This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.
Date Published: 8 December 2021
The Home Office (the Department) has overseen some challenging technology and digital projects in recent years. The Emergency Services Network and Digital Services at the Border programmes are examples of critical projects which have suffered from severe delays and cost overruns, this latest project does not give the committee any comfort that the Department is learning from past mistakes.
Over the last five years, the Department has wasted both vital time and scarce funding without making any meaningful progress in replacing the Police National Computer (PNC) and the Police National Database (PND). Under the Department’s current plans, a replacement for the PNC is not expected to be available until at least 2025–26, more than five years later than the original delivery date of 2020, while total costs to the Department have increased by a staggering 68% to £1.1 billion. The Department now plans to upgrade or replace PND by a separate programme, but it is unclear when this will happen and at what cost.
The PNC is vital to all aspects of police work and their efforts to prevent crime and protect the public from harm. The PNC is reaching the end of its life and requires urgent replacement. While newer, the PND also needs to be replaced. In 2016 the Department began a programme to replace the PNC and the PND, aiming to create a single cloud-based system combining the data and functions of both - the National Law Enforcement Data Service (NLEDS) programme. While the challenges of delivering national programmes for the 45 police forces across the United Kingdom have long been recognised, the Department and the police did not develop the effective working relationship needed to enable the development of NLEDS, with the former Senior Responsible Owner of the programme conceding that the police had in the past lost confidence in the Department’s ability to deliver the programme. The Department has now recognised that more effective working with the police is fundamental to the successful delivery of NLEDS and other technology programmes in its portfolio and has changed tact via the announcement of a new ‘partnership’ approach, with policing now involved in all decision-making at every level.
Despite the failure of NLEDS to deliver meaningful benefits to the police, and several negative evaluations of its progress, the Department did not take decisive action to recover the programme until late 2020. This reset required the programme to take a different, iterative approach to its delivery and has led to changes in its senior leadership. It is not yet clear that these changes will put the programme back on track to deliver. It remains to be seen whether the Department’s new approach to working with police and its more iterative approach to developing the technology will mean that NLEDS will be ready to replace the PNC within the revised timetable. We will revisit the Department’s progress next year.