New Landscape of Policing - Home Affairs Committee Contents

4  Police-led IT Company

134.  In this chapter we consider the current state of IT within the police service, the progress that has been made so far in improving IT procurement and converging different IT systems, Lord Wasserman's review of police IT, and the Home Secretary's recent announcement about the creation of a new police-led company with responsibility for police IT.

The problem

135.  Sir Hugh Orde, the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, described the current state of IT within the police service as "a bit of a mess" and added "I think everyone would accept that."[176] The main reason for the mess is that the 43 forces have, between them, a multiplicity of different IT systems and IT contracts. The Home Secretary certainly accepts that there is a problem. In a speech to the Association of Chief Police Officers conference on 4 July 2011, she commented: "It is absolutely clear that the current system is broken."[177] She stated:

Good ICT systems and services are vital for modern policing. ICT supports the police on the front line, through items like portable radios and PDAs. It supports the middle office, through things like criminal records databases, intelligence and crime mapping. And it supports the back office, through HR, finance, accounting and payroll systems.[178]

She said that across the police service there were currently about 5,000 staff working on 2,000 different ICT systems.

136.  The Home Secretary noted that the police currently spend £1.2 billion a year on information and communications technology, but said that this did not represent good value for money and stated: "The way we do things now is confused, fragmented and expensive."[179] She gave the example of one supplier that has more than 1,500 contracts across the forces. Terry Skinner, Chair of the Justice and Emergency Services Information Communication Association Group at Intellect, the UK trade association for the IT, telecoms and electronics industries, told us that he believed that the "the police overspend on IT by at least 20%."[180] Nigel Smith, the former Chief Executive of the Office of Government Commerce, said that he agreed that a saving of 20% was possible across police IT, and indeed that such savings were possible "across Government, not just in the police service. "[181] Intellect subsequently submitted additional written evidence to us describing 20% savings across ICT in the police services as "a conservative estimate of what could be achieved."[182] We discuss Intellect's proposals for how this money could be saved in paragraphs 165 to 167 below.

137.  A contributory factor to the problems with IT procurement in the police service, and a significant problem in its own right, is the fact that different forces are using different IT systems, many of which are incompatible with each other and some of which have been replaced by newer and more efficient technology. Mick Creedon, the Chief Constable of Derbyshire, described this as the problem of "the way legacy systems have developed on a piecemeal basis."[183] Over the years, 43 forces have developed 43 different sets of IT solutions. The Home Secretary stated: "Officers have told me about IT systems that require multiple keying of the very same information, are incompatible with systems doing the same basic job in neighbouring forces, or are even incompatible with other systems in their own force."[184]

138.  IT across the police service as a whole is not fit for purpose, to the detriment of the police's ability to fulfil their basic mission of preventing crime and disorder. The Home Office must make revolutionising police IT a top priority. This is one area of policing where direction from the centre is not only desirable but vital in order to effect change. It is accepted in the information and communications technology industry—and is becoming increasingly accepted across the private and public sectors—that information and communications technology and internet-related issues are now central to any organisation, whether concerned with commercial success or providing a public service, and that the buck must stay firmly on the desk of the Chief Executive when it comes to ensuring that efficiency and effectiveness are achieved. We asked the new Permanent Secretary at the Home Office whether she shared this perspective and we were pleased that her response was clear, focused and positive. The history of Government and Whitehall over the last 20 years or so has demonstrated that this is about not just having the right policies but also having a good understanding of the strategic direction, achieving the right partnerships, and mutual challenge between policy-makers and delivery organisations.

Progress so far


139.  It would be unfair to imply that no progress has been made to date on improving information and communications technology in the police service. Sir Hugh Orde qualified his remark about police IT being a mess by adding: "I think there was a lot of progress made when it was taken into the NPIA."[185] The National Policing Improvement Agency currently has responsibility for IT-related procurement (as well as non-IT procurement, which we consider in the next chapter), and for the commercial management of national police information and communications technology systems, such as Airwave. It also provides a number of IT systems directly itself, such as the Police National Computer, which enables the sharing of information about crimes between police forces. The future of some of the information and communications technology functions currently provided by the National Policing Improvement Agency, such as the management of the Airwave contract, was a particular concern among our witnesses, as we discussed in Chapter 1.

140.  The National Policing Improvement Agency has achieved some successes in making savings from police IT procurement. On 24 February 2011, the Agency reported that it would exceed the savings targets that had been set for it by the Home Office: for IT procurement, the target is £25 million and the Agency is on track to deliver savings of nearly £30 million.[186] In written evidence, the Agency drew attention to the launch of compulsory national frameworks for some aspects of police IT. It stated:

In mid-March [2011], we rolled out a national framework agreement for forces to buy off-the-shelf IT equipment and general computer software. The Government has made it compulsory for forces to use this framework agreement to get the IT they need from one pre-approved supplier, without having to go through costly and lengthy procurement processes. The three-year framework agreement provides a cost effective and joined-up approach to help forces make significant savings. This will save forces up to £18 million over three years.[187]

141.  The National Policing Improvement Agency is also responsible for delivering the Information Systems Improvement Strategy, known as ISIS. The Agency describes ISIS as follows:

Currently, each force owns and operates its own ICT resulting in duplication of investment and effort. Working in partnership with ACPO, the Home Office and the private sector, ISIS will incrementally replace hundreds of systems with nationally available services which forces will pay for on the basis of consumption.[188]

This is clearly a massive undertaking. ISIS has the potential not only to transform ICT in the police service, but to contribute towards the reduction of bureaucracy. The Metropolitan Police Service commented: "Converging ICT through ISIS and moving to a nationally led police procurement would address some of the bureaucracy experienced with some of the fragmented and dysfunctional systems and processes currently in place."[189] Nick Gargan, Chief Executive of the National Policing Improvement Agency, described ISIS as "a sensible pragmatic plan incrementally to converge police IT and save substantial amounts of money while delivering increased interoperability, with which few would disagree."[190]


142.  Project Athena is also intended to improve levels of ICT convergence. It aims to facilitate the sharing of information in four key areas: intelligence, crime investigation, managing offenders, and preparing files for court. It is a collaborative project involving nine police forces: Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Suffolk, Norfolk, the British Transport Police and the City of London Police. Kent Police have indicated that they will be the first to use the framework agreement that the project is developing. The agreement is eventually intended to be used by other forces. Assistant Chief Constable Beautridge, Head of Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, commented: "Project Athena is set to be the biggest champion-challenger product of its kind nationally and we have made massive progress in trying to deliver this product for the benefits of communities and our front-line staff."[191]

143.  Not only is the current state of information and communications technology in the police service unsatisfactory, the National Policing Improvement Agency is being phased out and a successor must be found for many of the information and communications technology functions that it fulfils. This provides an additional urgency to the imperative for a new approach to police information and communications technology. However, in devising this new approach the Home Office must not neglect those few elements of the existing landscape that are working well. In particular, the Home Office must secure the future of ISIS and continue to support Project Athena.

Lord Wasserman's review

144.  In autumn 2010, the Home Secretary commissioned Lord Wasserman to, as she put it in a letter to us, "begin a process of considering the scope for radical and cost-effective options in providing national police IT functions in the future."[192] Finding out details about Lord Wasserman's review has been difficult. Lord Wasserman is an unpaid special adviser to the Government on crime, policing and criminal justice matters. He reports directly to Ministers.[193] No terms of reference for Lord Wasserman's consideration of the future of national police IT were published and the Home Secretary confirmed in a letter that Lord Wasserman would not be producing a report. However, she stated:

The consideration of his work will be a core part of the decisions the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice and myself are taking with regards to police IT, beyond the current arrangements led by the National Policing Improvement Agency, and as part of the wider reforms of the national policing landscape.[194]

145.  Given that the recommendations made by Lord Wasserman would be central to the future of police IT, we were keen to hear oral evidence from him. We made it clear that we were prepared to wait until after he had completed his review if he thought this more appropriate. The Home Office initially told us that he would be available to give evidence, but then changed its mind and said that the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice would be able to update us on this aspect of the policing landscape instead. The Minister told us that Lord Wasserman "has been giving advice on a range of policing matters" and commented: "It is not normal for such advice to be made public or for advisers to appear before the Committee.[195]

146.  Both this and the previous Government have at times claimed that there is a convention whereby special advisers do not give evidence to Select Committees. However, special advisers have given evidence to Select Committees in the past. Considering the significant advice that Lord Wasserman has provided to the Government, we believe that it was an error of judgment to prevent us from hearing from him about his proposals for the future of police IT: this is a vital element of the new landscape and he is a key figure in determining its future.

The outcome of the review

147.  Several pieces of written evidence gave us an indication of what the likely outcome of Lord Wasserman's work might be. The Metropolitan Police Service, writing to us in April 2011, stated:

Lord Wasserman has laid out his proposals for a GovCo [Government-owned company] to be established. ACPO expressed a unanimous view that the new organisation should focus on building the future state and should not be burdened by the existing national systems and contracts. It was proposed that this Legacy (both in house and existing contracts) was transferred to the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] whilst the 'to be' organisation was put in place and there is no reason why this would not be a practical proposition.[196]

Written evidence submitted by the Association of Police Authorities also mentioned that Lord Wasserman was likely to recommend the creation of a Government-owned company. The Association commented: "we are bemused by early indications from the current Wasserman Review to replace the NPIA with another 'GovCom'/quango to deliver procurement and other functions regarding IT infrastructure currently provided by the NPIA."[197]

148.  On 28 June 2011, we asked the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice whether there was a plan to set up a Government-owned company to be responsible for police IT. He replied: "No. There is no plan for a Government-owned company, but, as I have explained, we will be announcing the functions of the NPIA will be—[handled]".[198] Less than a week later, on 4 July 2011, the Home Secretary announced at the Association of Chief Police Officers conference: "we will help the service to set up a police-led ICT company". She continued: "I will not be prescribing what the company should look like. But its design should be based on a number of fundamental principles."[199] The principles she outlined were:

  • the company should be police-led;
  • the company needs to be staffed by ICT professionals;
  • the new company must have a culture that allows it to attract and retain individuals with the skills and capabilities needed, and that encourages those individuals to innovate and deliver success;
  • the new company must exploit the purchasing power of the police service as a whole.

While we do not disagree with these points, the experience of letting IT contracts within Government demonstrates that it is important to be highly flexible and nimble, and have a good understanding of how best to harness the professionalism available within business. Too many information and communications technology projects in Government have taken place without a 'gateway-zero review' and this has seen the most capable companies choose not to bid because the procurement processes do not look right, efficient and professional. We urge the Home Secretary to ensure that these issues are fully understood by those responsible, whether within her team in the Department or in a police force or agency.

149.  The Home Secretary stated that it was the Government's intention that the new company would be formed by spring 2012 and said that she had asked Lord Wasserman "to lead the work of setting up the new company." She said that Lord Wasserman would chair "an interim or shadow board of the new company on which all stakeholders will be represented", and commented that Ailsa Beaton, the Chief Information Officer of the Metropolitan Police and the lead on IT for the Association of Chief Police Officers, had agreed to serve on the interim board as the senior police IT professional.

150.  The proposed new body is not entirely a Government-owned company, so the Minister's answer to our question was technically correct, although it might have been helpful if he had told us more about the Government's thinking at that point, given that the announcement about the IT company was made only days later. The Home Secretary said in her speech on 4 July 2011 that the company would be "police-owned" and commented: "I expect the Home Office, and possibly the private sector, will also own shares in the new company, alongside police forces."[200] A letter to us from Ailsa Beaton makes it clear that this was one of three models under consideration. She writes that on 25 May 2011 Lord Wasserman and officials at the Home Office presented a paper to the National Policing Improvement Agency Transition Steering Group:

Three possible future options were outlined for taking on the NPIA's responsibilities for national police ICT on its demise; transferring it to an independent company owned by the Home Office, police authorities, forces and a private sector partner; transferring it to a police ICT Mutual, a similar construct largely police owned; or transferring it to the Home Office. The preferred model was the Mutual option.[201]

151.   On 8 July 2011, we wrote to the Home Secretary seeking further details about the new company. Her response confirmed the previous announcement that Lord Wasserman would act as Chair of the shadow board of the new company, but, notwithstanding her earlier statement that Lord Wasserman would "lead the work of setting up the new company," she commented: "Day-to-day direction of the work of forming the new company will be the responsibility of Bill Crothers, the Home Office Group Commercial Director, who has been appointed Senior Responsible Owner for the Project."[202] She stated that "precise legal form of the entity has yet to be decided", but commented that the intention was that "the majority of shares in the company will be held by police forces." She stated: "These shares will be allocated to them by a formula to be agreed by the parties concerned. There is no question of forces having to buy shares."[203] She commented that "Police and Crime Commissioners will be represented on the board of the new company and will thus have a close interest in all aspects of the company's activities including procurement."[204] It is not yet clear how the relationship between the company and individual Police and Crime Commissioners will work in practice.

152.  The Home Secretary commented that "Lord Wasserman has had a long and distinguished career in public service including several roles that qualify him for this role [of Chair of the shadow board]." She stated that from 1983 to 1995, Lord Wasserman was Assistant Under Secretary of State for Police Science and Technology in the Home Office, a post in which "he was responsible for the provision of all national police IT systems", that he "directed the preparation of the first national strategy for police IT" and worked as a "Special Adviser on Science and Technology to the Police Commissioner in New York City, Senior Adviser and Chief of Staff to the Philadelphia Police Commissioner and adviser to the US Department of Justice."[205]

153.  We note again that Lord Wasserman has had a long and distinguished career in public service, but we note again that it would have been helpful if we could have spoken to him in person as part of our inquiry, given his central role in shaping the new police IT company. We give notice that we intend to invite Lord Wasserman to give evidence to us in the autumn on these issues and on recent developments.

154.  The Home Secretary's letter sheds some light on the scope of the new company's functions. She comments:

The current plan is that the new company will take on those functions of the NPIA relating to procurement and commercial management of national police ICT systems. It will also assume responsibility for ISIS. The operation of the PNC [Police National Computer] and a number of other IT systems provided directly by the NPIA will be transferred to one or more police force(s) for the period until they are replaced by new systems. It will be the new company's responsibility to manage the process of negotiating contracts to replace them and subsequently to manage those contracts.[206]

It might appear simple to transfer responsibility for the existing information and communications technology systems provided directly by the National Policing Improvement Agency to the Metropolitan Police Service, particularly in the light of the Metropolitan Police's willingness to take on this task,[207] but there are serious and systemic issues regarding the governance of the Metropolitan Police, as well as regarding the governance of information and communications projects, which is an important issue in itself. We note that the Association of Chief Police Officers did not want any new police IT body to be burdened by responsibility for existing national systems, and can see some logic in this. However, we repeat our concern that the Metropolitan Police Service is currently in a state of some uncertainty, with a new Commissioner who faces major challenges on a variety of different fronts.

155.  We seek clarity from the Home Office on which police force or forces it has in mind to take on responsibility for the existing IT systems provided directly by the National Policing Improvement Agency and an assurance that the force in question will be given the necessary resources to take on this task. In addition, we seek clarity on precisely which IT systems will become the responsibility of a local force and which will go directly to the new police IT body. We expect that Airwave will become the responsibility of the new police IT body, but we would like this confirmed.

156.  The Home Secretary also gives an explanation of why the Home Office decided to set up a company rather than a non-departmental public body. The Home Secretary stated: "The Government sees major advantages in setting up a new company rather than an NDPB." The advantages she lists are that the new company "will be allowed to recruit staff and pay them market rates based on their performance" and that the "direct link between the company and its owners, who are its principal customers, will make the company responsive to, and directly accountable to, police forces."

157.  Sara Thornton, the Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, gave us another reason why the Home Office might have chosen to set up a company rather than a non-departmental public body. She said that it was "very early days" and the plans for the company were "hazy", but stated:

my understanding is that if the company is set up correctly, it would be able to go to market in a very different way than is currently the case. It would be able to rapidly find out what forces' user requirements were and then go with that requirement to the market. If it was set up as a company, it could then be exempt from EU rules about procurement, which could make the whole process much speedier because it would be acting like a commercial company.[208]

There are EU procurement directives that apply to purchases above certain monetary thresholds made by the public sector and some utilities companies, but which would not apply to purchases made by a company. Where the directives apply, contracts must be advertised in the Official Journal of the EU, hence they are sometimes called OJEU processes.

158.  Our witnesses had different views on the usefulness of the EU directives. Tracey Lee, Head of Emergency Services at Steria, suggested that the rules might be making police forces unnecessarily wary about engaging with suppliers: "many of the forces are rightly accountable for the public money and the EU legislation, as it stands, makes people concerned about improper relationships with suppliers pre-procurement."[209] Of course forces should be concerned about forming improper relationships, but the worry would be if the fear of forming improper relationships was preventing them from forming any sort of relationship with their suppliers. Tracey Lee commented: "the supplier community, if managed in an appropriate market testing way, has access to all sorts of ideas about the art of the possible...and I think that gives a lot more firmer foundation for any procurement thereafter."[210]

159.  Terry Skinner, from Intellect, the UK trade association for the IT, telecoms and electronics industries, said that in his experience forces were very risk averse and tended to use EU processes even when the contract they were awarding fell below the required monetary threshold . He suggested that some small and medium sized enterprises were put off applying for contracts because the EU processes cost so much money.[211]

160.  Nigel Smith, the former Chief Executive of the Office of Government Commerce, said that there were "major problems" with the EU processes.[212] He stated that the thresholds were too low and "we should look at how we could go to the European Commission and raise those thresholds".[213] He also commented that the processes took a long time.

161.  When on 5 July 2011, immediately after her speech announcing the setting up of the new company, we asked the Home Secretary whether the company would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act, she replied: "I would expect so, but we are looking through exactly what the structure is going to be and obviously working with the police because we want this to be police owned and police led."[214] In her letter of 14 July 2011, she expanded slightly on this statement, commenting: "Because the company will be owned by public bodies themselves subject to FOIA, we expect the company will be made subject to the provisions of the FOIA."[215] We note that this falls short of a definite assurance that the company will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

162.  There is so little detail currently available about the police-led IT company that we find it difficult to reach a conclusion about its viability. There are advantages to creating a single body with the sole purpose of overseeing information and communications technology in the police service, provided that it has the right degree of commercial and technological expertise, a clear focus, clarity about resources, and a good relationship with the wider police service. However, it seems that a key reason for it being considered that a company is the best kind of body to perform this role is that it will not be subject to EU procurement rules. If the body is set up as a company, it is important that it is made subject to Freedom of Information legislation. The people setting up this body have a great deal of work to do in a short space of time, if it is to be up and running by spring 2012. We recommend that the Home Secretary updates Parliament no later than December 2011, by means of an oral statement in the House of Commons, on the progress that is being made.

Priorities for the new body

163.  Clearly one of the main priorities for the new body will be to try to converge IT systems and contracts across the 43 forces. The Home Secretary has indicated that the new body will have responsibility for ISIS, which provides a good starting point. However, Ailsa Beaton, Head of the Information Management Business Area at the Association of Chief Police Officers, gave some indication of the size of the challenge this represents. She commented that, in discussing proposals for the new body with Home Office officials, chief officers raised "the fact that forces have different end dates for IT contracts, which could potentially impact on transition plans, and also that some forces are already consolidating IT services with other local partners."[216]

164.  On IT procurement, Dr David Horne, Director of Resources at the National Policing Improvement Agency, said that the National Policing Improvement Agency had made four key points about its future: first, that it be "closely aligned to the ISIS programme", secondly that there should be "proper commercial leadership to deliver against what is a very hard-edged market", thirdly that there should be close working with Government IT "because of the huge drive and changes that will be coming forward", and fourthly that there should be close working with the police service.[217] Those people in the new body who are responsible for IT procurement should ensure that they work closely with their colleagues who are responsible for ISIS and the convergence of IT systems. They should also build relationships with colleagues involved in IT procurement in Government Departments—as well as with police forces—and particularly the Home Office.

165.  As we mentioned above, Intellect, the UK trade association for the IT, telecoms and electronics industries, stated: "Through regionalising IT capability, having more national procurement for commoditised technology and re-thinking solutions delivery, savings up to 20% could be achieved."[218] Its written evidence outlines how these savings could be achieved and provides a useful starting point for procurement-related priorities for the new body. It commented that the "reduction of procurement timescales should be a priority and would produce cost-savings for both Government and its suppliers."[219] Terry Skinner stated: "the average time from a contract notice to an award of contract for a UK police force is 77 weeks. In Germany and in Italy that is about 44 weeks, so it take nearly twice as long to procure [in the UK]."[220] The new IT body should make reducing procurement timescales a high priority.

166.  Terry Skinner also emphasised the need for a recognised list of approved suppliers and said that having to complete a pre-qualification questionnaire for each contract put off small and medium-sized enterprises who could bring value to the police service. Intellect stated:

the Government should create a single simple and straightforward national register of approved and classified suppliers which any supplier can apply to join if they clear an agreed set of financial, business and regulatory hurdles (with an annual refresh to check continued compliance). This would be used for local and national procurements which will not exceed the EU/Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) limits.[221]

We see merit in Intellect's proposal that there should be a single national register of approved suppliers to be updated annually, so long as it is an alternative to separate pre-qualification processes rather than an additional requirement, and urge the Government to consider setting up such a list, covering both IT and non-IT suppliers to the police service.

167.  Intellect also suggested that:

Locally and nationally, each significant project should be required at the outset to undertake an independent review, reported to the governing authority for approval, as to whether the business aims can be met by an alternative evolutionary approach at lower risk and/or cost.[222]

Certainly consideration of whether business aims could be met by an alternative approach would be particularly valuable when letting lengthy and high value contracts, such as the Airwave contract. Dr Horne, Director of Resources at the National Policing Improvement Agency, commented that the contract was awarded 15 years ago and that the costs he saw going out to Airwave year after year were "very different from what the marketplace is for mobile technology."[223] The new IT body should consider at an early stage what processes should be involved before deciding that awarding a major new contract is the best way of meeting the business aim in question. It should give particular consideration to how it will ensure that contracts that run over many years, such as Airwave, deliver value for money throughout this period.

176   Q 158 Back

177   Speech by the Home Secretary to the Association of Chief Police Officers conference in Harrogate on 4 July 2011, Back

178   Ibid. Back

179   Ibid. Back

180   Q 275 Back

181   Q 348 Back

182   Ev118 Back

183   Q 149 Back

184   Home Secretary's speech to the ACPO conference, 4 July 2011 Back

185   Q 158 Back

186   Update on NPIA procurement activities, NPIA press release, 24 February 2011 Back

187   Ev164 Back

188   Ibid. Back

189   Ev181 Back

190   Q 434 Back

191   Q 533 Back

192   Letter from the Home Secretary to the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, 7 June 2011 Back

193   HC Deb, 11 May 2011, col 1221W Back

194   Letter from the Home Secretary to the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, 7 June 2011 Back

195   Q 695 Back

196   Ev181 Back

197   Ev160 Back

198   Q 702 Back

199   Home Secretary's speech to the ACPO conference, 4 July 2011 Back

200   Ibid. Back

201   Ev169 Back

202   Ev150 Back

203   Ibid. Back

204   Ibid. Back

205   Ibid. Back

206   Ibid. Back

207   Ev181 Back

208   Q 724 Back

209   Q 291 Back

210   Ibid. Back

211   Q 291 and 294 Back

212   Q 349 Back

213   Q 352 Back

214   Oral evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, The Work of the Home Secretary, 5 July 2011, Q 68 Back

215   Ev150 Back

216   Ev169 Back

217   Q 237 Back

218   Ev118 Back

219   Ibid. Back

220   Q 291 Back

221   Ev118 Back

222   Ibid. Back

223   Q 259 Back

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Prepared 23 September 2011