Yes Minister – the story behind latest Police IT procurement decision

A new "Police IT Company" was announced last week, which amongst other things will take a central role in IT procurement for all Police Forces. We're lucky to have an exclusive behind the scenes report (obtained without the aid of phone hacking) on the strategic thinking that went into this decision.

- Humphrey, do come in. I’ve asked Bernard to join us as well.

- Thank you Minister. And what an interesting pair of shoes, if you don’t mind me saying so.  Manolos?

- Why Humphrey, I would never have guessed! Very impressive... but anyway, to business. The Police are troubling me.

- Well they do tend to be very troubling, Minister.  But what particular aspect?

- IT. Technology. You know we announced last year we were abolishing the National Policing Improvement Agency - NPIA?

- A quango I believe?

- Yes, one of our first victims.  But it turns out they do some quite useful things.

- Well who would have guessed it!

- Less sarcasm please Humphrey.  But they run major national Police IT programmes. And do collaborative purchasing – we like that, Humphrey. And you know how useless Forces are at IT if you leave them to their own devices. We can’t possibly give all that work back to the Forces.

- But you can’t be seen to go back on the NPIA decision?

- Exactly.

- That would make the Minister look very stupid .

- Yes, thank you Bernard. So we need another ... thing... to manage Police IT. Do the central buying and so on.

- So a body to manage national Police IT, negotiate big contracts, set standards, develop national systems – something like a Police Information Technology Organisation?

- That’s it Humphrey! Exactly – you’re on the right track! What do you think Bernard?

- Minister, I think Sir Humphrey is being mischievous.  We had one of those, it was known as PITO. Abolished in 2007 and its functions transferred to NPIA. It was perceived to have failed – it wouldn’t look good if you brought that back I’m afraid. .

- So what can we do?

- That is easily solved Minster.  It is mainly a question of nomenclature. For instance, what if we call it a Police IT “Company”?  Not just an organisation or agency, but a “Company”. Doesn’t that sound better already? We could say we’re going to bring in private sector expertise or shareholders. That would make it very different from PITO.

- But won’t private sector shareholders be a conflict of interest if it’s going to be awarding contracts to the same companies?

- You always see the negatives, Bernard. I said we could SAY we will bring in the private sector. We don’t actually have to DO it.  Or we get some retired IBM manager to sit quietly on the Board. That will do.

- Won’t people see through that Humphrey? Won’t we get lots of PITO comparisons?

- Minister, you just need to use the power of assertion. “This will not be PITO mark 2”. “This is not PITO mark 2”. Just keep saying that and people might in time believe you.

- Won’t they ask me what will be different?

- Yes, and you say it’s a company. That’s obviously different.  And this will not be PITO mark 2. Because it’s a company.

- So who can we get to run it?

- Well, there’s an old friend of mine, Gordon Wasserman* - we were at Oxford together, Wassie we called him, rather amusing, then he joined the civil service later on, never quite made it to the top echelons, but he’s a jolly good chap, knows his way around Police and the Home Office. And even better, he’s one of us. I beg your pardon, one of you. The PM made him a Lord last year. He’d be perfect. In fact he was involved in setting up PITO in the first place 20 odd years ago.

- But this worries me Humphrey. We’re setting up something that looks like PITO, run by someone who was heavily involved with PITO, with a similar remit to PITO – and PITO failed. So how do we make sure this doesn’t fail?

- Oh Minister, really. There is no objective success or failure in politics. It’s all about perception. I could argue that PITO was a huge success – it just fell foul of Forces who wanted to play with IT themselves.   Bernard, take a note of this. “The Police IT Company is doing a tremendous job, with savings of several hundred million pounds already through harmonisation of performance specifications, value based negotiations with major providers and better co-ordination across the Police IT infrastructure and distributed network environments”.

- What on earth does that mean Humphrey?

- I have no idea Minister, but neither will anyone else. That will be our line to take. And it will succeed Minister, because we will say it has succeeded.

- Humphrey, you’re brilliant. Can I offer you a small sherry?

- Yes Minister, I think I will.


*Harvard appear to think Wasserman was in Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet in this bio, which would have been a remarkable achievement for a serving civil servant! We suspect they may be getting confused between the Cabinet Office and the Cabinet...

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Voices (5)

  1. Julie:

    Brilliant Peter, brought a smile to the end of a long day!

  2. Freda Bloggs:

    Check out these Freedom of Information requests.

    Jokes about IBM ion this article may backfire?

    Scroll to top of page:

  3. Alan:

    Lord W is a former Director of private forensic provider, Orchid Cellmark. Despite this fact, according to the media, it was on his advice that Government announced closure of the UK’s Forensic Science Service.

  4. Final Furlong:

    Ahhhh PITO. Brings back memories…

    I recall undertaking a piece of work in Policing which required me having to visit PITO.

    My sponsor at the time was a Chief Constable and he said to me “let me know what you think of PITO. But, here’s a clue. Sit in reception and just listen”.

    So, I attended PITO, and arrived there early, so I could sit in reception and ‘listen’.

    Not long after the meeting, I met up with the Chief Constable again and he asked me for my impressions.

    I said “well, I sat in reception for about 45 minutes, and listened, and didn’t hear anything, no phones calls, nothing. Should I have heard something?”.

    “Exactly!” he said. “No-one ever calls PITO….”

  5. Christine Morton:

    Bravo, Peter, Bravo! A standing ovation.

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