The Home Office's delay in introducing the National Law Enforcement Data Service (NLEDS) is putting police access to vital information at risk, according to a new report by the National Audit Office (NAO).
The programme to develop the NLEDS was launched in 2016 to replace two police IT systems: the Police National Computer (PNC) – a database of criminal records – and the Police National Database (PND) for intelligence sharing.
These systems are heavily relied on by the police but are reaching the end of their lives with their technology becoming obsolete.
Although originally scheduled for 2020, the NLEDS programme has yet to deliver the expected services, and the total costs have increased by 68% to £1.1 billion, the NAO says.
An independent programme review commissioned by the Home Office found that if the programme continued as it was, it would be late, difficult and costly to roll out and maintain, and would not meet the needs of the police. This prompted a second reset in December 2020 that involved keeping the PND in place.
The report says that under the new plans, the programme is not expected to deliver a service equivalent to the current PNC until 2025-26. The PNC's current technology will no longer be supported after December 2024, but the department told the NAO it had decided to accept the higher risk of disruption, claiming the actual risk profile is low due to the mitigation actions in place.
In April 2021, however, the Home Office had only 'moderate confidence' in its new plans and did not have a programme plan assuring delivery by 2025-26. Then in June it told the NAO that it had increased confidence in the deliverability of the programme.
High costs, further delays
It must continue to run existing systems at a cost of £21 million per year for the PNC and £13 million for the PND, and its estimate shows that NLEDS is expected to cost £17 million per year. If there are further delays to the programme, the Home Office may also need to migrate the PNC to a new operating system, which could take three years and cost at least £30 million.
The NAO highlighted that in January there was a data loss from the PNC affecting 112,697 person records, and the recovery efforts were made more difficult by the ageing technology – although by May all the records had been recovered.
The NAO says Home Office and the police have not had a consistent shared understanding of what NLEDS will deliver, since 2016 the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) has repeatedly reported a lack of consistency in stakeholders' understanding of the programme, and that its focus has changed several times.
In autumn 2020 the police lost confidence, formally raising their concerns with the Home Office's permanent secretary. While the Home Office is now seeking to work more collaboratively with stakeholders, it is too early to assess the results of this new approach.
The NAO recommends that the department should immediately clarify its role and that of the police in the delivery of the new service and agree a revised business case for the programme. It should also set out clear plans on how NLEDS will replace PNC capabilities by the time required and can guarantee that the police can rely on the system until NLEDS is ready.
Lack of clarity
Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: "After a succession of delays, resets, and changes in scope, the cost of the NLEDS programme has increased significantly, and it is still not clear whether the Home Office will be able to deliver the programme before the existing infrastructure becomes obsolete.
"Fragile technology is limiting the ability of the police and other organisations to carry out their job effectively and ultimately putting the security and safety of the public at risk. The Home Office must urgently work with the police to guarantee a clear timeline for the programme, avoiding any further delays."
Image from iStock, Bridget McGill