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Staffordshire PCC: lack of fire service link up a "sore point"

Neil Merrett Published 18 March 2016

Matthew Ellis claims "significant" time has been spent on fire collaboration; work now ongoing to set out standards with others partners reflecting wider Police ICT Company ambitions


Staffordshire's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has said his work to finalise agreements with fire services around potential collaboration has proved a "sore point" within wider efforts to set out common technology standards and join up systems with public service partners.

Matthew Ellis, who was elected as PCC in 2012, claimed that after spending "an enormous amount of time" looking at potential areas to join up work with fire service bodies, he had run out of patience and was focusing fully on potential regional collaborations with partners in areas such as mental health provision.

He noted this was despite the financial challenges facing fire and rescue services and his own interest in potential agreements between other regional emergency service providers.

In January, the Home Office announced it was taking ministerial responsibility for fire services to try and radically transform and expand emergency service collaboration with police forces in areas like procurement and back office operations.

Later the same month, home secretary Theresa May argued that police forces continue to spend too much money on "fragmented and outdated systems" with officers using technology way behind commercially available products.

In order to address these challenges, the home secretary pointed to the formation of the Police ICT Company last year as a means to establish an intelligent customer that can help broker and advise forces on good practice around procuring individual or shared ICT solutions.

Ellis said that while the Police ICT Company has been a "slow burner" in regards to force take up, the concept was now "evolving" to take a broader approach to common standards that will support wider technology programmes and sharing of expertise between forces.

He said that the general principles of the Police ICT Company - founded last year as a means to set out overarching IT strategy for a force - had been right. However, the PCC argued the company was now shifting to a so-called 'second phase' where it was expected to serve increasingly as a "conduit" for shared working.

Shifting away from functioning more exclusively as a technology buying mechanism, Ellis noted that in areas where several forces may be looking at similar projects or technology, the ICT company was expected to provide guidance to see where ideas can be tweaked or amended to allow for shared solutions or procurements.

He said that this so-called 'horizon scan' approach of looking at where different authorities may have similar aims, and where standards can be set for different forces, reflected an intention to expand the functions of the Police ICT Company.

Ellis pointed to Staffordshire's own work around body worn cameras as an example of this work to set out standards that can be adopted by other forces looking for similar technology approaches.

With the role of PCCs around the country set to be decided in elections scheduled for May, Ellis argued that strategies such as the Police ICT Company and a more standards focused technology approach - as opposed to force-led proprietary procurement - reflected the importance of the elected commissioner model.

"Some PCCs may not always be working as well as others, but that is the nature of democracy. However where the model does work, police are moving away from a narrower approach to technology procurement," he said.

From his own perspective, Ellis also argued that a recent ICT strategy with Boeing that was led and signed by his office, as opposed to Staffordshire Police, reflected a more proactive approach to technology.

More significantly he played up the importance of PCC's being able to bring in financial and technology expertise from beyond a force's in-house team.

Boeing's appointment was seen as bringing in a new player to look at handling the "industrial stuff" towards Staffordshire's ICT needs, particularly with regards to innovation and solutions.

Under the £110m, ten-year agreement, Boeing will serve as the IT partner for Staffordshire Police in order to allow the force to transform its operations around technology use and how it works with partner organisations.

Ellis said that while he had intended the contract to function as a wider national agreement to serve public authorities across the UK in areas like mental health services, he said that realising such an agreement had been too complex at present.

The PCC added that the deal would still be open to public authorities in Staffordshire, setting the groundwork for possible wider collaboration programmes going forward and moving away from a fragmented approach that he said was a significant issue for forces.

"I knew nothing about policing when I first took office. But once I assumed the role it was clear there were a number of problems regarding different agencies such as those working with health care and children's' services that did not link up," the PCC said. "Policing must not be insular."

Ellis added that he hoped work on regional projects between public bodies in Staffordshire could lead the way for more uniform approaches to working and technology with other service providers that can be up-scaled around the UK as required.

Related articles:

Boeing confirmed for Staffordshire Police IT partnership

PAC demands shake up of fire service scrutiny

Home secretary unhappy over "lack of digital join up" in police IT

New legislation will allow PCCs to take control of fire services

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