Revelations of another major national computer system proving not fit for purpose must produce despair at the inability of one public sector body to learn from the experience of others.
The £7.7 million Common Performance Management Platform (CPMP) system was to enable Scotland's eight police forces to record crimes on the same basis, allowing detailed analysis of the figures that would identify best practice. It received £5.37m from a Government fund to improve efficiency and was projected to produce efficiency savings of more than £30m by 2010. Two years on, it has been consigned to the scrapheap after six years of work.
This is a serious blow only seven months before the separate forces are due to be replaced by a single Scottish police service on April 1 next year. A significant impetus for amalgamation came from savings to be made from pan-Scotland procurement, a reduction in the number of chief constables and deputies and greater flexibility in deployment of personnel and equipment across current force boundaries. Savings are expected to be around £140m a year from 2018 but the CPMP experience indicates the difficulty and cost of harmonising systems, particularly when new technical programmes are required, may have been underestimated.
Audit Scotland has already advised the Scottish Government to learn from previous cost-saving projects that fell short of expectations and monitor the police and fire budgets closely.
The CPMP system for the Scottish police forces may be small beer compared with the Passport Agency's computer system which cost the taxpayer more than £12m and the disastrous attempt to produce a single IT system for the NHS in England, for which the bill was £12.8 billion. But Scotland's police services cannot afford to write off £8m, particularly when enormous effort is put into making savings in vital public services. Nor, in the process of amalgamating the eight forces into one, can we afford to waste years of police time.
It is particularly worrying that those involved on the CPMG project failed to learn the lessons of two other failed attempts to develop national computer systems for the Scottish police forces. One, to monitor those kept in cells across the country, was used only in Dumfries and Galloway; the other, a human resources programme, was taken up by only two forces.
It will take three to five years for the IT systems of the eight forces to be successfully converged, according to Derek Penman, chief constable of Central Scotland. This is clearly a challenging task but one which many businesses have also faced as a result of takeovers and mergers. It is a question of managing it effectively, which may mean gradually.
The lessons of CPMG must not be lost on other parts of the service.
If joint working is to operate smoothly from day one, it may have to include disparate systems. On the wider point, when will the public sector finally learn to procure major projects properly?
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