Police ICT Company still needs £1.2m to get off the ground, admits chairman

The Police ICT Company, which started operating last month after a two and a half year wait, still needs £1.2 million to get fully up and running, chairman Nick Alston has admitted.

The company was launched by Home Secretary Theresa Mayin July 2012 with a clear remit: tackling the “tremendous waste” within the £1 billion spent by the 43 police forces on technology every year.

However the venture has been allocated “no new money” by the Home Office, according to Alston, who is also Essex Police and Crime Commissioner.

The company is waiting to hear if a bid for £1.2 million from the ‘Police Innovation Fund’ has been successful, having so far relied on a grant of just £183,600 from the fund awarded last January.

If unsuccessful, Alston will have to take the begging bowl round to police and crime commissioners (PCCs), asking for about £25,000 from each. Although set up by the Home Office, responsibility for it was handed over to PCCs in April 2013, five months after they were elected across the UK for the first time.

“We will be seeking clarity about funding…we’re hoping maybe more innovation money will be made available, or subscriptions for PCCs,” he says.

The money would fund a “modest” operation: “We’re targeting staff of about eight, some of them on secondment from police IT departments. There are more than 4,000 working in police IT departments up and down the country.”

Despite the uncertainty over the budget, Alston says he has been working “extremely hard” with senior police officers, IT staff, consortia and consultants to get his head around the complexity of the issues and the business case for the company.

“The pace will pick up once we’ve got the resources,” he adds.

Alston is optimistic in spite of the evident challenges. He says the company could help to save £300 million in the next five years through savings - and better policing - that could be achieved by rationalising IT contracts, improving collaboration and information sharing between forces and driving better deals with suppliers.

“Currently one company has over 100 contracts with police services, selling the same product,” he says, for example.

But at the same time, he estimates that £150 million in savings have been missed in the two and half years it has taken for the firm to launch. So why the costly delay?

‘Unrealistic’ plans

Alston believes that the Home Office’s proposals for the police ICT company “failed a practicality test”. Then, when the department handed over responsibility for the scheme to the PCCs, their plans were “unrealistic and undeveloped” and “lacked clarity”.

It is “very complex topic and risk laden” to try to get 43 different forces and elected PCCs to work together, he adds.

“Then we had a disappointing and rather depressing change of Home Office officials dealing with it. I had just got to know someone then they moved on…the approach was not clear. For me it failed a practicality test. We have had to do a lot of work to get it into a shape where it will work and get agreement from 41 PCCs…it’s gritty and unglamorous work.”

Despite its difficult birth, the organisation is at least now operational. It has a website and seven board members, including three PCCs: Alston, who is a Conservative, South Wales’s Labour PCC Alun Michael, and Gloucestershire’s independent PCC Martin Surl. They are currently recruiting for a chief executive.

Election uncertainty

However, one month in, the venture already faces another major threat. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have promised to scrap PCCs if they form a government after the general election, due in just four weeks’ time.

Alston says he is “disappointed” by Labour’s stance, but insists the company could continue to exist, even if PCCs were scrapped. He says he has had meetings with shadow policing minister Jack Dromey to ensure the party understands the situation.

“The Labour party has indicated they’re supportive of what we’re trying to achieve,” he says. “The company could be novated to a joint venture. It is owned by PCCs but could be transferred to other policing bodies.”

Alston is clear that whatever the outcome of the election, it is vital the next government does not lose focus on pushing for a more collaborative, national view of police ICT

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