An independent review has depicted the Police IT Organisation (Pito) as largely dysfunctional and set up on the basis of offering national systems that some police forces perceive as delayed, expensive and technically backward.
The report said the relationship between Pito and the police forces it serves has irretrievably broken down. A satisfaction survey of the organisation's customers, local police forces, produced the most negative results ever experienced by those who conducted the survey.
Although it praised some of Pito's successes, the report is an indictment of an organisation, with 700 staff, that has cost and spent more than £800m on IT since it was formally set up in 1998.
It also found a consensus that having separate IT departments in each of the 43 police forces in England and Wales was "unsustainable". It suggested a "consensual and evolutionary strategy that leads to their rationalisation". More than 3,700 people are employed in IT across the forces and the total spend among forces is about £750m a year.
The review, led by former BOC Group chief executive Robert McFarland, was written before the general election but was not published until last week.
It said the present structure and organisation of police IT in general "lacks clear definition or purpose, results in confused lines of responsibility and is almost certainly poor value for money".
Pito's budget in 2003/04 was £250m. In 2004/05 the total figure was expected to rise to about £345m. Its staff numbers jumped from 474 in 2003/04 to an estimated 693 in 2004/05.
The organisation was set up mainly to deliver a national strategy, including major systems, to help the police collect and store intelligence, reduce the paperwork involved in arresting people, preparing cases for court and command and control.
It has delivered the Airwave police radio and communications system and the Nafis fingerprinting system, and is partly responsible for the Police National Computer.
But the report said, "Around 80% of the police expenditure on IT is within forces. Pito has been unable to influence this to any significant degree. Thus beyond the large projects, the success of which has to say the least been mixed, Pito's contribution to police ICT has been marginal."
It added, "[Pito management] regard the governance system under which they operate as unnecessarily bureaucratic, wasteful and demoralising." These views are shared by all stakeholders, including police IT directors.
The report recommended that the organisation be absorbed into a new National Police Improvement Agency.