An £80 million police smartphone roll-out has been poor value for money, according to the National Audit Office.
The NAO said that while in many forces mobile devices enable officers to spend more time on the beat, cash savings "have been limited and only one in five forces have used the devices effectively to improve their business and operational processes".
The business case for the Mobile Information Programme, funded by the Home Office and managed by the National Policing Improvement Agency (which is being axed), focused upon the swift delivery of mobile devices, the NAO stated in a report published today.
By December 2010, said the NAO, around 41,000 devices had been rolled out, "considerably ahead of schedule". But the NAO said not enough consideration was given to how forces would use the mobile technology, how much local spending was required or how realistic the announced deadlines were.
The programme has not yet added the ability to check fingerprints on the beat using the mobile devices, a key target for the smartphone programme.
Officers do spend more time out of the station, but only an estimated 18 minutes a shift, taking account of considerable force variations, the NAO said.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: "Too little consideration was given to the need for the devices or how they would be used. In the majority of forces the benefits have not so far extended beyond simply allowing officers to spend more time out of the station."
Of the 32 forces responding to an NAO survey, only ten claimed some form of cash savings and these were "relatively minor". Under the programme officers are using their devices to complete and submit crime and intelligence reports, and less time is spent obtaining information from control rooms over their radios.
However, 22 forces responding to the survey "cited drawbacks with mobile technology projects", says the NAO report.
According to today's (Friday) report, "the experience of implementing mobile technology reinforces the challenge of achieving convergence of ICT across 43 police forces, each with bespoke systems supporting individual business processes".
The publication of the NAO report comes a day after it was reported that police forces were looking to place a transformation services framework agreement, worth up to £3.5 billion in total and including IT.