Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
MONDAY 22 APRIL 2002
40. Should you not have done this in 1993?
(Mr Gieve) Yes, we should have perfect foresight but
11 September was a surprise in a number of ways.
41. It does not take any foresight at all, does
it, to know that the Ambulance Service should know what the Police
Service and Fire Service are doing or the Fire Service should
know what the Police Service and the Ambulance Service are doing
in cases of civil emergency? I am surprised that we only realised
the emergency services needed to communicate with each other several
years after looking at radio communications which is what you
seem to be saying.
(Mr Gieve) No, that is not what I am saying. In the
case of emergencies there are well established procedures about
bringing the commands of the Fire Service and the Police Service
together. They do co-operate very closely.
42. I did not say "co-operate", I
(Mr Gieve) Yes, and communicate very closely together.
43. Are they already able to communicate prior
to this system?
(Mr Gieve) Yes, of course they are able to communicate.
The question is at what level they need to be able to communicate
as a matter built into the radio system as opposed to other means
of communication. The police, fire and ambulance communicate all
44. What we have here is a luxury which I do
not think we can afford. Looking at the figures, at the moment
the estimate is that about 0.8% of the police budget goes on communication
and this system will cost £180 million a year. My estimate
of the difference between the existing communication, which you
say is working between the services, and the new system is about
£120 million a year. I do not know what a police officer
costs, but let us say £40,000 per annum. I calculate £40,000
into £120 million is an additional 3,000 Bobbies. I know
what my constituents want who are threatened by a tidal wave of
crime which the Home Office has presided over, for a long period
of time and that is more policemen. I would look really for a
much stronger case than has been made so far for referring this,
which is now going to cost £2 in every £100 of the entire
police budget to maintain. I just wonder whether you have your
priorities right in the department.
(Mr Gieve) We think we have. Your constituents want
properly equipped police. When I was saying the emergency services
communicated with each other, I was not saying it was perfectly
done. They know it is not. We hope this is going to improve in
particular communication between police forces, which is not perfect
at the moment and where you do have different systems in different
areas. I am not saying we cannot improve it; we should be improving
it. In terms of the percentage of the budget, the £180 million
is a significant increase in cost but we do not know what the
budget for the police force is going to be in three or four years'
time when that sort of cost will become apparent because that
is still to be settled in the spending review.
45. The fact is that something well over £100
million additional costs per annum are now being incurred so that
police officers can speak to each other at best marginally more
efficiently than they could in the past.
(Mr Gieve) No, "marginally" is not true.
46. Would you agree with my estimate that the
comparative figure in terms of police officers is somewhere between
an additional 2,500 to 3,500 police officers?
(Mr Gieve) I cannot do that in my head.
47. You have not done that calculation.
(Mr Gieve) I have the cost of a police officer somewhere
in my papers. In any business you have to decide whether you put
money into equipment or manpower and the police have to decide
this on all sorts of fronts: about this equipment, about vehicles,
about planes and everything else. You could make the same calculation
about any of their equipment budgets. It is a matter of judgement.
You say this is just so they can communicate across borders better.
That is not the whole point. We hope Airwave is going to produce
and we think it is, there are signs of that already, very much
better communication within police force areas and that is what
we are hearing from Lancashire and North Yorkshire. That is an
improvement in efficiency.
48. I am going to ask you about that in a minute
because some of the figures beggar belief and some of the defence
which has been mounted in favour of this beggars belief. From
my point of view the two priorities which communities I represent
have are: the public being able to speak to the police, which
is a very difficult problem even on 999 calls, it is difficult
for people to get through; secondly, the police being able to
attend incidents which are occurring in villages and towns. I
would have thought that the priority would have been for additional
police officers. I see that you disagree with me in relation to
(Mr Gieve) No, I do not; we are employing more police
officers. We have a record number already and we have plans to
49. The fact is that you could have employed
even more police officers had you not decided to go down what
appears to me to be a fairly disastrous track. May I move in a
different direction for a second or two? When you found you only
had a single bidder for this very costly system, one of the things
which the department did was to try to calculate what it would
cost for the public sector to provide a similar kind of equipment.
I think you cooked the books. You added £170 million for
the alleged risk which the private sector were taking and you
were losing. You added a further £70 million for a contingency
sum. Presumably £240 million was added to the cost of the
public sector price in order to get it higher than the price which
the private sector was bidding. Would you agree with the way in
which I have expressed that?
(Mr Gieve) No.
(Mr Webb) We had the private sector comparator undertaken
by an independent authority, in fact Charterhouse and Masons Communications
undertook that on our behalf. They did that in line with the Treasury
guideline for calculating these terms. All of the things included
were part of the guideline.
50. I have a note in front of me saying that
the risks which the private sector were allegedly taking if they
were to be the supplier were valued at £170 million. It does
not say that your consultant advised you on the contingency sum,
it says that PITO decided to have this contingency sum, that is
a further £70 million. You added a quarter of a million pounds
to the price of a public sector provider. Is that figure correct?
(Mr Webb) Yes, those figures are correct.
51. Did your consultants, who themselves are
in the private sector and may have an interest in trying to load
the dice against the public sector, advise PITO to add £70
million for unknown contingencies? Was that the figure they recommended?
(Mr Webb) Yes, it was.
52. Did they identify the £170 million
of risk which the private sector were allegedly taking and you
were divesting yourselves of? Did they recommend that figure as
(Mr Webb) Yes, they did. Bearing in mind this was
new technology, it had not been done before, it was the largest
IT project ever undertaken by the Police Service, risks were identified,
particularly in the area of the acquisition of sites, which we
have already seen have materialised. There was significant risk
in terms of the figures which were being used in this activity
and that is why they were included.
53. With the Chairman's permission, could we
ask for some further information on how these prices which are
one quarter of a billion pounds in two global sums like this were
calculated? That information would be helpful.
(Mr Gieve) Yes; certainly.
54. Part of this report reads as though you
have written it, frankly. It does not read as a report which was
written jointly by yourselves and the C&AG. Paragraph 1.23
says "PITO regards the system as an enabler that can reduce
the frequency with which police officers have to return to the
station and the length of time they spend on tasks such as making
telephone calls or receiving briefings". It goes on to say
". . . not all forces were convinced" of this. May I
ask the C&AG what independent evaluation they made of these
(Mr Colman) They are claims about the future and you
will see that we word this paragraph very carefully to say these
are PITO's opinions as to benefits which should flow from the
introduction of this system. The system was not in operation when
we were doing this work, so it was not therefore possible to verify
that these savings would be achieved.
55. Have we identified how much time police
officers use making telephone calls which is now going to be saved
by making radio calls? Somehow they are going to be more brief
than the telephone calls the police are currently making. If PITO
has made that claim, which sounds bizarre, since I cannot understand
why a telephone call takes longer than a radio call, what evaluation
have you made with the Home Office of what I regard to be a somewhat
(Mr Webb) They can actually make direct mobile telephone
calls from the Airwave system, so they can receive and send mobile
phone messages directly. A large number of our police officers
could be contacted directly on a number by the public and could
respond directly to that without having to go back to receive
a message from an answering machine in the police station. That
is one issue. Also underlying this is the fact that not only can
these terminals provide access to voice, they can also provide
data as well. Information can be texted down to the police officer
directly so they can read it on their screen in much the same
way as you have now on a pager.
56. Why could that not happen with the existing
(Mr Webb) That was not available on analogue systems.
57. I see the next paragraph as the icing on
the cake. Paragraph 1.24 says these are claims which PITO has
made but when Thames Valley and other police forces looked at
the benefit analyses what they decided was that the most important
gain from these hundreds and millions of pounds was that it would
allow an overview by senior officers of where their police officers
were. Is that really what it boils down to, that the senior officers
will now know where the Bobbies are, because the rest of us quite
frequently do not have a clue where they are? Is that really what
we can claim for this system?
(Mr Webb) That is a feature of the system. In fact
there is a significant health and safety aspect associated with
that in knowing where officers are at any one time. As we also
put forward in the same argument, we are putting in here a digital
infrastructure which will enable all sorts of other digital services
to be provided to police officers in both cars and on handhelds:
access to the PNC, access to a wide range of visual services.
This is the way in which technology is moving but in fact it will
become an increasing part of policing.
58. I notice that a number of local police authorities
felt this was not going to give value for money and eventually
a kind of bribe was offered of £500 million to get everybody
on line. Some authorities were saying they did not want to sign
this because they were not going to get value for money from this
particular scheme, which is how I feel about it as well. Was any
evaluation made of the work local police authorities had done
in VFM terms on this scheme? They were really saying they wanted
to stick to their own schemes.
(Mr Colman) We are not the external auditors of individual
police forces so we were not able to do that kind of evaluation.
From the point of view of our examination, we were concerned to
see what the Home Office were trying to achieve and the measures
they took to achieve that. When they ran into difficulty, as they
did, with a number of local forces saying it was not good value
locally, they could do two things, possibly both. One was to try
to persuade them it was good value and the other was, as happened,
to absorb the cost for the first three years. It seemed to us
that those were perfectly reasonable responses to the problem
the Home Office faced in doing what they set out to achieve.
59. Mr Gieve, may I just give you another chance
to reply to the questions Mr Trickett put to you earlier on because
they were perfectly fair questions? He said that this money would
be better spent on more police officers and your reply was that
you had to make a decision. If I may help you outbecause
I always like to help witnesses out if I canthe key paragraph
here is this paragraph 3.28 on page 36. This seems to me absolutely
key on the typical pattern of an officer's day. "If Airwave
could help bring about a 10% saving in the time spent by officers
in the police station, this would be the national equivalent to
deploying an extra 1,200 officers". I know we have had a
discussion on this but this is what is worrying me. I do not understand
how this statement is arrived at. I agree none of us is expert
on how police officers spend their time in a police station but
could somebody help us out on how we are going to deploy an extra
1200 officers just because of a different radio system? You do
see that it is not very clear from this report.
(Mr Gieve) Despite what Mr Trickett says, this is
an NAO Report. I think they are just giving that as an illustrative
figure. You are asking how this will help to improve the effectiveness
and efficiency with which police time is used. We have said that
it will help in a number of ways. We shall be able to send data
to police who are outside the station. They will have to make
fewer calls; if you talk to police now they will tell you that
very often there is interference on the calls they make, they
lose contact, they have to ring back and so on. This will improve
that. It will allow better deployment of police; certainly the
message we get back from North Yorkshire is that knowing where
your police are at any one time is no small thing in terms of
deploying them and getting the nearest person to the right area.
This is an illustrative number, that is all it is. The general
argument is that we do not just want more police, but we want
them to be effective and part of making them effective is equipping
them with up-to-date equipment and that is what this is about.
Yes, there is a choice about how far you go, but our view is that
Airwave is giving them an up-to-date digital radio system which
is a key part of equipping them properly and therefore making
them effective. In most other services that would be taken for
granted, as it is in the Fire Service or the Ambulance Service.
Chairman: Are you happy with that, Mr
Jon Trickett: Thank you.
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