Home Secretary Theresa May is to create a company that specialises in IT procurement for the police
Home Secretary Theresa May has revealed her intention to create a police-led ICT (Information and communication technologies) company to lead tech procurement for British police forces.
The Home Secretary used a speech at the summer conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers to highlight that around £1.2 billion is currently spent on ICT for the police, with around 5,000 staff working on more than 2,000 separate systems across 100 data centres.
That is “not sensible” the Home Secretary said.
The new company – which the Home Office hopes to form by spring 2012 – will mean better systems and better value for money. A board will be formed to oversee the creation of the new company. It will be led by Gordon Wasserman, currently the government’s adviser on policing and criminal justice.
May used her speech to insist that while some aspects of the police needed to remain local, certain things such as procurement was tying up too much local resources.
“So you can see the coherence of our reforms: national decisions made nationally; local decisions made locally; and individual decisions made individually, by police officers,” she said.
“Good ICT systems and services are vital for modern policing. ICT supports the police on the front line, through items like portable radios and PDAs,” she said. “It supports the middle office, through things like criminal records databases, intelligence and crime mapping. And it supports the back office, through HR, finance, accounting and payroll systems.”
“To access these crucial tools, the police currently spends some £1.2 billion per year on ICT,” she said. “That is a very large sum. I wouldn’t be concerned about the size of that sum if I were convinced that it represented good value for money. But it does not.”
Her speech comes as British police last month finally set up a database that allowed police forces around the country to share and access locally-held intelligence.
“The way we do things now is confused, fragmented and expensive,” May said. “We know, for example, that one supplier now has over 1,500 contracts across all the forces. This would simply never happen in the commercial world.”
She said the problem with the current setup was that ICT suppliers have to bid for individual contracts across 43 forces, pushing their bidding costs up. Those bid costs are, of course, simply added to the price of the next contract with the police that the company wins.
May also said that too much police time, skills and capabilities was being tied up negotiating and managing these large, complex ICT contracts.
“It is absolutely clear that the current system is broken,” she said. “So we will help the service to set up a police-led ICT company to fix it. It will free chief constables from having to spend so much time on ICT matters while giving them better systems and better value for their ICT money.”
“I will not be prescribing what that company should look like. But its design should be based on a number of fundamental principles,” she said. “First, the company should be – as I say – police led. Because no one else knows what ICT systems the police need to fight crime. Government doesn’t know. Civil Servants don’t know. The police know.”
“Officers have told me about IT systems that require multiple keying of the very same information, are incompatible with systems doing the same basic job in neighbouring forces, or are even incompatible with other systems in their own force,” she said.
“So the police need to be at the heart of defining what systems and services they need. They must have a fundamental and a controlling interest in the new police ICT company,” she added. “Second – and equally – the company needs to be staffed by ICT professionals. The police are experts at fighting crime and in using ICT to fight crime, but they are not ICT professionals.”
“Police officers are the best in the business at catching criminals. They are not the best in the business at negotiating contracts for major ICT systems, or managing these contracts or even managing these systems once they’re up and running.”