Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
MONDAY 22 APRIL 2002
160. Why can they not go to the command centre
and be patched through?
(Mr Gieve) They can do that too. I was just picking
up his comment.
161. He was being flippant, he was not being
realistic. Now you are citing that as a realistic example. Can
you give us some examples?
(Mr Gieve) I think police forces do use personal mobile
phones to communicate with each other quite frequently.
162. Is that a problem?
(Mr Gieve) Yes, it is not ideal because they do not
have very good coverage, because they are an additional cost,
they are an additional burden on the police. It is not ideal at
163. I just get the impression that things are
not ideal but they are not actually worth £1.47 billion to
sort out. That is the impression I get from this whole hearing.
(Mr Webb) There are other features here in the sense
that the prime reason for the provision of this service was to
replace the ageing analogue system and provide a digital system
for the future which we could build on, particularly in terms
of providing digital services. That was the key thrust here and
the key thrust from ACPO as well. At this time, using a mobile
phone and other services, you cannot necessarily provide those
services. What we are endeavouring to do is to provide a much
more joined up environment so the police can do their job more
164. In my county you cannot even provide a
service of turning out to a burglary yet you are talking about
this very gold-plated service for these odd incidents across borders
moving between police forces. You do not even attend a burglary
of a 90-year old lady in my constituency, so why is this more
important than that?
(Mr Webb) Interoperability was only one feature of
this. There are other features as well in terms of providing better
coverage so that they can communicate when they are on the ground
in responding to a call. In many cases, particularly in rural
areas, that is impossible. With the current technology they cannot
actually locate the policeman or talk to him if he is out in a
black spot. This technology is there to deliver an improved service.
165. How do they deal with that problem at the
(Mr Webb) In many cases they do actually have to go
to a phone box.
166. Is that a huge problem in those rural areas?
What level of policing problems does that give rise to in rural
(Mr Webb) It is a concern to the Chief Constables
with rural areas.
167. What magnitude of concern is it?
(Mr Webb) Significant in a number of areas where we
have been looking at other alternatives to provide those sorts
of service with difficulty.
(Mr Gieve) Coming back to the £1.47 billion,
the cost of the complete system, we can only save that by not
having any radio system.
168. How will this radio system assist the policeman
on the beat in my constituency?
(Mr Webb) It will provide better coverage, it will
provide encryption so that it cannot be monitored, it will provide
greater reliability, greater speech quality, it will enable him
to speak directly to other police officers. He will have a facility
to use it like a mobile phone to contact and receive calls from
the public. He will be able to use it to download digital information
169. Will he need all those things when dealing
with a group of yobbos at the corner of a school?
(Mr Webb) Quite frankly if he is in a situation where
he wants assistance, he also has an emergency button which he
can press which goes to priority and there is support there immediately.
170. There is an example in paragraph 3.28 of
10% leading to 1,200 police officers and you said that is just
an illustrative example. What is a realistic percentage figure
that you think will be saved in police time? Is it more than 10%
or less than 10%?
(Mr Webb) It is an illustrative example. Looking at
some of the associated aspects out of Sir David O'Dowd's task
force, where they are looking at how they can improve this, the
key issue here is removing the necessity for the policeman to
return to the police station quite so often. With some of the
digital services at the moment they would have to return to provide
171. Across the national Police Service as a
whole, what would that percentage be? Two%, 12%?
(Mr Gieve) The report in paragraph 3.28 talks about
eventual efficiency gains of up to 30%.
172. Is that right? Is that your assessment?
(Mr Gieve) That is the best assessment of people working
on the system.
173. You think you will save 30% of the average
policeman's time as a result of this system.
(Mr Webb) Potentially, yes.
(Mr Gieve) It may come in terms of outputs rather
than savings. Efficiency is also about outputs as well as inputs.
174. Fair enough. So I shall see a 30% improvement
in policing in my constituency in time as a result of this system.
There will be more policemen on the beat. More attendances at
burglaries, more making sure yobbos are not disrupting people's
quiet enjoyment of life.
(Mr Gieve) I cannot guarantee that in terms of a particular
output of a particular service, but yes, this is intended to feed
through into better dealing with the various things police do,
including dealing with victims.
175. If the police had had £500 million
themselves to spend, they would have happily contributed to the
scheme if they had the freedom to spend the £500 million
as a whole themselves.
(Mr Gieve) I do not know. It would have been quite
difficult. We have 50-plus separate police authorities and the
chances of all of them agreeing to spend it the way we want to
spend it would be quite small.
176. But you think the majority would.
(Mr Gieve) Some significant ones would and indeed
some police authorities, including the Met had already decided
to take Airwave before we decided to pay the costs.
177. I spent a day with Littlehampton police
and I discovered where all the police were. They were in a big
office block in Durrington, which is outside my constituency but
it is where the divisional headquarters are, where they operate
from. It is absolutely packed with computers and rows and rows
of desks and the police were all sitting at these computers doing
I know not what. This is not the communications centre, which
is in Lewes, this is just a little sub-division full of computers
and offices. What I am really asking you on the basis of that
anecdote is whether we are not over-engineering the police process
with all this equipment, all these computers in Sussex and all
this very, very high tech communication system when policing is
actually quite a low engineering process of being on the beat,
deterring crime, attending burglaries. Do you not believe this
money would be better spent on providing more officers and providing
a less highly engineered policing process?
(Mr Gieve) No. I do not agree with that, although
obviously it is a question of judgement. When you say policing
is essentially fairly low tech, Bobbies on the beat, that is part
of it, yes, absolutely. However, good communications are a key
part of doing a decent job on the beat. There is also the more
sophisticated end of policing; the security of not having your
telephone calls listened to, for example, is absolutely vital
in some parts of policing. Policing is a pretty complex business.
On the question of whether we have too many police sitting in
back offices and not out there doing the job, yes, we the Home
Office, but also the police, would say we wanted to get more people
out to the front line. One advantage of having a national system
is that you do not have to have separate teams in each police
force designing and supporting their own digital radio technology.
That was one of the gains from going for national procurement.
178. Is this the most up-to-date technology
that your company has to offer?
(Mr Parris) Yes, it is.
179. May I start off by agreeing with my colleague
Alan Williams on the question of recognising the need for police
radios to be improved? I certainly had a placement with Strathclyde
police and I recognise they difficulties they face with radios
which do not work, which do not cover the area and so on. I accept
that there is a need, but I do have some questions. Does the Home
Office generally have confidence in the ability of local police
committees to understand the needs of their area and of their
(Mr Gieve) Yes.