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No date yet for police IT company

19/02/15

Home Affairs Committee report highlights slow progress in dealing with technology failings

A flagship project to improve notoriously poor police IT is still not operational - and there is no date for its introduction.

It is close to four years since Home Secretary Theresa May promised a new company, run by the police, to help forces drive down their £1.2bn annual technology bills.

Police carThe idea was for the firm to be fully owned by the recently elected police and crime commissioners (PCCs) and to sell its services to the 43 English and Welsh forces.

But a new report by the Home Affairs select committee notes that the company - despite being incorporated back in 2012 - is "not yet operating".

Last week, the PCCs finally approved a proposal to establish the company, arguing it could save forces "up to £465m a year". They announced they had "formed a board, working alongside senior police officers and Home Office officials to review the requirements for a company".

However, the Home Office has refused to set a target date for the company to be up and running - with the general election just 11 weeks away.

A spokesman said only: "The Home Secretary has been clear that the way police forces buy and manage ICT contracts is chaotic and wasteful. Police and crime commissioners pay for police IT and are accountable to the public for the decisions they make and we welcome their work to date to shape the Police ICT Company."

But the statement did hint at frustration, adding: "Those decisions, particularly about what specific functions the company will take on initially, need to be made now."

White elephant

The further delay is certain to increase criticism of a project which Labour warned "has all the signs of becoming an expensive white elephant".

Keith Vaz, the Home Affairs Committee's Labour chairman, said: "Since 2010, the Home Secretary has set out an ambitious plan for the new landscape of policing.

"However, more progress has to be made to declutter the landscape and ensure that the organisations created meet the rapidly evolving challenges facing 21st century policing."

Protests about poor technology have been led by Tom Winsor, the chief inspector of constabulary, who has said officers were left "screaming" with frustration. He has claimed that some have been forced to use their own smartphones for voice recording, photography and obtaining information, even though the devices do not meet high security standards.

He has appealed for a "single national champion" to deal with police technology and to replace the current set-up of more than 2,000 different IT systems.

Picture: Koperwas, Wikimedia, public domain

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