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Worrying delay in police IT project

There are obvious common sense benefits in having integrated IT systems for police across Scotland.

In fact, the argument for such technology long predated the amalgamation of Scotland's regional police forces. It should always have been possible for road traffic police who stopped a motorist on the side of a road to check immediately on a national database to see if that ­individual had previously been caught speeding anywhere in the country, without having to make calls to other regional offices to find out.

But in the absence of an integrated computer system, that is still not possible, an inefficient state of affairs that hampers the effectiveness of policing.

So it is somewhat concerning that there will be no such Police Scotland IT system in place for another two years and more because the system is running behind schedule.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland has warned that the lack of a unified ICT system has implications for policing. National databases do already exist for some functions, systems such as the Scottish ­Intelligence Database, which brings together information on offenders, and the UK-wide Violent and Sex Offender Register, but many other functions are still handled on separate computer systems.

The new i6 system will seek to remedy that by bringing together four-fifths of policing work into one database but it has been delayed by nine months.

In fairness, the chairman of the Scottish Police Authority, Vic Emery, said when Police Scotland was formed last April that the timeframe for transforming police technology systems would take years not months.

Even so, this news of a nine-month delay is worrying. One of the main justifications for the formation of the single national police force was that it would make possible economies of scale, an integrated computer system being one means of securing those savings, but the longer the IT system is held back the longer it will be before all those benefits are realised.

There is of course a long and ig­nominious history of failed or overcostly public sector IT projects, most notably the Passport Agency computer system that ended up costing four times its initial quote and NHS England's disastrous £12 billion attempt to in­troduce integrated technology, but there is no sign that this system will ever be part of that roll call of shame.

In fact, Police Scotland wisely chose not to try and reinvent the wheel when commissioning the system but bought one off the shelf from Spain, where it is used by the national road traffic police; it is being tweaked for Sc­otland's needs. It is reassuring that Police Scotland does not appear to face any extra costs caused by the delay.

Such projects are not unlike large scale building renovations: once the work begins, unforeseen issues almost inevitably come to light. That is to be expected, within reason. But the latest delay is worrying and the delivery date for this crucial piece of technology must certainly not be allowed to slip any further.

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