David Cameron’s ‘smarter state’ augurs IT merge of emergency services
Fri 11 Sep 2015
A speech from British Prime Minister David Cameron today hints at the government re-entering a traditional field of failure in this country – the merging of disparate IT systems across essential services in order to rationalise spending.
An online copy of the speech, given in Yorkshire today, outlines a vision for a ‘smarter state’ which includes further devolution of state powers, the break-up of monopolies, the further intervention of private business into existing state ‘monopolies’ – and the unification of the essential infrastructure of the emergency services in Great Britain.
Cameron observes that currently the police, fire and ambulance services occupy different premises and have varying procurement policies and IT infrastructure solutions, despite the related nature of their tasks. He refers also to the recent unification undergone by Hampshire County Council, in which police and fire services in that area now share resources including procurement, finance, printing and human resources, with a claimed saving of £4mn ($6.1mn).
‘Right now,’ says the PM. ‘we have a situation where in most towns, the police, fire and ambulance services all have different premises, back offices, IT policies and systems, and procurement policies – despite all their work being closely related.
‘Places like Hampshire have shown the way forward, where the emergency services have brought functions together to save millions of pounds a year. We need to see that sort of thinking in other places.
‘So I can announce today that we will introduce reforms that will enable the police, fire and ambulance services to work more closely together to save money and improve their effectiveness. And in areas with local support we will enable Police and Crime Commissioners to take on control of the fire and rescue services, including in London where that power will be vested in the Mayor.’
The topic of ‘blue line’ resource-merging came to the fore almost exactly a year ago when Theresa May propounded consolidation for the emergency services in a speech to the right-wing think-tank Reform. “in policing in the future,” said Mrs. May. “I believe we will need to work towards the integration of the three emergency services. The speech followed an earlier proposal by her for a ‘universal emergency vehicle’ response, equipped for all eventualities (though presumably intended to merge police and ambulance services more than fire services).
David Cameron lauded the success of the Government Digital Service initiative in his speech today as one of the ‘great unsung triumphs’ of his previous parliamentary term.
However projects attempting consolidation of mission-critical communications infrastructure have a more than chequered history in the UK since the digital revolution took place. A meeting between Tony Blair and Microsoft founder and CEO Bill Gates in 2001 led to the National Programme for IT in the NHS (NPfIT), a heady project intended to unite disparate communications channels and protocols across trusts and providers in the UK. Cost estimates for the project, which was officially abandoned in 2011 at a waste-cost estimated at £12bn, were eventually revised much higher.
More recently a later Labour government unification scheme called FiReControl sought to consolidate emergency service control centres from 46 down to 9, but resulted in only one functional building costing tax-payers £5000 per day.