MORE than £7 million of taxpayers’ money has been wasted, after senior officers scrapped a new computer system that was supposed to let the public know how their local police were performing.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpos) revealed yesterday that the IT project, which was meant to allow people to compare their local police service with the rest of Scotland, had been aborted.
The money has been spent since 2007 on software and efforts to get the system online, but the project had technical problems and never got off the ground.
The decision has prompted calls for an inquiry into how this happened at a time when public finances are tight.
Scottish forces are set to be merged into a single service and major changes are needed to IT systems. Acpos has set aside £12m over three years to manage that change.
Chief Constable Derek Penman, of Central Scotland Police, is overseeing changes to IT as part of police reform. He said of the decision to scrap the “performance platform” system: “We’ve recognised where we are now and where we need to be in future, and the costs to get there.
“We’ve taken the decision that it [the scrapped system] will provide limited benefit moving forward. We have a finite amount of resources. We have to see what’s the best way of spending it in the interests of the Police Service of Scotland.”
The Scottish Government is looking to save £106m over the next five years – £1.4 billion over 15 years – from the move to a single force, with some savings from IT.
Critics have warned that the money wasted on the IT system casts doubts on the police’s ability to achieve savings and manage such huge change. The Scotsman revealed in May that it was facing “technical problems”.
Graeme Pearson, MSP, a former director-general of the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), said the performance platform failure did not bode well for the IT challenges facing police.
“There’s no surprise they [Acpos] have finally abandoned it,” he said. “It’s a disgraceful waste of public money. It gives some indication of my concern in terms of the democratic oversight of what’s now being done in terms of a single force.
“There should be someone available to question what is going on and call people to account for decisions being made. Here no questions were being asked. Apart from The Scotsman article [in May, revealing problems], no-one was paying any interest.”
He questioned whether £12m additional funding would be enough to deliver all the IT changes needed.
And he commented: “£12m may buy biscuits for tea breaks, but it does not give confidence of providing an IT system for the 21st century. It’s not good enough. This is taxpayers’ money. People have worked hard to pay for a service,and that service has not been delivered.”
He said there needed to be an inquiry to make sure lessons were learned for the future.
“How do we make sure that all those responsible for these kinds of things are aware that someone outside their group will ask awkward questions,” he asked.
Scottish Conservative justice spokesman David McLetchie said: “As I predicted less than three months ago, this IT project has been scrapped and the creation of a single police force used as a justification for the waste of £7m of taxpayers’ money. This does not augur well for the harmonisation of IT systems across Scotland’s eight police forces.”
Acpos says it has saved £2m by scrapping the project. That could be returned to the Scottish Government, which initially awarded the project £5m funding in 2007-8.
Police officials hope to find some use for software bought for the scrapped IT system, but have yet to identify what.
Police have an additional £12m over three years, on top of their £55m-a-year IT budget, to bring sweeping changes into place for the merger.
SCoPE, the system used to manage officers’ shift patterns and deployments, which was designed by police, is already used by most forces with Lothian and Borders joining this autumn.
A blueprint will be published in the next month on command and control centres, which will see one system used across the whole of Scotland. It is being delivered by Steria – the company behind the scrapped platform.
A £2m mobile data pilot in Govan, involving officers going out armed with tablet computers, so they can electronically access, and add to, police records, has also been launched.
A new ICT strategy is expected before the end of the year. Some information, such as the Criminal History System, with details of criminal proceedings, is already held nationally.
A non-emergency number, internet website and intranet site are all expected to be in place ahead of the new force being unveiled in April.
Greater use of social media sites, such as Twitter, is also being planned.
Senior officials do not yet know how much all these changes might cost, and when many will be implemented, anticipating it will be a three- to five-year rolling programme.
They also do not know how much money might be cut from the police IT budget to make sure they meet the Scottish Government’s saving targets.