Skimming cash off UK police budget for tech projects probably not the best idea, say MPs

Particularly when those projects overrun and overspend

Slicing police funding to inject cash into national programmes – a big chunk of which is funnelled into tech – might not be an effective use of public cash, and some projects face a cliff edge when funding runs out.

Or so say MPs in the latest report (PDF) on the state of police funding: the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) concluded the Home Office may not be making the best use of its budget and needs to figure out how to improve delivery of broad projects.

The Home Office takes 11 per cent of police funding and siphons it into national programmes; in 2018-19 some £945m was reallocated in this way, with £495m of it being spent on tech-related initaitives.

An ambulance

Emergency Services Network delays to cost public purse £1.1bn, Home Office reveals


However, the PAC pointed out the investment includes the development of the Emergency Services Network – a regular bugbear for the group.

This is now 15 months behind schedule and the department still has to spend £330m a year from the total police budget to run the old Airwave system for longer than planned.

Police forces are also feeling the pinch because they have to spend more money to run the outdated Airwave system.

Other elements of this top slice are given over to special grants for unexpected events (£93m) and the Police Transformation Fund (£175m) – but again the MPs questioned whether this was a good use of the money, as once the cash dries up, local forces struggle to continue backing it.

"We are not convinced by the department's approach of top-slicing transformation funding from the total police budget and then distributing it to a small number of projects, rather than allocating it to forces to manage themselves," the report said.

Compounding this problem is the lack of a clear strategy from the Home Office, which sets national priorities – like cybersecurity – but stays out of what it sees as the police sector's business.

However, the PAC said that without national long-term strategy, there is no clarity on how to support the Policing Vision 2025, which is developed by the sector.

"No one is suggesting that the centre should be telling forces what to do and getting involved with operational or day-to-day decision making," the report said.

"But it is not incompatible with the devolved model of policing and local accountability, and indeed would complement it, for the department to have its own long-term plan for policing."

The PAC's report follows another highly critical assessment from the Home Affairs Committee, which said last week that there would be "dire consequences" if Whitehall doesn't boost funding and address the "complete failure" in Home Office leadership. ®

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