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Health audit ceases force’s IT system

Surrey Police forced to abandon failed multi-million pound computer system

The Surrey Police force has been forced to abandon its multi-million pound commission for a new criminal intelligence system after a new audit determined the not-yet-ready software to be unsuitable for the force’s needs. The commission had been awarded in 2009 and cost Surrey Police £14.8m until it was dropped at the end of March this year.

The new system, known as the Surrey Integrated Reporting Enterprise Network (Siren), had been commissioned at great cost because at the time available software “offered limited flexibility to meet the demands of individual forces”. The network was being designed by Memex SAS and was going to be used to store criminal records and keep an efficient log of crimes so local departments could map trends of offences around Surrey.

In November Chief Constable Lynne Owens conducted a review of the Siren programme and concluded it “may no longer represent the best long-term option for the force and the public.”

It has been reported that other neighbouring police forces have successfully implemented ‘off-the-shelf’ IT software with great success, at a fraction of the cost of Siren. The recently elected Police and Crime Commissioner for the county, Kevin Hurley, following Owens’ instructions to cull the costly development said that his decision to withdraw from Siren has not been taken lightly. “I believe that this course of action will ultimately be in the best interests of both Surrey Police and the Surrey public. I hope you can appreciate that a full inquiry into a project of this scale is likely to take some time and that it would not be proper for me to comment further at this stage.”

The exact shortcomings of Siren have not been made public, but officers in the Surrey police force have been categorical that the programme was a failure. “Given operational collaboration with other forces in the region, and as the national policing environment has now changed, we must also adapt our plans or risk losing out on the wider benefits,” Deputy Chief Constable Craig Denholm has said.

While the fiasco has highlighted the need for ongoing health check audits for such projects within any organisation, it is not clear why the development of Siren was allowed to carry on for so long and with such high costs, despite early warnings of its shortcomings. The process has now been referred for review by the Audit Commission, headed by Grant Thornton, who will aim at establishing the exact cost of the failed Siren project and establish the cause of the failure.

“It’s worrying that Surrey Police have decided to scrap this computer system after spending such a huge amount of taxpayers’ money on it,” says Eleanor McGrath, campaign manager for the Taxpayer’s alliance. “Taxpayers are right to ask serious questions about why Surrey Police let this project proceed so far and spend so much money on it, only for them to pull the plug down the line. At a time when budgets are tight, Surrey Police must use their resources efficiently, prioritising frontline policing, and not waste money on projects they are later going to abandon.”



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