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Blair resists call to reconvene inquiry team

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The prime minister has fended off a call to reconvene the Bichard inquiry team – at least for now.

The issue was raised by Eric Illsley, Labour MP for Barnsley Central, in a parliamentary question to Tony Blair yesterday.

Illsley pointed out that it is two years since the Bichard Inquiry into the failings in information sharing before the Soham murders, and that the central recommendation for a police national IT system will not be fulfilled until after 2010. He asked if the prime minister would consider recalling Sir Michael Bichard to assess the progress and make sure the plan is not subject to extreme delays.

He referred to the plans for a National Firearms Licensing Management System, legislation for which was passed nearly 10 years ago but which is still at the piloting stage.

Blair replied that the data sharing arrangements, including the sharing of intelligence, will come into force next year, and that the government would look at how it can speed up the recommendations. But he also emphasised the difficulties in delivering the programme, especially in changing police practice.

"If we can possibly speed that up - if necessary, we are perfectly happy to reconvene the inquiry team if that helps, but at the moment we do not think that it would - then we will of course do so," Blair said.

He also said 21 of the 31 Bichard recommendations have now been implemented. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, which will put the new vetting and barring scheme into place, has completed its passage through the House of Lords and will have its second reading in the House of Commons on 19 June.

Illsley told Government Computing News that the response had not allayed his concerns. He said the police are being very ambitious with the design and this is holding up the implementation.

"They've designed this thing to be really top heavy," he said. "They want more out of the system than is feasible under the budget.

"I want to see them bring Bichard back to see if he will stick to his original recommendation or amend it under the current circumstances."

Illsley said Scottish police already have a more simple but effective system in operation, and that the government should consider the possibility of adopting it for England and Wales.

The Bichard Inquiry was concluded in June 2004 and produced a number of recommendations to improve the national management of police information. These have led to measures such as the IMPACT programme for information management, a Code of Practice on the Management of Police Information and the Interim Police Local Exchange.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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