The Home Office will not consider the business case for a new national police intelligence system for England and Wales until September, despite earmarking £140m for the project last June.
The creation of the Impact system was one of the main recommendations of the Bichard inquiry into the deaths of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, which published its first report last year.
Plans for such a system were laid down in the National Strategy for Police Information Systems in 1994, but they were dropped in 2000 just as police chiefs were agreeing a National Intelligence Model which would place intelligence at the heart of policing.
The delay in agreeing the business case was revealed in Bichard’s second report, which was published last week. The report revealed that a new Impact programme director had been appointed and his first task was to impose project management discipline on the programme.
Bichard said, "A dedicated programme director has been appointed and I understand that his early input is that more formal programme disciplines are required, with urgent priority to be given to completing a clearly set-out statement of the approach, the plans, costs and benefits.
"I understand that, for the sake of getting the essential groundwork settled, the outline business case resulting from this work will not now be considered by the Department’s Investment Board until September this year. The 2007 target for programme implementation is nevertheless retained."
Bichard raised a series of other concerns about the progress of Impact and said, "Impact is a major scheme requiring significant investment and containing complex interdependencies. Its successful implementation is by no means guaranteed yet."
The report said that only 38 out of 43 forces had signed up for the Cross Regional Information Sharing Project (Crisp), a system to allow police office to share and search information within a force and between forces.
"This must be a matter for concern and further monitoring," said Bichard, who described it as "a crucial test" for the police service and its leadership.
Impact will draw on the data held in forces’ existing systems, including, but not limited to, intelligence systems, and will eventually provide standardised data and intelligence at force level which will be capable of being searched at a national level.
But Bichard warned that this required common standards that were not yet in place. "Business rules and processes also need to be put in place to ensure that the data used in Impact is of a common standard," he said.
This could be the biggest obstacle to Impact’s success, said Georgina O’Toole, a senior analyst with Ovum. "There is a low emphasis on business change; it seems to be a last thought. Systems get all the attention. Business change is the issue of making people work differently, so they input information correctly. Without that, the system will not be what it needs to be."
O’Toole questioned whether the Police IT Organisation, which is responsible for the development of national systems, would be able to drive business change and implement nationwide systems as it had no power to mandate individual forces.
An independent review of the future of the Police IT Organisation has been finalised and sent to Home Office ministers. The review was due to be published last month but the Home Office said there was now no date set for its publication.
Why not use the Scottish system?
Scottish police forces already have a national intelligence system, but English and Welsh forces must wait until 2007 before theirs is in place.
Six English police forces are in advanced negotiations to use the technology behind the Scottish Intelligence Database, which will be made available through an application service provider model.
But in his final report, Bichard backed the development of a system for England and Wales. He made a distinction between the system as used in Scotland and the system being built in England and Wales under the Impact programme. It is this difference that makes the Scottish system inappropriate for England and Wales, rather than any technical limitation, he said.
"At an early stage in determining what it wanted, the Association of Chief Police Officers asked its Scottish colleagues to provide a high-level project plan outlining an option for implementing the Scottish approach within the police service of England and Wales.
"It was agreed that England and Wales would independently develop their own user requirements and business processes to underpin the Impact programme. [Home Office officials] have pointed out that the Scottish Intelligence Database provides a system for sharing developed intelligence and would not by itself provide either the wider information-sharing capability for which Acpo has identified a need, nor the modernisation of the Police National Computer. These are convincing arguments that persuade me to support the Impact programme."
Police intelligence and information systems
Proposed system for information sharing, analysis, briefing, investigation and crime recording. Due to be delivered in 2007.
The Cross Regional Information Sharing Project can enable the sharing and searching of information within a force and between forces (and any other approved organisation). Crisp is part of the Impact programme.
The Police Local Cross Reference System is a national nominal index of people on whom police forces hold information. An interim system is already in place, with a full system expected later this year.