Plans to modernise Police Scotland’s ICT systems through a £298m capital investment over nine years have been held back by a “significantly lower” allocation of budgetary resources than originally planned, a new report has revealed.

The organisation, which is working towards its Policing 2026 strategy, has been held back on its digital transformation agenda by a £63.8m shortfall in funding this financial year, a report published this week by the Auditor General for Scotland has found.

Police Scotland – which had previous ICT plans derailed when a £46.11m contract to provide the i6 computer system was shelved after contractual wrangles in 2016 – had a produced a new Digital, Data and ICT (DDICT) Strategy in 2018 that set out how information technology would be used to support the Policing 2026 agenda.

However, the Strategic Business Case, approved by the board of the Scottish Police Authority last year, and which set out the £298m investment figure, has still not been agreed by The Scottish Government nor has it been included within the Scottish Government Draft Budget for 2019/20, the report finds. 

The report stated that the transformation change funding available for all capital projects was £12.4 million in 2018/19 and is budgeted as £25.2 million for 2019/20, adding: “This is significantly lower than the outline business case for DDICT which estimated a funding requirement for 2019/20 of £89 million. This has required projects to be assessed and prioritised based on a range of criteria. Projects which were postponed included the digital evidence platform and the national cybercrime infrastructure. The delay in implementation has delayed the delivery of the expected financial benefits and additional capacity.”

Some projects have commenced, however. Plans to improve the mobile working capabilities of officers have been supported by £11m of capital investment is funding 10,000 smartphone devices to increase the mobility of officers. A further £6 million has been invested in core operating solutions which will deliver software applications to improve how Police Scotland manages information.

However, the report adds: “Limited funding is not the only factor contributing to the delays, as the timescales associated with procurement and the governance of business cases have also had an impact on project plans.”

The report, ‘The 2018/19 audit of the Scottish Police Authority’, found overall that the organisation ran a £35.6m deficit this year on a total police budget of £1.1bn and had to rely on a £50m lifeline from the Scottish Government. The report notes that the current size of the workforce is ‘not sustainable’ within the current budget, but that there ‘are no plans to reduce the workforce in 2019/20 and the financial plans will be driven by the settlements in the Scottish draft budget’.

New three and ten-year financial plans are due to be presented to the board in Spring 2020 and these are expected to outline revised plans to achieve financial balance by 2021/22, the report adds.

The SPA has also been hit by the recent resignation of its Chair, Susan Deacon, its chief executive earlier in September, and the appointment of seven new board members, with the report adding: “The lack of stability in the chief executive role over the last two years has limited progress in developing the Scottish Police Authority corporate function.”

That has been mirrored by senior leadership changes at Police Scotland with a new Chief Constable, three new Deputy Chief Constables and several new Assistant Chief Constables. 

Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “There is still an absolute need to agree a fully shared understanding about what the SPA’s functions and responsibilities are, so that it can fulfil the role envisaged in legislation in 2012.

“There have been improvements, but considerable challenges remain. The SPA now needs a period of stability to build capacity and plan for a modern and financially stable police service.”