Department says that work to deliver replacement of 50-year-old system is on track but that it is ‘prudent’ to create a contingency plan
The Home Office will work with tech suppliers to create a formal “contingency plan” to ensure police forces have continuity of access to the UK’s central law-enforcement database even if work to deliver its replacement is further delayed.
The Police National Computer (PNC) contains records of 13 million people and more than 60 million vehicles. The database is accessed around the clock by hundreds of thousands of users across the country, including frontline police officers and other staff, as well as representatives of organisations such as the Disclosure and Barring Service.
In 2016 the Home Office launched a major project to replace PNC and sister-system the Police National Database (PND) with a single unified platform: the Law Enforcement Data Service (LEDS).
This programme of work was originally due to be completed in 2020 but, following a comprehensive reset almost three years ago, the delivery date has been pushed back to December 2025 – three months before support for PNC is currently due to cease. Replacement of the comparatively modern 12-year-old PND has also been removed from the scope of the LEDS project, to allow for focus on decommissioning PNC – which, next year, passes the milestone of 50 years in operation.
In a newly published commercial notice, the Home Office outlined its intention to establish a “contingency option… to ensure the service continuity of the PNC” if there any further delays in government’s work to deliver a replacement for the ageing platform.
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The department is yet to launch a formal procurement process but has alerted potential suppliers that it will, in due course, undertake a tender through which it hopes to identify and appoint firms that could help support contingency measures.
The prior information notice published this week stresses that the Home Office “remains confident – based on the current trajectory – that LEDS will deliver parity with the PNC within the timescales required to enable to the PNC to be decommissioned as scheduled”.
“It was confirmed to the Public Accounts Committee that the LEDS programme is confident that it will not have to use this ultimate fallback mitigation,” the notice added. “However, the progression of a contingency option is operationally and commercially prudent to ensure the continued provision of a key piece of critical national infrastructure. By not undertaking this engagement, we would fail in our due diligence, and it would be remiss of us not to have a contingency option for the continued service continuity of PNC if the LEDS trajectory were to change and we needed to execute the contingency option.”
The opportunity to work on this option is set to be issued via Lot 4 of the £2bn Technology Services framework – which is dedicated to supporting Major Services Transformation Programmes. The 39 suppliers featured in this lot include major consultancies, vendors and tech services firms, as well as smaller digital and cloud specialists.
An attractive proposition?
Given that the procurement process relates to a service the Home Office hopes to never have the need to use, the information notice said that “we respect and acknowledge that this may not appear attractive as an opportunity”.
“Through early market engagement, we identified there is an appetite for the opportunity as well as the availability of the relevant market capability and capacity to deliver the contingency option,” it added.
A report published in 2021 by the National Audit Office found that, by the time LEDS is finally up and running, the overall cost to the public purse of delivering replacing PNC will stand at £1.1bn – which represents an increase of almost 70% compared with initial projections. This figure includes both spending on the delivery of the new system and the costs associated with supporting PNC for at least five years longer than originally planned.
The most recent set of major projects data published by the Home Office revealed that, as of March 2022, lifetime delivery costs for the LEDS programme are estimated to be £736m. This figure was increased by £100m following the 2020 reset, in which the previous waterfall approach was swapped for agile methods, and the project was streamlined to focus solely on replacing PNC.
“The recent National Audit Office report assisted in demonstrating that [the previous] business case was not realistic in its understanding of the cost requirements or of the optimism bias percentage that was used – with the programme vastly understating its risk and uncertainty in cost [and] percentage terms,” the department added, in its major project submission.