Clause 14 - Abolition of SOCA and NPIA

Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 29th January 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I want to test the Minister on some of the issues regarding the abolition of the National Policing Improvement Agency.

To all intents and purposes, the Government abolished the NPIA 12 months ago. They have been winding down its role and transferring its responsibilities to both the new NCA and the Home Office, but operationally it completed its service in December 2012, and clause 14 provides for its statutory abolition when the legislation receives Royal Assent. The majority of the NPIA’s functions have been transferred to the new college of policing, the Home Office, and SOCA in anticipation of the NCA. A small number of its functions—I am helpfully told this by a fact sheet—have been discontinued. I want to test the Minister on a couple of points regarding responsibilities relevant to the NCA. I will give him a heads-up on what they are.

We are we with the information technology company, which was a responsibility of the NPIA? Will the Minister give me a sense of the roles and responsibilities of the NCA? I want to examine the issues that have been brought in-house by the Home Office, and further clarification on the costs of dissolving the NPIA—for example, what is happening to its capital assets, including Bramshill college of policing? If you will allow it, Ms Dorries, I am happy to deal with the issues individually and then get a response from the Minister on each topic, rather than to do all four at once, so that we get some dialogue.

The creation of the police ICT company was announced by the Home Secretary on 4 July 2011. It was being developed under the auspices of the NPIA, but obviously will not be any longer. How is it progressing? In parliamentary questions to the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, I have not got to the nub of precisely where we are. What progress has been made in the negotiations with police and crime commissioners, who were elected on 15 November, to take over the responsibility for the company?

There are two key issues. First, the ICT company being developed by the to-be-abolished NPIA was established to take forward national ICT for police forces, but the programme’s development is not clear and I have not had satisfactory answers to my parliamentary questions. Given that the NPIA is being abolished by the Bill and that the ICT company is being established, what is the time scale for that establishment? To date, how many police and crime commissioners have indicated that they will sign up to the company? What happens if  an insufficient number of police and crime commissioners sign up? What happens if they decide not to sign up? To date, how much investment, cash-wise and capital-wise, has been put into the police ICT company? Does the Minister intend, through his right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, to mandate and effectively force police and crime commissioners to participate in the national police computer system in the event of non-acceptance and non-delivery?

The Minister has indicated that it is far too early in the process to answer those questions. On 4 July 2011, 18 months ago, the Secretary of State determined that she would announce the creation of a new police ICT company, which was established as a private company limited by guarantee under the auspices of the NPIA in June 2012. It is now under the temporary ownership of the Home Office and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. Now that we have police and crime commissioners, what progress has been made? What would happen in the event of several or some of the bigger ones deciding not to participate? I ask because the NPIA was the body that originally dealt with that national procurement; when the NPIA is abolished, where do the liabilities go?

I will stop at that point to see whether the Minister wants to respond to those points before I move on. If the Minister wants to deal with them all at once, I will happily wait for the answers.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

With your permission, Ms Dorries, and that of the right hon. Gentleman, it may make sense to address the issues in one block.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 11:00 am, 29th January 2013

I was only trying to help the Minister and give him an opportunity to focus on different issues rather than all together.

The National Policing Improvement Agency’s functions are being transferred. It says in the helpful note from officials on the background to the Bill that:

“on 1 April 2012 SOCA took over responsibility for the Central Witness Bureau, the Crime Operational Support Unit, the Serious Crime Analysis section, the Specialist Operations Centre and the National Missing Persons Bureau”.

The note continues:

“The NPIA's Proceeds of Crime Centre, together with its statutory responsibilities under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to train, accredit and monitor Financial Investigators, will also transfer to the NCA when it is established”.

In earlier discussions, the Minister helpfully told us that the budget of the NCA is expected to be £407 million for its first year of operation. The budget for the Serious Organised Crime Agency was just over £390 million. The Minister says in his helpful note that the central witness bureau, the crime operational support unit, the serious crime analysis section, the national missing persons bureau and potentially the Proceeds of Crime Act training, accrediting, monitoring and so on are transferring to the National Crime Agency, as are the responsibilities of the border force, yet the NCA budget for next year is only £407 million. Those functions are transferring, other functions might transfer and we have the border force on top. We need some clarity about the monetary value that the Minister puts on the work of the central witness bureau, the crime operational  support unit, the serious crime analysis section, the specialist operations centre, the national missing persons bureau and ultimately the Proceeds of Crime Act training, accrediting and monitoring.

Again—I say this helpfully, I hope—on 1 October 2012 the Home Office took responsibility for 101 emergency numbers, crime mapping, pathology services, forensics, training policy, the automotive and equipment section and non-ICT procurement. I would like some idea of the split between the budget and staffing of the NPIA and how that fits into its transfer of responsibilities to the new NCA and the repatriation of certain issues to the Home Office. Frankly, the budgets of these bodies do not add up. How did the Minister reach his conclusion on the £407 million budget for the first year, when the responsibilities for the National Crime Agency are bigger than SOCA’s, and include those of the NPIA and the border force? How will this work be undertaken?

I would welcome an update on the college of policing. The college, only recently established, was effectively a large part of the responsibility of the NPIA, which is formally abolished under clause 14, but which has been winding down since December 2012. How does the Minister see the policing college fitting into the new landscape, particularly in relation to its budget and how it will fund its activities, given that it is being desegregated from the NPIA? I would also welcome some information about the locations and how the college will physically be established, given that it has already been announced that Bramshill police college is for sale. That was effectively both the major police training centre in the United Kingdom and, in part, the focus for a large number of NPIA responsibilities that are now being divested to SOCA and/or repatriated to the Home Office. Will the Minister provide some detail on whether the governance of the policing college has finally been settled and its physical location?

I would like an answer to the question I asked last time, on which I have still not received a letter: what is happening to capital receipts? Do other NPIA sites—for example, Harperley hall in Crook, County Durham, Yew Tree lane in Harrogate, Wyboston lakes in Bedford, the Peel centre in Hendon, Hendon data centre, the Crown Prosecution Service headquarters in London, Orchard Works in Carterton, and Leamington road in Coventry—face the same changes as Bramshill? Is there a plan to sell or dispose of any other NPIA assets?

I would welcome that information because the chief constable of Greater Manchester, Sir Peter Fahy, has expressed concern about the abolition of the NPIA and the changes to Bramshill. I do not have the quote to hand at the moment. The Minister will know that Sir Peter, who is ACPO's lead on work force development, has expressed concern about the fact that Bramshill college is being sold when the details of the policing college have not yet been finalised. Alex Marshall, the former chief constable of Hampshire and the new head of the college, took up his post only in December, but decisions on Bramshill, the training college and the physical locations have been taken prior to Mr Marshall coming into post.

I want to try to finish on these provisions by 11.25 am, but, as a starting point, I would welcome the Minister’s views on where we are with those three central issues.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

There are, as the right hon. Gentleman says, three issues: the budget, the ICT company and the policing college. I will deal with each in turn.

Following our earlier deliberations, I have commissioned from the Department an extremely handy graph. If only we were allowed to use PowerPoint presentations I could share it more easily, but I do not see any reason why everybody could not look at it. It shows where the individual parts of the NPIA are being functioned. Some are going to SOCA and then transitioning to the NCA. Some are going to the Home Office, some to the police ICT company, and some to the college of policing.

I should say as a caveat that the following figures are rounded to the nearest million pounds. It is notable that, of the £337 million NPIA budget in 2013-14, only £12 million is for parts of the NPIA that are going to SOCA and then the NCA. Opposition Members keep making the point that adding together the SOCA and NPIA budgets gives a bigger number than the NCA budget, so it is worth drawing the Committee’s attention to the fact that, actually, only a reasonably small component of the NPIA will eventually be part of the NCA. The bulk of it—about two thirds of the budget—is going to the Home Office. That is explained by the fact that, of these figures, more than £200 million is related to the national police radio system, Airwave, which rather distorts the overall picture. There is also a budget allocation of £53 million to the college of policing in 2013-14, which will fall slightly to £48 million in 2014-15, although with the caveat that that is rounded to the nearest million pounds and does not take into account opportunities to adjust the budget between now and 2014-15, so it is indicative, not absolute.

The overall point I wish to make is that NPIA functions that are going through SOCA to the NCA are the proceeds of crime centre, the central witness bureau, crime operational support, the national missing persons bureau, the serious crime analysis team and the specialist operations centre. The list is impressive, but in budgetary terms it constitutes only £12 million of the £337 million budget for the NPIA for 2013-14.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

On a point of order, Ms Dorries. If the Minister is relying on this note to explain the position to the Committee, would it not be reasonable to let us have a copy so that we can understand its detail and status?

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

I am sure the Minister has heard your suggestion and will respond accordingly.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

I will. I am instinctively in favour of letting the Committee have the information, but the hon. Gentleman can get a copy of the Committee Hansard tomorrow. I have just read out all the key numbers.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

That is tomorrow. I would like to read it while we are still dealing with it.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

Well, I just read the crucial numbers to the Committee. If I had done that from memory rather than putting the note in front of the hon. Gentleman, he would never have known that there was a note. I chose to hold it up, but it is common knowledge.  The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, and others have explained that the functions of NPIA are going to different parts of the Home Office family—if I can put it in those terms. The parts that are going to the NCA are £12 million out of £337 million in 2013-14. All of that information is available.

I come to the point about the royal college of policing. In the letter about the policing college that I wrote to you, Ms Dorries, on 25 January, and which was copied to all Committee members, I addressed the Bramshill freehold issue. While the right hon. Member for Delyn was having a restful weekend, I was labouring away, sending letters out to make sure that every single member of the Committee is fully informed.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

I will ensure the right hon. Gentleman receives that letter. The relevant paragraph says, “The Bramshill freehold transferred to the Home Office from the National Policing Improvement Agency when the agency operationally closed last year. Therefore the sales process and any associated risk, such as failure to sell, are for the Department to manage, and the capital proceeds of any sale will be received directly by the Home Office.” That may not be the answer he wanted, but it is the accurate answer. The college will be brought into place, and will have a budget allocated to it.

The right hon. Gentleman made a point about the ICT company. Information technology is crucial for police officers in their fight against crime. The costs of developing and providing information communications technology at a local level forms a significant part of force budgets. Currently, the Government regard there to be a failure to exploit the full potential of economies of scale that should come when 43 police forces are spending £1 billion each year on information communications technology. There is significant scope to get better economies of scale. That is why in July 2011 the Home Secretary announced she would support the creation of a police owned and led ICT company. It has been established to support PCCs and their forces in getting the maximum value out of ICT, and to help fix the current confused, fragmented and expensive approach to police ICT procurement and management.

It is proposed that the new police ICT company will be owned and controlled by police and crime commissioners, and be led and funded by its customers, who will determine the services it provides. It will be responsive to local operational needs and will offer forces a route to better value for money and innovation in service delivery.

The police ICT company board will determine when the company will become operational when the business plan has been completed. Police and crime commissioners have been briefed on the police ICT company and the opportunities to get involved as the company develops, but they have not yet been formally invited to participate. PCCs will not be compelled to buy the company’s services. However, they are accountable locally if they opt not to buy critical services required by forces, or purchase more costly solutions in a less efficient manner. The Government envisage that PCCs and forces would wish to be involved in an organisation that would give them collective purchasing muscle and innovation insights,  which they might not otherwise be able to acquire, but they would not be compelled to be involved, as I just explained to the Committee.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 11:15 am, 29th January 2013

I have not really had an answer to my question about the cost of the development to date, and what the liabilities are. The key point is what happens if the police and crime commissioners do not participate in the police ICT company.

The Government, under the NPIA, which will be abolished under the clause, have tried to develop standardised ICT across the policing service. There has been a veil of secrecy over the development of the ICT company. There has not been full discussion, and now the 40-odd police and crime commissioners who were elected on 15 November have to decide whether to participate in the new ICT company.

I accept that the decision is locally determined, and that the police and crime commissioners will have to account to their electors, but there has been considerable investment by the Government in time, energy and other matters to develop the ICT company. I am trying to establish the cost of such development and the Government’s investment to date. If the police and crime commissioners do not participate, what will be the critical mass for the Government to ensure that the ICT company continues?

For example, if one or two large metropolitan areas chose not to participate, would that mean that the ICT company did not progress? If five or six small shire countries did not participate, would that mean that it did not progress? What is the critical mass for the ICT company to be operational and deliverable, and when will the decision be taken? It is now nearly 20 months since the Home Secretary’s announcement of the establishment of the company. What is the time scale for when the final decision will be taken? I have not received answers to my parliamentary questions in that regard. Given the NPIA’s abolition, now is an opportunity to tie down the views of the Minister and the Policing Minister on whether the company will be a success.

On a personal basis, when I was the Policing Minister, we wanted greater coherence. I am talking about the practical delivery of such a proposal. Now that it has been devolved to the police and crime commissioners to sign up, the Minister seems to be saying that he would not mandate people to be involved. Therefore, what is the critical mass? How will the proposal be a success? When will the decision be taken? At what stage will the Government determine matters? If the proposal does not proceed because of people not participating, what has been the cost to date of the process?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

I have been asked an entirely reasonable set of questions, and I wish that I could give more comprehensive answers to them. I have no desire to be evasive, but the comprehensive answers are not yet known so I am not in a position to share them with the Committee. It is not possible to provide the cost of establishing the police ICT company, as the work to establish it is still under way. The interim form of the company is not yet operational, so no staff are employed. We are not at the stage of the company’s development  to know the sort of costs that it would incur and cannot answer such a question in the way that the right hon. Gentleman hopes.

The right hon. Gentleman is right that individual police forces led by their PCCs will not be compelled to buy services or participate in the company. We envisage that it will be very much in their interests to do so, but the nature of directly elected post holders is that they sometimes make decisions that the Government regard as not even being in their own interest to make. However, that is the essence of a vibrant democracy.

We hope that giving the powers to police and crime commissioners and allowing them to exercise discretion does not mean that they will make unwise decisions. We see that as an entirely preferable and viable option for them to take, but we are not yet at the stage when we can do a headcount of which PCCs want to buy into the service and which do not. We hope that if any do not come to our view that it is a bad value for money decision not to buy into the services, what they are missing out on will quickly become apparent to them from the forces that do buy into them. We hope that the ICT company will be a success, but I can only recommend that the right hon. Gentleman continues to probe this matter with his customary diligence. Regardless of whether he probes, the Government will be keen to release all information that will help the House as soon as we can provide further details of an evolving picture.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Suffice it to say that the words “head” and “brick wall” come to mind, but I shall continue to use my head against that brick wall whenever the opportunity arises.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.