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Police Scotland forced to trim digital plans

18/12/19

Mark Say Managing Editor

Police Scotland has been forced to row back on its investment plans for digital, data and ICT and postpone some projects, according to the country’s central auditor.

Policeman using computer

Audit Scotland has revealed the change in tack in a generally critical report on the core functions and finances of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), saying it has overspent but made limited investment in modernising the police service.

It refers to Police Scotland having produced a Digital, Data and ICT Strategy in 2018, with a strategic business case that involved an investment of £298 million over nine years. This included integrating mobile technology with operational systems, making better of data services and digital evidence, and a radio device refresh.

But funding had not been agreed with the Scottish Government and was not included in the draft national Budget. Subsequently, just £37.6 million was made available for transformation funding over 2018-20, compared with £89 million for 2019-20 in the business case.

This has led to the postponement of projects including the digital evidence platform and national cyber crime infrastructure, and delayed the delivery of expected financial benefits and extra capacity.

Some key projects have got underway, such as an £11 million spend on 10,000 smartphones and £6 million on core operating solutions for software platforms. But there are delays due to the limited funding, the timescales associated with procurement and the governance of business cases.

Earlier warning

The auditor’s criticisms follow a warning in December of last year that the funding outlook for Police Scotland’s plans looked uncertain.

The new report says the SPA overspent by £36 million on a total police budget of £1.1 billion, and it will not achieve a financial balance by 2021 as planned. Despite this, there has been limited investment in modernising the police service.

Audit Scotland remains concerned about the SPA's capacity and capability to carry out its corporate functions such as long term workforce, IT and financial planning.

Improvements over the last year were limited by the absence and subsequent departure of the chief executive and the chair, who had taken a more hands on role, resigned earlier this month.

Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland, said: "There is still an absolute need to agree a fully shared understanding about what the SPA's functions and responsibilities are, so that it can fulfil the role envisaged in legislation in 2012.

"There have been improvements, but considerable challenges remain. The SPA now needs a period of stability to build capacity and plan for a modern and financially stable police service."

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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