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The Home Office has finally fleshed out the details of its Police ICT company, which aims to help forces improve their IT and get better value for money from contracts.

However, its long term role and influence is already under question.

The Police ICT company, dubbed "Pictco" - created to offer access to better services and deals - is jointly owned by the Association of Police Authorities and the Home Office, but will be handed over to police and crime commissioners (PCCs) following elections in November.

The new company is intended to assume responsibility for a range of ICT-related functions currently performed by the soon to be abolished National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).

Plans for the new company were first announced by home secretary Theresa May in July last year with the intention that the new company would be created by spring 2012.

Nick Herbert, minister for policing and criminal justice, said: "While some police IT is good, such as the new Police National Database, much of it is not. There are 2,000 systems between the 43 forces of England and Wales, and individual forces have not always driven the most effective deals.

"We need a new, more collaborative approach and greater accountability, utilising expertise in IT procurement and freeing police officers to focus on fighting crime.

"By harnessing the purchasing power of police forces, the new company will be able to drive down costs, save taxpayers' money, and help to improve police and potentially wider criminal justice IT systems in future."

Councillor Mark Burns-Williamson, chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, said: "Better use of technology is vital when fighting criminal networks that have a sophisticated national and international reach.

"The APA will work closely with the Home Office to ensure proper scrutiny of the new company so that the taxpayer gets value for money.

"When the new system is handed over to police and crime commissioners we want it to be fit for purpose and efficient in delivering IT tasks."

The new company will be responsible for providing strategic ICT advice and guidance to forces and the procurement, implementation and management of ICT solutions for forces.

Taking police chiefs out of IT decision-making

Its aim is to free chief officers from in-depth involvement in ICT management and enable greater innovation so officers have access to new technology to save time and ensure better value for the taxpayer.

Individual police forces will be key to determining how the new company operates and what services it provides.

Paul Ridgewell, senior analyst at public sector market intelligence firm Kable, suggested that Pictco's launch comes later than originally intended, after suffering the loss of the leadership of new government chief procurement officer Bill Crothers along the way. In addition to the apparently still unresolved issue of its permanent leadership, however, a number of other significant question marks remain.

"One such question concerns the organisation's scope amid signs of a reduced mandate and the likelihood that a greater number of functions will remain in the Home Office," said Ridgewell.

"Another question mark concerns the impact of the PCCs. As with much of the current police reform agenda, the establishment of the police ICT company is running up against timescales for the election of PCCs, who will be highly influential in its operations. Once it is handed over to the PCCs in November, the degree to which they will want to use the company is not yet clear.

"Also, and most importantly, there is a question mark over the degree to which the company still has a meaningful role to play. Since its inception, the police procurement landscape has changed considerably, with the advent of major collaborative procurement initiatives arguably making much of the police ICT company's raison d'être."

This article was originally published at Government Computing.

Government Computing 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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