Police Scotland's civilian oversight body may approach the Government for more funding for a "mission critical" computer project that needs to be signed off urgently, MSPs have heard.

The force's private ICT contractor is "tense" about a forthcoming decision on a new computer system – known as i6 – which could be facing a funding shortfall.

The project was yesterday called the most important priority for Police Scotland at Holyrood's Justice Sub-Commitee on Policing.

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) faces a key decision next month on whether to press ahead with i6 or procure a new system, but the clock is ticking as the risk of failure of the existing systems is rising.

The Scottish Government estimated ICT integration would cost £12 million but this month the SPA said this was an underestimate.

One MSP has suggested police officers will have less computer support to fight crime than a washing-machine repairman.

Speaking at the committee, Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson said: "A number of mission-critical supporting elements are contained within the i6 proposal.

"Such things as crime and the management of crime through the criminal justice process have interconnections and dependencies that enable an end-to-end process to be slickly managed with the use of IT."

Labour MSP Graeme Pearson said: "There will be people in the private sector who will be quite tense about the current timings and decisions."

An SPA spokesman said: "We will look to see if the Government can look sympathetically on whether there are any other funding streams available to support this enabling work."