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MPs label police IT 'not fit for purpose'

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The Home Affairs select committee has branded police service IT as "not fit for purpose" and claimed it is damaging the police force's ability to prevent crime and disorder.

In a report titled New Landscape of Policing, the committee calls on the Home Office to revolutionise police IT as a top priority. It says IT is the one area of policing where direction from the centre is vital to effect change.

The document says: "The history of government and Whitehall over the last 20 years or so has demonstrated that this is about not just having the right policies, but also having a good understanding of the strategic direction, achieving the right partnerships, and mutual challenge between policy-makers and delivery organisations."

Information considered by the committee reveals some of the IT issues the police forces face. This includes an admission by Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), that police IT is "a bit of a mess".

The committee concludes that the main reason for this is that the 43 forces in England and Wales use a multiplicity of different IT systems and IT contracts.

According to the report, Home Secretary Theresa May has revealed that there are about 5,000 staff working on 2,000 different ICT systems across the police service. May has also said that the police currently spend £1.2bn on IT each year, and this did not represent good value for money.

Despite these problems, the committee found that the National Policing Improvement Agency has been successful in making savings on IT procurement. In February the agency reported that it would exceed the £25m target set by the Home Office and deliver savings of nearly £30m.

The agency – which is also responsible for major police IT projects such as the Information Systems Improvement Strategy (Isis) and Project Athena to improve IT convergence – is being phased out, however.

The committee says that a successor must be found to take over the agency's many IT functions. It asks the Home Office to clarify which police forces will be responsible for IT systems provided directly by the agency, and which will be taken over the by the new police IT company, promised by the home secretary.

It says it expects Airwave to become the responsibility of the new police IT company, but would like this confirmed.

In addition, the report points out that there is so little detail available about the police IT company that it finds it difficult to reach a conclusion about its viability.

There are advantages in creating a single body to oversee police IT, provided it has the right expertise, says the committee. But it adds that the Home Office's main reason for setting up a company is to avoid EU procurement rules.

It calls on the home secretary to update Parliament about the proposed company by December at the latest.

Keith Vaz, chair of the committee, said: "The police perform a difficult and dangerous task on behalf of the public and the continuing uncertainty about the future of many of the bodies involved in policing has the potential to be very damaging."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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