Home Office law enforcement data failures 'putting public safety at risk'

Fragile technology is limiting policing capability, warns NAO
Photo: Steve Cadman/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Gill Hitchcock

13 Sep 2021

The Home Office’s delay in introducing the National Law Enforcement Data Service is putting police access to vital information at risk, the National Audit Office has said.

Delays to the NLEDS programme bring greater risks for police operations and require the police to bear more cost,according to the NAO's latest report.

Meanwhile, the Home Office must continue to run existing systems at a cost of £21m a year for the Police National Computer, which holds criminal records, and £13m for the Police National Database for sharing intelligence.

In March, a Home Office estimate showed that NLEDS, when complete, was expected to cost £17m per year. If there are further delays to the programme, however, the Home Office may also need to migrate the PNC to a new operating system. This could take three years and cost at least £30m.

The programme to develop the NLEDS was launched by the Home Office in 2016. It aimed to replace PNC and the PND. Police rely heavily on both these systems, but they are reaching the end of their lives and their technology is becoming obsolete.

With an original planned delivery date of 2020, the NLEDS programme has yet to deliver the services expected, the report says. The total costs to the Home Office have increased by 68% to more than £1bn.

An independent review commissioned by the Home Office found that if the programme continued as it was, it would be late, difficult and costly to roll out and maintain and would not meet the needs of the police.

Following this review, in December 2020 the department reset the programme for the second time and removed the replacement of the PND from its cope. Even under the new plans, the programme is not expected to deliver a service equivalent to the PNC until 2025-26.

The PNC’s current technology for its database will no longer be supported after December 2024, but the Home Office told the auditor it had decided to accept the risk of running the PNC without supplier support for the database after this point.

At the start of this year, the PNC experienced a data loss affecting the records of 112,697 people. Efforts to recover the lost data were made more difficult by the ageing technology on which the PNC is based.

The NAO is critical of both the Home Office and the police for not consistently sharing an understanding of what NLEDS will deliver. It says that by autumn 2020, the police lost confidence in the programme and formally raised their concerns with the Home Office permanent secretary.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “After a succession of delays, resets, and changes in scope, the cost of the NLEDS programme has increased significantly, and it is still not clear whether the Home Office will be able to deliver the programme before the existing infrastructure becomes obsolete.

“Fragile technology is limiting the ability of the police and other organisations to carry out their job effectively and ultimately putting the security and safety of the public at risk.

“The Home Office must urgently work with the police to guarantee a clear timeline for the programme, avoiding any further delays.”

This article first appeared on CSW's sister title PublicTechnology.

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