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Scottish police IT sorely lacking, audit finds

Heads shaken over shonky SPSA support

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Audit Scotland has said that the Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA) 'is not yet able to meet all its customers' ICT needs'.

In a report published on 28 October, the official auditor says that the SPSA, which was established in 2007 to provide a range of support services to Scotland's police forces, needs to "engage more effectively with customers", particularly in relation to IT services.

It adds that the authority also needs to speed up plans to improve its financial management systems "so that the board and staff have relevant and accurate cost information to enable them to prioritise service delivery".

"The transfer of ICT staff in April 2008 proved even more problematic. It was difficult to get agreement on which ICT services would transfer. ACPOS was involved in lengthy discussions with forces to agree which services should transfer to SPSA. Despite this, some inconsistencies remained," explains the report.

"For example, it was agreed that Grampian Police would retain responsibility for its own web development work and Strathclyde Police negotiated directly with the Scottish Executive to continue to employ staff to develop the forces' use of the Airwave radio system."

Further highlighting the disjointed delivery of technology services, the reports says that Strathclyde Policre refused to accept the seven ICT service level agreements developed by the SPSA for all Scottish forces. Instead, the force is seeking to have one agreement for all the services provided by SPSA, including ICT, training and forensics.

"The wide variability in how individual police forces managed their forensic and ICT services and the need to harmonise staff terms and conditions further complicated the transfer of staff," concludes the auditor.

"In the case of ICT, there were 350 staff with around 200 different job titles, 750 contracts and 190 suppliers, and each force had different ways of identifying and recording their assets and license agreements."

It recommends that the SPSA consolidates and rationalises these ICT contracts to make additional savings, but identifies the difference in VAT status between the authority and police forces as a "significant barrier" to achieving these IT savings.

Despite the criticisms, the auditor also acknowledges that the authority has reached its efficiency targets and made £5.3m of savings in the three years since it was set up. But it stresses that there is potential for further savings if "the SPSA and its customers work together to realise these".

Of the findings, auditor general for Scotland Robert Black, said: "SPSA had a difficult beginning, and lessons can be learned from this experience when developing shared services in the future. SPSA has made improvements in some areas, but it faces significant challenges if it is to deliver high quality services with less money. It needs to act quickly to address these challenges."

This article was originally published at Kable.

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