Mobile Technology in Policing - Public Accounts Committee Contents

1  Accountability to Parliament and the local public

1.  The Mobile Information Programme (the Programme) ran between 2008 and 2010. The Home Office (the Department) distributed £71 million of central funding through the National Policing Improvement Agency (the Agency) to police forces to enable them to buy over 41,000 new mobile devices (such as Blackberrys and Personal Data Assistants) for police officers and police community support officers. The Department intended the Programme to support increased visibility of police officers, increase the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces, and reduce bureaucracy through the use of mobile technology.[2]

2.  Police forces are funded by a combination of central government grants from the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government, and local precepts set by police authorities. Police forces working with their authorities set priorities for local policing and have a large degree of choice in how they resource and support them.[3] From November 2012, directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners will replace police authorities. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary role has been expanded to include the examination of value for money in policing and the Department told us that it has commissioned the Inspectorate to produce a series of reports on the value for money achieved by forces. These reports will include, for example, forces' spend on IT and on staff.[4]

3.  The Department expects that accountability to Parliament will be assured using the framework set out in the accountability systems statement for police and crime reduction, but they have not yet specified what datasets or metrics are important for the determination of value for money.[5] The Department's framework relies on Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, in addition to its inspectorial role, providing data on police forces' spending across areas such as crimes recorded, personnel deployed and services procured. The Department expects to be able to use this data to provide assurance to Parliament that value for money is being achieved at a system level across the Police Service.[6]

4.  The Department told us that the Home Secretary will retain the power to intervene on value for money grounds if he or she thinks that a particular force or Police & Crime Commissioner is failing the taxpayer.[7] The Department described three tests that could drive such an intervention: the results of an inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary; a cause célèbre; or, if the police service itself, through the planned police professional body, pointed out that a force was not adhering to professional standards.[8] The Department stated that when to intervene would be a judgement for ministers in each case and would depend very much on circumstances. If, for example, a particular force and Police & Crime Commissioner had decided within their policing plan and budget not to invest in a particular central technology programme and could justify their reasons for not doing so to the local public, then the Department felt ministers would be unlikely to intervene.[9]

5.  The Comptroller and Auditor General's access to police forces' spending is, under current legislation, limited to those central Departmental grants which are ring-fenced. In the past the Audit Commission was responsible for assessing and reporting on value for money achieved by Police Authorities. Parliamentary scrutiny now and in the future relies on the Department having good quality information on the relative performance of police forces and also the impact that specific initiatives may have. However, the information that the Department and Agency held on the local costs and benefits of the Mobile Information Programme was poor.[10] The Agency set up its framework to measure benefits from the Programme in 2009, some months after the initial delivery of devices.[11] There was little central measurement by the Department, Agency or by the Inspectorate, of programme outcomes. The Agency's final evaluation focused on measuring the increase in officer visibility and provided little evidence to suggest that the Programme had achieved its objectives to increase efficiency and effectiveness and to reduce bureaucracy.[12]

6.  The Agency told us that, at the time, it was not within the remit of the Inspectorate to examine the specific benefits resulting from central initiatives such as the Mobile Information Programme. The Agency did not confirm whether the Inspectorate would have a role to examine specific centrally funded initiatives in the future.[13] The Department was not able to confirm the extent to which the National Audit Office would have access to information at the local level other than through the Inspectorate.[14]

2   C&AG's Report Para 1.8 and 3.4 Back

3   C&AG's Report Para 1.1 and 1.2 Back

4   Q 117 Back

5   Q 155; Committee of Public Accounts, Seventy-ninth Report of Session 2010-12, Accountability for public money - progress report, HC 1503, Ev 51 Back

6   Q 155 Back

7   Q 155 Back

8   Q 161 Back

9   Q 165 Back

10   C&AG's Report Para 3.5, 3.18-3.21 Back

11   Q 133 Back

12   C&AG's Report Para 3.21 Back

13   Q 123 Back

14   Q 137-140 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 30 May 2012