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Police Chiefs Reject Draft Plan For IT Procurement

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Police chiefs have rejected the first draft of a plan allowing a private company to manage police IT systems

The government’s efforts to get a private company to manage the procurement of IT systems for Britain’s police forces, have been dealt a blow after police chiefs reportedly rejected the first draft of the plan.

According to media reports, the police have told the Home Office that the plans for a private company to manage police ICT are unworkable under current police rules.

Procurement Change

The changes to the running of police IT systems has long been mooted by the Coalition government. Indeed, in September a damning report from MPs said that the vast number of incompatible IT systems within the UK’s 43 police forces was hindering the fight against crime.

That Home Office report, entitled New Landscape of Policing described the current ICT setup as not fit for purpose, because the 43 forces have between them a multiplicity of different IT systems and IT contracts, many of which are not compatible with one another. It pointed out that £1.2 billion is currently spent on ICT for police in the UK, and that there are 5,000 staff working on 2,000 different ICT systems.

This came after Home Secretary Theresa May (pictured) told the Association of Chief Police Officers in early July she intended to change the system, after stating “it is absolutely clear that the current system is broken”.

She then revealed her intention to create a police-led ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) company to lead tech procurement for British police forces.

But now it is reported that these plans are on hold, with the Home Office still yet to supply police chiefs with any detailed proposal for the plan, which includes forming a limited company to deal with police procurement.

VAT Issue

Ailsa Beaton, head of ICT at the Metropolitan Police told Computer Weekly that she had informed the Home Office that its proposals for a new private procurement firm would be unworkable.

“If it were set up as a normal limited company then it would need to charge us VAT, which we don’t pay at the moment,” Beaton told Computer Weekly. “So something that was being set up to reduce our costs would increase our costs by 20 percent.

“Obviously, we want something that will work for policing,” she said. “We are being consulted as stakeholders. I have expressed a view that we can’t have a situation where the construct of a new company adds 20 percent to our bills, because we can’t afford it. We need to come up with a construct that doesn’t put us in a disadvantageous tax position.”

TechWeek Europe was unable to reach the Association of Chief Police Officers at the time of writing.

Police ICT

Despite the concerns about the state of overall ICT systems for the police, there have been some positive developments of late.

In June, for example, the police finally set up a database that allowed police forces around the country to share and access locally-held intelligence. Until then, information about criminals had to be shared manually between police forces, a process that could take up to two weeks.

In May, the Metropolitan Police revealed it had begun to use an online procurement website to help it acquire goods and services.

Earlier this year, the NPIA teamed up with IT specialist Recipero to integrate the National Mobile Phone Register into the Police National Computer. While, in the past, police officers had to ask their control room to conduct a search of the register to determine whether a handset had been stolen, this new system allows them access to this database from a smartphone while out on the beat.