A police IT project expected to cost £300m is not about “space-age” technology such as drones and retina scanners but about getting officers away from using pens and paper, MSPs have heard.
Police Scotland said its data, digital and IT strategy, one of the largest ever attempted in the UK public service, is about improving basic operational policing, such as allowing officers to use mobile technology.
Last week the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) approved the strategy which is expected to cost £298m over a nine-year period.
Appearing before the Scottish Parliament’s justice sub-committee on policing, senior police figures denied claims from the Unison union that the strategy would “fetishise” cutting-edge technology at the expense of basic everyday systems.
Martin Low, acting director of IT at Police Scotland, told MSPs: “This is not about technology that’s not proven and space age solutions. It’s about fundamental, basic IT for frontline operational policing.”
The Scotsman revealed earlier this year that Police Scotland was considering the use of iris recognition technology to help quickly identify when “repeat visitors” are brought into custody.
Mr Low said there were no current plans to include that technology in the strategy nor drones which are currently being tested by the force.
Kenneth Hogg, the SPA’s interim chief officer, said: “In plain English, what this has to mean is that officers are not still using pens and paper and taking notes and then going back to an office and typing something up and then typing it up on several different systems, therefore not spending more time in communities.
“That’s one of the benefits were are really keen to see delivered by this.”
Mr Hogg said there had been early discussions with justice secretary Humza Yousaf who had indicated he would have to consider the proposals as part of the Scottish Government’s spending review.
But even if the force was to do nothing, the cost of maintaining the existing system would be around £95m, Mr Hogg said.
“There are some very basic things which both trade unions and staff associations are very clear need to be fixed just to get to a basic level of functionality,” he said.
He added: “We really don’t have an option to do nothing about this.”
Mr Hogg said the project was “more complex and broader-ranging” than the failed i6 scheme, which was cancelled in 2016 after a series of glitches were discovered.
Following the termination of the contract, the SPA was able to recover the roughly £11m it had spent on the project as well as a further £13.6m from the contractor, Accenture.
Asked about money spent on consultants yesterday, Police Scotland’s chief financial officer, James Gray, said a total of £11.3m had been paid between 2013/14 and 2017/18.
However, he said there had been a “significant uplift” of late, with nearly £8m spent during the current financial year.