A national Police ICT Company is set to begin operations after finally being approved by the UK’s police and crime commissioners.
The company, which aims to save police forces up to £465m a year through the central provision of national IT systems, has been on the drawing board for nearly four years, since home secretary Teresa May announced plans to create a police-led ICT company to replace the former National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) back in July 2011.
The company was formally established a year later by the Association of Police Authorities and the Home Office, with the intention of handing control to police and crime commissioners following elections in November 2012. But early proposals were rejected, and it subsequently took more than two years of wrangling and discussion before the plan was finalised with the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which will now be responsible for its funding and operation.
“The national Police ICT Company will create a much more commercially driven and strategic approach, supporting forces as they acquire and make the best possible use of technology,” said Nick Alston, Essex police and crime commissioner, and chair of the Police ICT Board.
“This is not about imposing a ‘one size fits all’ solution, but rather an agreed approach that will enable the efficient development of new systems, in particular ensuring the effective flow of information between forces.”
Alston said police forces spend more than £1bn on IT every year, with many forces buying the same products from the same suppliers. “This is inefficient and expensive,” he said.
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“More importantly, opportunities to share information effectively are being missed. Criminals do not respect police boundaries, and police technology must enable critical information to flow seamlessly from force to force.”
The new company will be responsible for a national IT strategy and helping establish a police IT framework to better harmonise systems across the country. It will commission suppliers to provide national police IT systems, and take responsibility for existing services such as the Police National Computer, which has been run under the auspices of the Home Office since the NPIA was dissolved.
A Home Office report into policing in 2011 labelled police IT as “not fit for purpose”.
In February last year, England’s largest force, the Metropolitan Police, launched its Total Technology strategy to make better use of IT, both in the back-office and to support officers on the beat. The four-year plan was also produced in response to criticism of its legacy IT systems from the London Assembly.
Talal Rajab, programme manager for cyber, national security and criminal justice at IT industry trade association TechUK, welcomed the end of the “long period of uncertainty” before the eventual approval of the Police ICT Company.
“In an age of austerity and restricted public budgets, and at a time when more than a billion pounds is spent on police IT every year, moves such as these will help deliver more with less. TechUK, however, hopes that the creation of the Police ICT Company is the first step in the development of a comprehensive and co-ordinated IT strategy across the whole criminal justice system, and not just among the police service,” he said.
The lack of technology being used by police in the UK is costing taxpayers up to £221m, according to a March 2014 study by O2 and the Centre for Economic and Business Research. UK police are wasting time and money while on the beat because they cannot access systems and records outside of police stations.