The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:
"The idea behind distributing £71 million to police forces so that they could buy over 41,000 BlackBerrys and other mobile devices was to enable officers to spend more time on the beat, increase efficiency and reduce paper work.
But in practice the Home Office focused more on providing the kit than on whether the benefits envisaged were actually being realised and by when. Neither the Home Office nor the National Policing Improvement Agency know what the benefits have been and whether value for money has been achieved.
Even in terms of getting devices into the hands of officers, execution has been haphazard. Some forces have no devices at all whereas others have one for each officer as well as their support staff.
Although some forces have used the devices to improve efficiency, most have not. And, although most forces reported that the devices allowed officers to spend more time out of the station, some said that using the devices actually led officers to spend more time in the station. The Department and Agency does not know why.
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.
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."
Margaret Hodge was speaking as the Committee published its 2nd Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Home Office, the National Policing Improvement Agency and representatives from police forces, examined the use of mobile technology in policing.
The Mobile Information Programme (the Programme) ran between 2008 and 2010. The Home Office (the Department) distributed £71 million of central funding through the National Policing Improvement Agency (the Agency) to police forces to enable them to buy over 41,000 new mobile devices (such as Blackberrys and Personal Data Assistants) for police officers and police community support officers.
The Department intended the Programme to support greater visibility of police officers, increase the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces, and reduce bureaucracy through the use of mobile technology.
The Programme highlights significant gaps in accountability for value for money where the Department devolves responsibility for expenditure on a national programme to local police forces. The Department had insufficient information on the outcomes of this programme to judge whether value for money had been achieved or if the Programme’s objectives had been satisfied. The Department says that in future, accountability will be maintained locally through Police and Crime Commissioners; nationally to Parliament as set out in the Department’s Accountability System Statement, and that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary will collect data to examine value for money of police forces. However, we are yet to see whether these new arrangements will ensure sufficient accountability to satisfy Parliament.
The Department’s focus for this Programme was on delivering the mobile devices, rather than considering how they could be used to improve ways of working and make efficiency savings. Although some forces have used mobile devices to improve efficiency, the majority have not and the Department and the Agency do not know what the benefits of the Programme are. The measurement of benefits was only considered after funding had been distributed to forces, and then ceased in 2010 when the Programme closed. Forces themselves told us that there should have been much more focus on outcomes from the start. The Department estimated that this programme will contribute £125 million to cashable police service savings. So far, police forces have declared cashable savings of just £0.6 million; less than 1% of the amount invested by the Department in the Programme.
The Agency estimates that some £1.5 billion is spent annually on police ICT which is 10% of total annual spend on policing. Reductions in central funding for police forces mean that collaboration and use of technology to make savings is essential. The Agency is being closed down this year, so progress on this will depend on the success of the new company, which aims to allow forces to respond to local IT requirements collaboratively but is based on voluntary cooperation. While we welcome the aims of this new company, arrangements for its funding and governance are still unclear. Forces told us that the Department needs to provide a clear set of business rules which enable forces to make value for money procurement decisions.