A major information and communication technology programme for UK police by the Home Office is expected to be delayed by five years and cost significantly more than planned, according to a new report by the National Audit Office (NAO).
In its report, the NAO, which scrutinises public spending for Parliament, states that the Home Office did not achieve value for money against its plans to deliver the National Law Enforcement Data Service (NLEDS) between 2016 and 2020.
NLEDS was originally intended as a replacement for the Police National Computer and the Police National Database, with the aim of reducing costs and enabling more innovative use of data. However, in 2019 and 2020, following increasing costs, delays and concerns from police, the Home Office decided to reset the programme.
According to the report, the current forecast of the delay to full delivery is five years, with an estimated 68 per cent increase in the total cost from £671 million to £1.1 billion.
The NAO report highlights multiple causes for the “poor performance” of the NLEDS programme in its first five years, including:
- uncertainty around the scope of the requirements
- de-prioritisation of funding relative to other programmes
- changes in technical approach
- lack of commercial strategy
- shortcomings in programme management and governance
The report also states that “The Department’s failure to deliver NLEDS to date means that the increasingly fragile Police National Computer system has not been replaced, bringing greater risks for police operations and requiring the police to bear more cost.” It further states that the Home Office cannot yet guarantee to the police that a replacement system will be in place in December 2024, when current technology will no longer be supported.
The NAO makes several recommendations to the Home Office in the report, and notes that the Department has restructured the programme team and begun work on its new approach.
Commenting on the findings, Andrew Baldwin, head of public affairs at APM, said: “As the chartered body for the project profession, we find this hugely concerning and urge the Home Office to learn the lessons of the past five years by considering the NAO’s recommendations. These focus on basic fundamentals of project management such as leadership, accountability, clear objectives and processes, and a keen eye for assessing potential risk.”
“We remain hopeful that the programme reset will lead to better outcomes, but the report already raises questions about whether this is achievable. In July 2021, when the Home Office assessed the programme and its 12 critical factors, four were rated amber (meaning there are challenges but the programme has an approach to work through them). It is of paramount importance that the Department does indeed have an approach to work through them, to learn the lessons of the past five years and ensure the ageing Police National Computer (PNC) system is replaced on time with a fit-for-purpose, modern system.”