Mobile Technology in Policing - Public Accounts Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  So far, the Home Office has not developed a clear framework to assess the value for money of police spending. It is unclear what data will be used to support the framework, and when or how the Department would intervene to address poor value for money in police forces. The Department should set out clearly in its Accountability System Statement the information that forces will be mandated to provide to judge value for money. The Statement should also set out the central interventions the Department would make to address poor value for money and the criteria for using these.

2.  The lack of information available to the public and Parliament on some police spending hinders effective scrutiny and accountability. Under current legislation, the Comptroller and Auditor General's (C&AG's) access to police forces' spending is limited to those central departmental grants which are ring-fenced. Parliamentary scrutiny therefore relies on the Department having good quality information on the relative performance of police forces. However, the information that the Department had on the benefits arising from the use of mobile devices was poor. The Department intends to rely on Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (the Inspectorate) whose role has been expanded to include value for money inspection. The Department needs to have information on both the system-wide performance of the police service and the value for money of specific centrally-funded initiatives and programmes. The Department should set out how it will ensure that the Inspectorate has sufficient capability and capacity to provide comparable performance data. The Department must also ensure that the C&AG has rights of access in legislation to examine centrally funded police expenditure.

3.  The focus of the Programme was on providing mobile devices rather than on the benefits they could deliver. The Department was not clear about what outcomes the Programme should achieve by when, and did not understand baseline performance. Although most forces reported that the devices allowed them to spend more time out of the station, some said they spent less time on the beat. The Department and Agency did not know why this had happened. Some forces have used devices to save time and reduce the need for back-office staff, enabling cashable savings, but this was far from systemic. The Department and the police must ensure that business cases and programmes focus on outcomes and benefits that are identified upfront and are based on a robust analysis of baseline performance data. At the same time they also need to provide a framework within which to measure and track progress towards those outcomes.

4.  Only a fifth of forces have used the Mobile Information Programme to improve the efficiency of their business. There are some good examples of forces using mobile technology to make improvements, such as reducing paper work, but these are the minority. Despite spending over £70 million of central funding, only £600,000 of cashable savings have so far been identified. Some forces have no devices whereas others have one for each officer and supporting staff. The Department has a responsibility for improving the system-wide performance of policing and should set out the practical steps that it will take to fulfil that responsibility. It needs to provide all forces with the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with those who have maximised the use of mobile technology, in order to make the most of the investment already made.

5.  The central contracts for buying devices were not used by most forces. Most chose to use their own suppliers due to problems with the central procurement arrangements for the Mobile Information Programme. Those forces that used mobile devices well told us that negotiating directly with suppliers resulted in increased flexibility and benefits. The Department currently mandates central buying of some items, such as body armour and off the shelf software, but is unclear whether greater mandation will deliver value for money or not. There is also uncertainty about how the new police IT company will operate and there are risks that it may not deliver the intended benefits, particularly if suppliers have too much influence. The Department and the police need to clarify the purpose of the new company and, in particular, how it will support the implementation of the Information Systems Improvement Strategy. The Department should set out how the new company will be funded and governed. There must also be clear guidance on what police forces must buy centrally, with the benefits of this approach backed up with robust data.

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Prepared 30 May 2012