MPs sound alarm over Home Office’s £1.1bn police IT programme

Department’s “miserable record of exorbitantly expensive digital programmes that fail to deliver” continues, says Public Accounts Committee
The Home Office. Photo: Steph Gray/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Jim Dunton

08 Dec 2021

Home Office plans to replace the Police National Computer and Police National Database have failed to deliver any of the expected services and are running at least five years late and hundreds of millions of pounds over budget, according to a damning report from MPs.

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee said the ageing PNC had been due to be replaced with a new system last year but is now not expected to be replaced until 2025-26 at the earliest, while the Home Office’s budget for the project has increased by 68% to £1.1bn.

The Home Office originally planned to create a combined National Law Enforcement Data Service that brought together the data and functions of both the PNC and the PND with a single cloud-based system. But it has now scrapped those plans and is proposing a separate five-year programme for the PND. The committee said it was unclear when the database would be upgraded or replaced, or what the cost would be.

MPs said the Home Office had “wasted vital time and scarce funding without making any meaningful progress” in replacing both the PNC and the PND over the past five years, and was continuing its “miserable record of exorbitantly expensive digital programmes that fail to deliver”.

They said problems with PNC and PND could not be viewed in isolation from costly failures such as the Emergency Services Network and Digital Services at the Border programmes. Earlier this year,  PAC berated the department over those projects, which are running years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of pounds over budget.

Their just-published report, The National Law Enforcement Data Programme, said the department made poor decisions at the outset of the NLEDS and created a scope and ambition for the project that was “unrealistic”.

“The department created a programme designed to replace two vital police information systems without fully understanding the police’s requirements or how these systems worked,” the report said.

“When the programme team attempted to understand how the PNC worked, it became clear that it was much more complex than the department had anticipated, resulting in delays and large amounts of additional work. An early programme decision to merge the PNC and PND systems made the complexity worse because the two systems used very different data formats.”

PAC members said the Home Office and police forces “did not develop the effective working relationship needed” for the successful development of NLEDS and police lost confidence in the department’s ability to deliver. They said senior officers from the nation’s 45 forces even wrote to Home Office perm sec Matthew Rycroft to raise their concerns.

The report said the Home Office lacked the skilled staff required to design, develop and manage its various technology programmes, including NLEDS, and committee members were sceptical that the department’s optimism for delivery by 2025-26 was justified.

It added that the team that ran PNC was under-resourced and had some members nearing retirement, making it hard to keep the existing system running and support the development of its successor. The report said that because of its age the PNC would need to be run without full manufacturer support from 2024. The Home Office plans to provide in-house support instead, however. 

PAC chair Dame Meg Hillier said the Home Office was struggling to deliver a number of large, complex and costly digital and technology projects.

“All are critical to security and yet we see perpetual failure and an inability to learn lessons on basic project management,” she said.

“It is hard to see what steps the Home Office is taking to resolve these huge problems and whether it has any inkling that they will work.

“Personal and national security are arguably the most fundamental duties of a government to its citizens. And the Home Office is falling down on these major projects with little urgency or planning for how to deliver them.

"Our frontline police rely on these systems to do their job. The Home Office must be clear about the route ahead or confidence of the UK's police forces in the Home Office will sink even lower."

A Home Office spokesperson disputed the PAC’s suggestion that five years had been wasted on replacing the PNC and PND and pointed out that elements of the new system were already live.

“It is not true to say no progress has been made – the new technology has already helped police to successfully identify people pulled over at the roadside more quickly, for example, saving officers over 42,500 hours to date,” they said.

“The Law Enforcement Data Service will replace the Police National Computer and deliver a modern IT system more effective at catching criminals whilst making substantial savings for police and taxpayers.

“The programme is now on a stronger footing following a fundamental reset and, while we recognise there is more work to do, we are working collaboratively with policing partners to deliver it in a phased approach.”

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