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NAO: British bobbies wasting £80m BlackBerry stash

Some forces share 1 among 100, some have 150 for 100 officers

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Brit coppers are not getting enough benefits from their £80m splurge on BlackBerrys and other mobile devices, the National Audit Office has said.

The NAO reckons that the bobbies are only getting a "basic level" of benefit from the programme to equip them with mobes, mostly that they can pound the pavements for a bit longer.

Only one in five forces in the UK are using the devices effectively enough to improve their business and operation processes and cash savings from the programme have been limited so far.

"The programme has on average increased the visibility of police officers to the public and officers spend more time out of the station, an estimated 18 minutes a shift, although there is considerable variation," the office said in a canned statement.

"Of the 32 forces responding to an NAO survey, only 10 claimed some form of cashable savings and these are relatively minor. However, some forces are predicting greater savings in the future, for example, by reducing control room costs," it added.

One of the problems with the programme is that the mobiles haven't been distributed evenly, so they can't really be used to improve processes and save money in back-office functions.

"There was no assessment of the number of devices that each force would need to deploy to maximise the benefits, or the impact of partially equipping forces," the NAO said. "The Programme Board’s decision to allow all forces to receive funding meant that the majority did not receive all of the funding they applied for and could not deploy devices as they had planned."

The office found that some forces had devices available to 1 per cent of their officers and community support staff, while others had 151 per cent saturation. Over half of the forces only had enough mobes for less than half their officers.

The NAO argued that the programme had focused on getting the BlackBerrys and PDAs out to the officers as quickly as possible and at a reasonable cost, but it hadn't really examined the need for the devices or how they should be used.

As well as the £80m handed out by the National Policing Improvement Agency, 23 of the forces had invested an additional £29m since 2004-05.

Since the programme was launched, the Police Service has had its central budget cut by £2bn, or 20 per cent by 2014-15, so forces now need to find savings wherever they can.

But using mobiles wasn't going to be able to provide these savings across the board until more officers got devices and they could dump traditional processes, which at the moment are still being maintained.

"The Department and the Police Service need to recognise that only a minority of forces have been effective in maximising the benefits from the investment," the NAO said. ®

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