Home Secretary: Police IT Suppliers Summit

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Theresa May on the opportunity to deliver real change

I am delighted to be here at this Police IT Suppliers Summit and to see so many of you here.

Today what I want to talk about is something that to the outside world isn’t glamorous or exciting. Something that does not often garner column inches or interest the majority of politicians. But it is something which matters – to police officers and the communities they serve - and that is police IT.

I called today’s summit with a single purpose: to bring together the police, government and industry and sort out the chaotic and wasteful system of IT contracts across 43 police forces in England and Wales.

Everyone in this room knows that we buy, manage and join up police IT in arcane and complex ways. That there is too little harmonisation of contracts or intelligent procurement within forces, let alone between forces. And that the systems and hardware that police officers use in the day job often lags behind those they use as consumers outside of work.

So no-one in this room should view that situation as acceptable to the police officers who use that technology, the public who depend on the police or the taxpayers who pay for it.

Today is the start of the process to change all that. It’s a chance for you all to come together and deliver real change.

And crucially today must not be a talking shop. I know that Nick Alston and the APCC share my view that this cannot be a normal IT conference. It is the start – I believe – of concerted action – by all of us – to bring sense, efficiency and effectiveness to the way the police procure and manage IT.

Delivering more for less

Now in 2010, when I became Home Secretary, I instigated a programme of radical police reform. Central to those reforms, was the need for policing to deliver value for money.

We had the worst budget deficit in our peacetime history, higher than any other country in Europe with the single exception of Ireland, and higher even than countries such as Portugal and Greece.

Spending cuts were necessary across the public sector and the police had to shoulder their fair share.

But this was not just about saving money to bring down the national debt. It was also about cutting waste. Under the last government, police budgets rose year on year. But bureaucracy weighed down heavily, tying up police time in too much red tape, stopping officers from getting out and doing their job for the public and fighting crime.

There was a panoply of national bodies that cost hundreds of millions of pounds, but failed to deliver for the taxpayer.

The £400 million-a-year National Policing Improvement Agency: an organisation without the mandate to make change, or the room to set its own agenda.

The Serious Organised Crime Agency without the powers and the clout to tackle organised crime.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that was neither properly independent of the government nor the police.

And the Independent Police Complaints Commission lacked the powers and the capacity to deal with all serious and sensitive cases.

And of course, at local level, unelected police authorities were supposed to hold police forces to account, but only 7% of the public even knew they existed.

The situation we inherited was not just unsustainable financially, it was unsustainable operationally too.

So we have abolished national targets, and cut excessive, unnecessary bureaucracy, to free up valuable police time.

The NPIA has gone. Now the College of Policing stands in its place with a strong mandate to professionalise the police, set standards, and develop an evidence base of what works in cutting crime.

HMIC has its first ever civilian Chief Inspector, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission has been beefed up so that in future people can get the redress that they deserve.

Beat meetings, crime maps and Police and Crime Commissioners mean police forces are now properly accountable to their local communities.

And we are implementing a programme of work to ensure the highest standards of police integrity, and root out corruption and misconduct.

Now when I first launched my programme of police reform, many denied the need for change. When I announced that central government police budgets would be cut by 20% in real terms over four years, they said it couldn’t be done. The Police Federation, the Association of Chief Police Officers, and the Labour Party were united: the frontline service would be ruined and crime would go shooting up. Labour called it the “the perfect storm”, the Police Federation said it would be “Christmas for criminals”.

But in all these areas, we are delivering better value for money, more effectiveness and greater accountability. And we have proved – against all the critics – that change is possible.

So central government funding to the police has reduced by £1.2 billion over the Spending Review period even as crime has fallen by more than a fifth, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales. And that isn’t some abstract number, it’s 962,000 fewer criminal damage incidents, 413,000 fewer violent incidents and 160,000 fewer domestic burglaries in England and Wales in the past year compared with 2010.

By getting rid of government imposed targets and unnecessary bureaucracy we have saved 4.5 million police hours – the equivalent of 2,100 full time officers. And HMIC has shown that the proportion of officers on the frontline has risen from 89% to 91%.

So police reform is working: crime is falling, and we have proved that most important of lessons – that it is possible to deliver more for less.

Savings to be found in IT

We must now do the same with Police IT.

Whatever the outcome of the next election, we know that the pressures on funding will continue, and that police spending will have to fall again, as even Labour have admitted. Just as spending cuts under this government have been a catalyst for transformation and change in this Parliament, so they must be in the next.

There is tremendous waste in the way police forces procure and manage IT contracts. When the government came to power, police forces spent £1 billion annually on IT. This included 2,000 different IT systems, spread over 43 forces. And in 2011/12 a survey indicated this was supported by approximately 4,000 staff.

2,000 different IT systems, across 43 forces, with 4,000 staff.

We know that there are forces buying IT products and solutions at different prices and in different ways. In 2012/13 around £400 million was spent on contracting IT capabilities from suppliers, and this doesn’t even include force overheads and large commodity IT spends. And we know that systems too often do not talk to one another to ensure that forces can share information or work together across geographical boundaries.

I know that Police and Crime Commissioners are taking steps to better understand this issue. Today you will have heard evidence collected by the Bluelightworks capability for the Police IT Board – which is led by Police and Crime Commissioners – about the spread of police IT contracts. That evidence shows that for just eight capability areas, forces hold over 200 individual contracts. Just to give you just one example – there are currently 36 individual contracts for Command and Control systems across the 43 police forces and British Transport Police.

It’s chaotic. It’s extremely wasteful. And while the report also found that some forces are sharing contracts, and others have plans to, we know that by acting alone forces fail to get the economy of scale necessary to deliver value for money.

In its recent “Core Business” report HMIC highlighted policing’s haphazard approach to IT procurement, making clear that opportunities have been lost – and continue to be lost.

Police priorities may change from area to area. But in police IT, as Tom Winsor said in September: “There are not, and never have been, 43 best ways of doing something.”

The scale of duplication and inefficiency across the Police IT landscape is frankly unacceptable in the 21st century. And it is even more unacceptable at a time of austerity, when the public rightly expects police forces to deliver best value for every pound of taxpayer funding.

So if forces are to deliver the savings required in the next Parliament, transforming police IT is not an option, it is a necessity.

But this is not just about saving money. It is also about ensuring the easy access of information that officers need, as well as data sharing, and interoperability within forces and between forces and other agencies: functions that are necessary for effective policing.

It is about ensuring that evidence can pass smoothly through the criminal justice system. It is about enabling police officers to use equipment across police forces without the need for additional training. It is about speeding up investigations, so that officers can more quickly and easily identify and catch criminals across force boundaries.

I have said before that reform often requires gritty and unglamorous work. Police IT is one of those things, but reform has the potential to improve policing dramatically, and deliver the savings that we know will be necessary in the future.


This is also about making sure that police technology is fit for the 21st century.

We must embrace new technologies so that we can keep up the pace in the fight against crime.

And we must make the most of technology to free up police time, so that officers spend less time behind their desks, and more time out on the streets.

The College of Policing is leading the Police Digitisation Programme and setting out work which will support forces in becoming fully digital by 2016. I am pleased that every force in England and Wales and the British Transport Police have signed up to the College of Policing’s digital pathfinder initiative.

In addition, the Police Innovation Fund is encouraging PCCs to come forward with new ideas. This year the Police Innovation Fund allocated £19 million to projects that support forces in delivering digital capabilities.

The 2015/16 Police Innovation Fund bidding round will open on 3 November, and I hope that forces will work with suppliers to make sure bids are truly innovative.

How the system should work

But today I also want to talk about how I believe police IT procurement should work.

I know there have been calls for me to mandate change. Some want the Home Office to procure and manage more services centrally, or for central government to decide technological standards by central diktat. But if you look at the history of Whitehall IT projects you will know just how big a mistake that would be.

There is a role for the Home Office. But that role is to manage those national systems that only the Home Office currently can – of which there are only six – and to work with industry and forces to agree open information standards, not to manage local IT systems.

It is the role of Police and Crime Commissioners and police forces to collectively own police IT. As I said earlier, police forces procure around £400 million worth of IT each year –on top of staff overheads and large commodity IT spends.

This is fundamental. Local policing priorities should be driven by local need, not the Home Office. PCCs and Chief Constables are best placed to determine what these are, and are accountable to the communities they serve.

So it is for PCCs to take responsibility for ensuring significantly better contract management and rationalisation of the IT estate and market.

And Chief Constables, through the Operational Requirements Board, give PCCs the technical requirements to make informed and intelligent investment decisions.

And as I have said already, the College is responsible for setting professional standards around the use of IT through their Digitisation programme, as well as issuing guidance and building the evidence base on process and technology.

Finally there is a responsibility for industry too. I know there are many companies here today. As suppliers, you must deliver to the open information standards and engage with policing as a collective customer, through PCCs, rather than looking to ACPO or the Home Office for direction as has happened in the past.

So this is my vision for police IT – police forces and PCCs acting as an intelligent customer, open standards informed by industry, forces and the College, with a reduced role for the Home Office limited to the things that only it can achieve.

I know that the Police IT Board led by Nick Alston – who is chairing today’s summit – has taken on this mantle and is in the process of driving change. This is welcome and much-needed. And in truth it cannot come fast enough and – we must be clear – it is not currently happening fast enough. I am clear, this is for you – PCCs, forces, established suppliers, new entrants and SMEs – to deliver.

The benefits of collaboration

So today marks a golden opportunity to deliver this vision for Police IT, and to put in place the foundations for greater collaboration.

We are already seeing the benefits collaboration can bring in other areas of policing.

Some forces are working together with fire and rescue services to share buildings and infrastructure in order to make savings.

Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire are collaborating in a number of functions, including road policing and major crime.

Surrey and Sussex collaborate on a number of operational activities including major crime investigation, forensics, firearms, procurement and they are planning to extend to other areas.

And Warwickshire and West Mercia have entered an alliance which allows them to pool all their resources below the level of deputy chief constable.

Their collaboration is expected to deliver 32% and 47% of each force’s respective savings under this Spending Review.

So across the country collaboration is helping forces to deliver more with less.

I know that many here today are also working together on IT, whether that’s sharing an IT department, procurement centre or some IT capabilities.

But too much is piecemeal and we need to go further. As the Police IT Board’s work shows there are excellent opportunities for greater collaboration on core systems. All forces share similar capabilities and many are planning to change major systems over the next couple of years. Even where forces are not planning to replace core systems, it seems there are great opportunities for savings through streamlining business processes and, later down the line, using collective power to secure better value contracts.

Today you will hear about a number of collaborations: the Minerva programme whereby 17 forces are developing a common approach to core policing business processes; the Athena programme which is a collaboration of seven forces; and the collaboration involving four South East forces.

And I am pleased that all these schemes aim to deliver interoperability, and savings through collaboration. While it is not for the Home Office to tell you what approach to take, and there is no one right way, these examples can spur greater discussion. There is much to be learnt from them.

But whatever route you take, policing must buy and manage contracts better.

The Police ICT Company can help you to do this. I set up the Police ICT Company in 2012, but it is now for PCCs to take it on. It has the ability to transform the way the police buy and use technology.

It is ready to start operational trading, and to deliver what PCCs want and need it to, and to allow suppliers to interact and engage with a much more coherent market.

It will act as a gateway to private sector expertise, help drive innovation, share experience of best practice and the best technology available, and help secure better financial deals.

The Police ICT Company is owned by PCCs, and must be led by them. So it is now up to PCCs to make the Company work for them, and the police forces that they serve.


For too long police IT procurement has been chaotic, with contracts managed in a complex, inefficient way. For too long suppliers have bid for similar contracts across multiple forces at different prices. And for too long police IT has lagged woefully behind the modern advances in technology that are available.

Tom Winsor said it clearly in September: “The oxygen of effective policing is intelligence. Information is useless if it cannot be found and used at the time and in the circumstances in which it is needed.”

He went on to say: “Progress until now has been too slow, insular and isolationist. This must change urgently; for as long as these material shortcomings persist, lives are at risk.”

So our programme of reform is helping to cut waste: wasted money, and wasted police time.

On IT we have published open information standards – and we will continue to do so – we’ve helped establish the Police ICT Company, and are encouraging new incentives through the Police Innovation Fund.

But the challenge today is for PCCs, police forces and suppliers to seize this opportunity to sort out police IT once and for all.

We have a long way to go before value for money can be taken for granted in this area. Today is the start of a conversation, and it is an urgent one.

And we owe it not just to police officers to make technology work better, but to victims of crime, and the taxpaying public that your police forces serve.