making any meaningful progress” over the past five years.

The MPs’ report comes three months after the National Audit Office published its own highly critical review of the programme.

NLEDS is aimed at replacing the Police National Computer (PNC), a database of criminal records which is reported to be reaching the end of its life, and ultimately the Police National Database (PND) for intelligence sharing.

The PAC says that, while the NLEDS programme began in 2016 with an original delivery date of 2020, it is not now expected to produce the replacement system until at least 2025-26, and there has been a 68% increase in its costs to £1.1 billion. This has been due to an unrealistic scope at the beginning, a failure to establish a joint vision with police forces until two years into the programme, and police losing confidence as it progressed.

In addition, it is still not fully clear what the capabilities of a new system will be, a five-year programme to update the PND will not begin until next year, and the Home Office will have to run the PNC without full manufacturer support after 2024.

The reports says this reflects on the department not having the capacity to prioritise and deliver major digital programmes on time, having tried to do much at once and failing to develop the skills for agile methods.

Need for realism

It makes a series of recommendations, including that the Home Office is more realistic about major programmes in future, that it should set out a detailed roadmap for the delivery of the full NLEDS capability, and senior staff should ensure they have regular oversight of the programme.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said: “The Home Office has a number of large, complex, costly digital and technology projects to deliver. All are critical to security and yet we see perpetual failure and an inability to learn lessons on basic project management. It is hard to see what steps the Home Office is taking to resolve these huge problems and whether it has any inkling that they will work.

“Personal and national security are arguably the most fundamental duties of a government to its citizens. And the Home Office is falling down on these major projects with little urgency or planning for how to deliver them.

“Our frontline police rely on these systems to do their job. The Home Office must be clear about the route ahead or confidence of the UK's police forces in the Home Office will sink even lower."

The PAC added that the failings show a continuation of the Home Office’s “miserable record of exorbitantly expensive digital programmes that fail to deliver”, citing examples of the Emergency Services Network and Digital Services at the Border.

Image from iStock, Bridget McGill

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