In the Media

Police BlackBerry plan makes 'woeful' savings of ?600,000

PUBLISHED May 30, 2012

The Public Accounts Committee says the project has been "haphazard" with some forces ending up with more hi-tech devices than officers.

Although using mobile computers to issue fines and take statements was meant to cut red tape and put police back out on the beat, in some areas officers actually ended up spending more time in stations, it is claimed.

The Home Office, which spent £71m on the plan under Labour, is accused of failing to set out what the benefits would be of the scheme and how its success would be measured.

Margaret Hodge, chairman of the committee, said: "Not enough attention has been paid to outcomes. The Programme was supposed to contribute £125 million to cashable savings by the police service. So far has it managed a woeful £600,000 - less than one per cent of the public money spent on the scheme."

Under the Mobile Information Programme, which ran between 2008 and 2010, the National Policing Improvement Agency was given £71m so that police forces could buy 41,000 mobile devices for officers in England and Wales. A further £9m was spent on managing the contracts and the outcome of the scheme, while forces themselves put in a further £23m.

Using BlackBerrys and handheld computers was intended to increase efficiency, reduce bureaucracy and improve visibility of frontline officers by allowing them to spend more time on patrol.

But the PAC, which held public hearings following a report on the scheme by the National Audit Office in January, says in a new study published on Wednesday that the Government's focus was just "getting devices into the hands of police officers quickly rather than on the business benefits".

There was "little thought" given to the desired benefits or outcomes while the "rush" to deliver services meant that not all forces could benefit.

NPIA figures show that on average, officers spent 18 minutes extra per shift out of the station thanks to their new mobile devices, but inexplicably officers in some forces spent more time in the station.

Some constabularies reported improvements as a result of using the new devices, with Hampshire employing fewer back-room staff as officers are now able to send signed statements direct from a witness's house to the custody suite. The Metropolitan Police is using handheld computers to issue fines rather than paper, simultaneously sending the information to office record systems.

But only one in five forces used the technology to improve their operations, and some have no handheld devices at all while others have enough for all officers and support staff.

The Home Office told the committee it estimated £125m in savings from efficiencies in issuing penalty notices and recording crimes, but the 32 forces who responded to an NAO survey only reported annual savings of £600,000 from 2011-12.

Overall police forces spend £1.5billion a year on IT, 10 per cent of the total budget, and there are 2,000 different systems because of local processes.

The Home Office plans to set up a new company to procure computer systems for police, but the committee warns there are "value for money risks" both in central procurement and in voluntary agreements.

Mrs Hodge said: "Despite a central contract for buying these devices, most forces chose not to use it. The Home Office is setting up a new company to manage IT for the police. Given that some forces told us that they achieved better deals locally, the Department needs to put in place clear guidance about what must be bought centrally, and why."

A Home Office spokesman said: "This scheme was set up by the previous government and its implementation by some police forces was disappointing.

"We are doing things differently, with a new police ICT company to deliver value for money and elected police and crime commissioners to make sure forces get the technology that works for them.

"Our reforms will ensure efficiency and innovation so that the police can spend more time on the beat tackling crime."