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Systems integrators could take stake in police agency, says IT chief Gordon Wasserman

Mark Ballard

Systems integrators that were paid billions to supply police computer systems could take a stake in the agency managing their contracts when it is privatised next year, police IT chief Gordon Wasserman has told Computer Weekly.

Gordon Wasserman, who was responsible for police technology under the Thatcher government, was this week appointed to a Home Office board overseeing the creation of a private company to manage police IT. Wasserman said he proposed the idea while working as advisor to Home Secretary Theresa May.

"There might be private sector involvement, of course, because the private sector will be providing big systems, as they do now," said Wasserman.

"The Police National Database (PND), the Ident systems are all provided by private suppliers," he told Computer Weekly just days after the Home Secretary announced her intention to privatise police technology quango, the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA).

"They might decide to take a stake. These are all issues to be discussed with the owners, that is, the police service, " said Wasserman.

"Capgemini are enormous players in this game," he said when asked whether Logica might have the greatest stake on a privatised NPIA in respect of its holding the contract to run the PND.

"Northrop Grumman are enormous players in Ident area. Capgemini are the biggest outsourcers because they run all of the MET system. Logica provide one application, that's all.

"They are major players here. This is big, big stuff. And you know we spend £1.2bn a year. There are lots of companies involved in this," said Wasserman.

Theresa May told the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) summer conference on Monday more police procurement should be aggregated into large contracts to get "economies of scale". May said these should be managed by a private company in which police will have a majority stake, but in which private companies could become shareholders.

Such contracts are already aggregated by the NPIA, in addition to managing police technology, such as the Police National Database (PND), the Ident fingerprint database and the auto-numberplate recognition data warehouse.

The NPIA announced in April 2009 that Logica won a £75.6m contract to run the PND. On 29 April 2009 it sent official notice to the European Commission of a £600m, 10-year contract awarded to Logica to build and operate the PND. An NPIA spokesman said it had not signed a £600m contract with Logica, but merely reserved budget for future use.

The NPIA holds contracts in excess of £600m a year, said Georgina O'Toole, an analyst with TechmarketView. Those include NPIA framework contracts, but excluded another £600m of police IT contracted by individual forces. May spoke of all £1.2bn as potential for a privatised NPIA.

Computer Weekly asked Wasserman whether introducing a profit motive into the administration of police technology would undermine its public-service ethos.

"I can't tell you very much because we haven't started the work yet," Wasserman responded. "We are not in the business to make money, we are in the business to serve the police more effectively. It's not going to be making a profit to declare a dividend."

A Home Office spokesman speculated that a privatised NPIA might only be allowed to make a profit if it saved enough money for tax payers. The matter would be decided by a board. Home secretary May said this board would comprise Gordon Wasserman and Ailsa Beaton, the CIO of the Metropolitan Police and ACPO IT lead. Ailsa Beaton presented Wasserman's ideas on "the future of police IT" to the ACPO Cabinet on 11 May.

At Wasserman's request, Computer Weekly took the matter further by e-mail, asking what justification he had given for allowing the police technology agency to turn a profit. However, Wasserman did not answer.

Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, warned that the cost of the PND was a £5.6m "burden" on police forces that was likely to grow.

"This was unplanned expenditure at a force level," Hugh Orde said, warning it might lead to thousands of police officers losing their jobs.

But the NPIA said ACPO was party to PND funding decisions, because it sits on the NPIA board along with the Home Office, the Association of Police Authorities and chiefs of police.

Moreover, said a spokeswoman, police forces routinely pay to use computer systems that, like the PND, were managed by the NPIA. Fees for using the PND only became applicable since the PND was launched in April.

The Home Office could not say whether the privatised NPIA would still receive Home Office funding, the absence of which would leave only private capital and increased fees to local forces as sources of income, though the Cabinet Office recently told industry it was considering plans to sell access to government databases.

Lord Wasserman returns to public life in Britain after 15 years in the US, where he worked as technology advisor to the New York Police Department, chaired a sci-tech response to the September 11 attack, and ran a private technology consulting firm advising police forces.

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