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MPs brand BlackBerrys for bobbies scheme a failure

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Splurging £71m on BlackBerrys for bobbies on the beat was an almost total waste of money, according to a report from MPs.

The Public Accounts Committee said today that the scheme was supposed to reduce paperwork, so coppers could be out and about more and save the force £125m. Instead, the programme only saved a paltry £600,000 and some police officers actually had to spend more time in the station.

MP Margaret Hodge said that the Home Office was more concerned with getting the kit out to the coppers than on the actual benefits of the scheme.

"Neither the Home Office nor the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) know what the benefits have been and whether value for money has been achieved," she said in a canned statement.

And even with the Home Office concentrating all its energies on distributing mobes, some stations didn't even get any.

"Even in terms of getting devices into the hands of officers, execution has been haphazard," Hodge said. "Some forces have no devices at all whereas others have one for each officer as well as their support staff."

The Home Office played the usual political card of blaming the previous incumbents.

"This scheme was set up by the previous government and its implementation by some police forces was disappointing," a spokesperson told The Reg in an emailed statement.

A lot of the money wasted was for the same old reason: the government paying over the odds for gear through a central contract. The committee found that some forces actually got better deals if they bargained for their smartphones locally, so it was pointless to have a central buying system.

The Home Office is in the process of setting up a new company to manage IT for the police and the committee advised that this new regime should try to be much clearer about what kit needed to be sourced centrally and why.

The Office spokesperson said that this time things would be different.

"We are doing things differently, with a new police ICT company to deliver value for money and elected police and crime commissioners to make sure forces get the technology that works for them.

"Our reforms will ensure efficiency and innovation so that the police can spend more time on the beat tackling crime," the spokesperson said.

The police IT company is being set up to try to get taxpayers more bang for their buck with "a more efficient approach to police ICT provision and aggregate demand to exploit the purchasing power of the police service", according to the Home Office. It will be owned by police and crime commissioners and chief constables (PDF) and staffed with IT and commercial professionals.

The company, known as 'NewCo' was announced at the end of 2011 and is due to be launched this spring, although the first sign of it is now expected in "interim form" in July. It will be taking over IT management from the NPIA, which is soon to be abolished.

The Public Accounts Committee report mirrors an earlier missive from the National Audit Office (NAO) in January, which also rubbished the mobiles for bobbies scheme.

The NAO said that the police were only getting a "basic level" of benefit from the programme and only one in five forces were using the phones effectively enough.

The Mobile Information Programme was launched in 2008 and scrapped two years later. ®

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