Hated by cops, plagued with problems and costing millions – but GMP will have to put up with its troubled computer system for at least another year

Cops of all ranks have welcomed Chief Constable Stephen Watson’s decision to scrap its troubled computer system, with some officers reportedly breaking into a round of applause at the news. GMP isn’t quite free of iOPS yet though.

And neither are they free of the recriminations and costs around the IT disaster.

Bolton West MP Chris Green, who has repeatedly criticised GMP’s previous regime for building a bespoke system instead of a tried and trusted one, said: “They went their own way, and got it wrong.” The error resulted in ‘a fortune in extra costs due to overtime’, he told the M.E.N.

The M..E.N. has been told officers burst into a round of applause at one station when the news emerged on Monday morning.

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The force splashed out £27m when it launched a new computer system called iOPS (Integrated Operational Policing System) which went live in July 2019, some 19 months behind schedule. Since then the cost of the project has mushroomed to £69.6m – and rising.

But one part of the system key to the day-to-day running of the force, called PoliceWorks, was plagued with problems from the start. Earlier today Chief Constable Watson emailed everyone in GMP to confirm he had decided PoliceWorks was beyond economic repair and would be scrapped.

He had been sitting on the decision since he was installed almost a year ago, weighing up the cost of trying to fix it against the cost of scrapping it and replacing it. Of the £69.6m splashed out on iOPS since its inception, some £23.2m of it (including money clawed back from the contractor) was spent on PoliceWorks, tax-payer money that many cops will view as wasted.

Chief Constable Stephen Watson has vowed to turn the force around, or make way for someone who can

Millions more will have to be spent on its replacement. The contract for the Capita-built iOPS system runs out in June 2023 – force bosses have decided to let it run down and then purchase one of two alternatives to PoliceWorks currently on the market.

GMP won’t sanction the building of a bespoke system, as it did with PoliceWorks. A force spokeswoman would not be drawn on when the new system was expected to be in place but it will be at least one year and potentially much longer than that.

In the meanwhile officers are having to make do with the discredited PoliceWorks system, which is used day-to-day for investigations, intelligence and records management. A string of police whistleblowers came to the M.E.N. to report their concerns but these were dismissed by force top brass at the time.

Within days of its introduction they came forward to warn of its failures, while the policing watchdog would go on to hold it responsible for huge safeguarding backlogs and for potentially putting vulnerable people at risk. The system went live under the watch of former chief constable Ian Hopkins, who wrote to MPs to tell them it was ‘not a disaster’.

He was later forced out of his job following a damning watchdog report which revealed an estimated 80,000 crimes had not been properly recorded. Mayor Andy Burnham insisted the computer system was ‘not a scandal’.

Bolton West MP Chris Green, who has spoken on the issue repeatedly in Parliament, welcomed the news – but was critical of GMP for ‘trying to do it their own way, and getting it wrong’ in the first place. Speaking at a Parliamentary debate in February, 2020, Mr Green referenced a ‘culture of clamping down on whistleblowers’ and said officers told him they had been ‘threatened with summary dismissal’ if they talked about iOPS or contacted their MP about the system.

Conservative MP Chris Green

Today he told the M.E.N. the new system should be installed as quickly as possible and lessons learned.

“Policing and law and order has been the number one issue since I was first elected in 2015 across my constituency. I have known for a long time that the performance of frontline police officers has been undermined by the iOPS system,” he said. “It should have been replaced years ago and it is a relief that the new chief constable has finally decided to do so. GMP must have gathered a fortune in extra costs due to overtime because of this issue.

“GMP could have, and should have, bought in a system that has been used by other forces that was known to work. Instead, they went their own way, and got it wrong.”

One frontline police officer said ‘everyone was applauding’ when the news was announced this morning. He told the M.EN: “I’ve seen people happy at it going. It will still be used until a new system is found, and that could take a few years with the cross over period and merging details across. It continues to regularly have issues.

“I could submit a crime relatively quickly before iOPS. Then that came and with all the flaws, I could be stuck for hours trying to get it to work. On one occasion, I left a station out of frustration until the system caught up with itself.”

Another asked: “What about all the management a***holes who insisted that iOPS was fully up-to-the-job, and refused to listen to the people who were telling them that it didn’t work?” Lee Broadbent, the chair of the Greater Manchester branch of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file cops, also welcomed the news.

The system, he said, had ‘hampered our operational effectiveness and been the source of huge frustration to our membership’.

He added: “Thinking back to the faulty training packages all the way to (those) left shouldering its poor delivery and functionality to ‘user error,’ the system has caused unnecessary stress and added to the general low morale of a dedicated workforce intent on bringing the best possible service to the communities of Greater Manchester.

Lee Broadbent

“As a federation, I’m sure, like the vast majority of our members, we welcome today’s announcement by the chief constable and the new leadership team with open arms. Sourcing and implementing a new system will not be an easy or straightforward task, but we are committed to working with the force on finding a replacement as soon as possible whilst providing the corporate memory needed to prevent us making the same/similar mistakes this time around.

“This announcement will no doubt provide a long awaited boost to morale for a workforce running on near empty. It should be welcomed as another clear indication that GMP are on the path to recovery, which is in no small part down to the fantastic people charged with delivering the day to day business.”

Superintendent Jane Higham, chair of GMP’s Superintendents’ Association, said: “Since the inception of PoliceWorks in July 2019, despite our best efforts to make it work, (it) has remained a hindrance to efficiency and impacted on the morale of our staff. We will continue to support the necessary changes and look forward to a more efficient system going forward.”

Chief Constable Watson said: “Upon taking office as the Chief Constable for Greater Manchester, I committed myself to taking immediate steps to addressing those underlying issues which were undermining our operational performance. One of the most prominent problems to be resolved related to the PoliceWorks element of the Force’s IT infrastructure, which controls our records management.”

He went on it ‘was clear from listening to staff feedback’ and in a report commissioned by Andy Burnham and the government’s policing watchdog that the system was ‘hindering our ability to fulfil essential policing tasks’. He said: “In addition, the contract for the system was signed in 2016 and is due for renewal in June 2023, so we have reached a favourable time to consider change.

“Following a lengthy review process involving a technical appraisal and a rigorously evaluated options appraisal, I am confident that we have reviewed every option available to us. I have concluded that, while two-thirds of the original iOPS system is working effectively, PoliceWorks cannot be adapted or fixed to fully meet the needs of our organisation. We therefore intend to move away from the PoliceWorks system and to replace it with a tried and tested product already in use by other forces, rather than the development of bespoke technology.

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“This decision marks an important step in our plan for a resurgent GMP. I strongly believe the move will provide a lasting benefit to the public, victims and our employees and, based on an assessment of the current market, is likely to be more cost-effective than remaining with PoliceWorks.”

A spokesperson for Capita declined to comment. The firm sold its Secure Solutions and Services business which delivers the iOPS contract to NEC Software Solutions in October.

Mayor Andy Burnham’s office has been asked for a comment.