By Kit Sandeman, Local Democracy Reporter
A computing project involving Nottinghamshire Police has gone millions over budget, is years behind schedule, and is still not fully operational, leaving taxpayers out of pocket.
It was supposed to create savings for the force, but these have not materialised, as costs for the project continue to increase.
The ongoing problem has meant that police’s annual accounts have not been given a clean bill of health.
The police even considered pulling out of the scheme all together, but have now decided to stick with it.
In 2014 Nottinghamshire Police started working with other forces to create a new software project they could all use for pay roll, HR and drawing up rotas.
Northamptonshire and Cheshire started the scheme off before Notts joined.
The project is known as the Multi Force Shared Service (MFSS) Fusion project, and now involves Cheshire and Northamptonshire police, as well as the Civil Nuclear Authority.
But a catalogue of problems mean the scheme is: “Late, over budget, not to specification, and would not deliver the expected savings” according to a damning independent review of the situation carried out by KPMG.
The scheme was due to be launched in April this year, but final launch date for the new software has now been pushed back again to November 2018, though this may be delayed further.
Now, an annual report by accountancy firm KPMG signed off today by the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Joint Audit and Scrutiny Panel has raised doubt about the value for money from the project.
It found that: “Nottinghamshire Police’s share of the costs have continued to increase in relation to the project.
“During 2017/18, Nottinghamshire Police spent £898,000 in relation to the MFSS which was £248,000 over the original budget.
“For 2018/19 the budget has increased from £2.155 million to £3.155 million.
“MFSS is likely to lead to annual savings of £200,000 for Nottinghamshire Police – these have halved since the project was initially planned, although costs have increased.
“The lack of governance arrangements raised by Nottinghamshire Police regarding this project and the escalating costs against the diminishing return on savings has led us to conclude that we are not satisfied with the value for money criteria of working with partners and third parties, although we appreciate this is somewhat out of Nottinghamshire Police’s control.”
As a result of the process, the KPMG annual audit found that the force does provide good value for money, ‘except for’ on the issue of MFSS.
The scheme has now been partly up and running for around 18 months, but the forces involved are hoping it will be finalised by the end of the year.
Paddy Tipping is the Police and Crime Commissioner for the county, and signed off the KPMG report at the meeting this morning.
Speaking after the meeting, he said: “It’s an area of risk, but the risk for us is twofold. We’re being asked by Government to reduce our back office costs, and the Government has set quite a big target to do that.
“The way to do that is to share back offices with other people, and we share with Northamptonshire, Cheshire, and the civil nuclear police. The system is up and running, it runs from Cheshire, but it’s still in its early days.
“To set something up costs you, but in the long term, I’m determined we’re going to get savings from it, but to make it work we’ve had to put some extra resources into it.
“Is there more to be done? Yes there is. Are we on the case? Yes we are.”
He said the force considered abandoning the project altogether, and even commissioned an external company to look into it.
But it was decided that: “The best way forward is to make the existing scheme work. Some of our partners want to bring other partners in, and if we did it would reduce costs.
“The big project at the moment is to move the technology into the new frontier and onto the cloud. That’s going to happen in the autumn, and when that’s done and stabilised I hope we’ll be in a better position than we are now.”