Last week, in the Home Affairs Select Committee, Dr Julian Huppert quizzed the Metropolitan Police commissioner on what he might spend £1.8bn of cash on. Those familiar with the draft Communications Data Bill will probably recognise that number: It’s the Home Office estimate of the total cost of implementing the Bill.
Q403 Dr Huppert: Commissioner, if for all of policing, including counter-terrorism and all the other things that you do, you found you had an extra £1.8 billion over the next 10 years, what would be your number one priority for how you choose to spend that money?
One would expect Mr Hogan-Howe to be “on message” when it comes to this as he was quite vocal when the draft bill was announced, describing the powers as necessary to wage a draconian-sounding Total War on Crime. This guy is one of the leading voices asking for the bill. Surely he must think it is good value for money?
Surprisingly, Communications Data would not be a priority. He’d rather spend the cash on other things such community policing and general IT.
In fact, Communications Data didn’t even get a mention.
Bernard Hogan-Howe: It is a good question, and I would need a bit of time to think about it, but there are probably two main things. One would be to enhance the neighbourhood and community policing response. I think there is an opportunity there for us to do more. The second thing is I want to invest more in technology, not to replace the people necessarily, but we in the Met spend about £220 million a years on IT. Across the country policing generally spends £1.2 billion on IT. My point would be that it is more green screen than it is iPad, I am afraid, and it does not seem to catch criminals. Lots of lists, but ANPR catches criminals, facial recognition helps, fingerprints, DNA quick turnaround. These are things that I think over time can make a real difference, and of course it links us into the community and the victims in a far better way in which you see business deliver a service. I don’t think we are anywhere near that yet. So that is the two big areas that I would probably invest in. Probably the other one would be training. We have embarked on a quality programme and I think in the past probably the police service has seen training as a cost not an investment. For me it is an investment provided it is done properly and it is invested towards crime-fighting, which I think is vital.
(You can view this exchange on Parliament TV, starting from 11:02:23)
We already know that the proposals are incredibly expensive compared to the existing system and now even the police force primarily responsible for anti-terrorism don’t believe it’s good value for money.
So why are we doing it?