Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)



  160. Why can they not go to the command centre and be patched through?
  (Mr Gieve) They can do that too. I was just picking up his comment.

  161. He was being flippant, he was not being realistic. Now you are citing that as a realistic example. Can you give us some examples?
  (Mr Gieve) I think police forces do use personal mobile phones to communicate with each other quite frequently.

  162. Is that a problem?
  (Mr Gieve) Yes, it is not ideal because they do not have very good coverage, because they are an additional cost, they are an additional burden on the police. It is not ideal at all.

  163. I just get the impression that things are not ideal but they are not actually worth £1.47 billion to sort out. That is the impression I get from this whole hearing.
  (Mr Webb) There are other features here in the sense that the prime reason for the provision of this service was to replace the ageing analogue system and provide a digital system for the future which we could build on, particularly in terms of providing digital services. That was the key thrust here and the key thrust from ACPO as well. At this time, using a mobile phone and other services, you cannot necessarily provide those services. What we are endeavouring to do is to provide a much more joined up environment so the police can do their job more effectively.

  164. In my county you cannot even provide a service of turning out to a burglary yet you are talking about this very gold-plated service for these odd incidents across borders moving between police forces. You do not even attend a burglary of a 90-year old lady in my constituency, so why is this more important than that?
  (Mr Webb) Interoperability was only one feature of this. There are other features as well in terms of providing better coverage so that they can communicate when they are on the ground in responding to a call. In many cases, particularly in rural areas, that is impossible. With the current technology they cannot actually locate the policeman or talk to him if he is out in a black spot. This technology is there to deliver an improved service.

  165. How do they deal with that problem at the moment?
  (Mr Webb) In many cases they do actually have to go to a phone box.

  166. Is that a huge problem in those rural areas? What level of policing problems does that give rise to in rural areas?
  (Mr Webb) It is a concern to the Chief Constables with rural areas.

  167. What magnitude of concern is it?
  (Mr Webb) Significant in a number of areas where we have been looking at other alternatives to provide those sorts of service with difficulty.
  (Mr Gieve) Coming back to the £1.47 billion, the cost of the complete system, we can only save that by not having any radio system.

  168. How will this radio system assist the policeman on the beat in my constituency?
  (Mr Webb) It will provide better coverage, it will provide encryption so that it cannot be monitored, it will provide greater reliability, greater speech quality, it will enable him to speak directly to other police officers. He will have a facility to use it like a mobile phone to contact and receive calls from the public. He will be able to use it to download digital information and ultimately—

  169. Will he need all those things when dealing with a group of yobbos at the corner of a school?
  (Mr Webb) Quite frankly if he is in a situation where he wants assistance, he also has an emergency button which he can press which goes to priority and there is support there immediately.

  170. There is an example in paragraph 3.28 of 10% leading to 1,200 police officers and you said that is just an illustrative example. What is a realistic percentage figure that you think will be saved in police time? Is it more than 10% or less than 10%?
  (Mr Webb) It is an illustrative example. Looking at some of the associated aspects out of Sir David O'Dowd's task force, where they are looking at how they can improve this, the key issue here is removing the necessity for the policeman to return to the police station quite so often. With some of the digital services at the moment they would have to return to provide reports —

  171. Across the national Police Service as a whole, what would that percentage be? Two%, 12%?
  (Mr Gieve) The report in paragraph 3.28 talks about eventual efficiency gains of up to 30%.

  172. Is that right? Is that your assessment?
  (Mr Gieve) That is the best assessment of people working on the system.

  173. You think you will save 30% of the average policeman's time as a result of this system.
  (Mr Webb) Potentially, yes.
  (Mr Gieve) It may come in terms of outputs rather than savings. Efficiency is also about outputs as well as inputs.

  174. Fair enough. So I shall see a 30% improvement in policing in my constituency in time as a result of this system. There will be more policemen on the beat. More attendances at burglaries, more making sure yobbos are not disrupting people's quiet enjoyment of life.
  (Mr Gieve) I cannot guarantee that in terms of a particular output of a particular service, but yes, this is intended to feed through into better dealing with the various things police do, including dealing with victims.

  175. If the police had had £500 million themselves to spend, they would have happily contributed to the scheme if they had the freedom to spend the £500 million as a whole themselves.
  (Mr Gieve) I do not know. It would have been quite difficult. We have 50-plus separate police authorities and the chances of all of them agreeing to spend it the way we want to spend it would be quite small.

  176. But you think the majority would.
  (Mr Gieve) Some significant ones would and indeed some police authorities, including the Met had already decided to take Airwave before we decided to pay the costs.

  177. I spent a day with Littlehampton police and I discovered where all the police were. They were in a big office block in Durrington, which is outside my constituency but it is where the divisional headquarters are, where they operate from. It is absolutely packed with computers and rows and rows of desks and the police were all sitting at these computers doing I know not what. This is not the communications centre, which is in Lewes, this is just a little sub-division full of computers and offices. What I am really asking you on the basis of that anecdote is whether we are not over-engineering the police process with all this equipment, all these computers in Sussex and all this very, very high tech communication system when policing is actually quite a low engineering process of being on the beat, deterring crime, attending burglaries. Do you not believe this money would be better spent on providing more officers and providing a less highly engineered policing process?
  (Mr Gieve) No. I do not agree with that, although obviously it is a question of judgement. When you say policing is essentially fairly low tech, Bobbies on the beat, that is part of it, yes, absolutely. However, good communications are a key part of doing a decent job on the beat. There is also the more sophisticated end of policing; the security of not having your telephone calls listened to, for example, is absolutely vital in some parts of policing. Policing is a pretty complex business. On the question of whether we have too many police sitting in back offices and not out there doing the job, yes, we the Home Office, but also the police, would say we wanted to get more people out to the front line. One advantage of having a national system is that you do not have to have separate teams in each police force designing and supporting their own digital radio technology. That was one of the gains from going for national procurement.

  178. Is this the most up-to-date technology that your company has to offer?
  (Mr Parris) Yes, it is.

Mr Davidson

  179. May I start off by agreeing with my colleague Alan Williams on the question of recognising the need for police radios to be improved? I certainly had a placement with Strathclyde police and I recognise they difficulties they face with radios which do not work, which do not cover the area and so on. I accept that there is a need, but I do have some questions. Does the Home Office generally have confidence in the ability of local police committees to understand the needs of their area and of their force?
  (Mr Gieve) Yes.

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Prepared 28 November 2002