POLICE and crime commissioners in the South West are to receive Government funding totaling around £1.6m for innovative projects.

They discussed the Home Office funding at a meeting with regional Chief Constables at Gablecross Police Station in Swindon yesterday (Wednesday, January 22).

The largest award was almost £1m to transform the use and storage of digital imaging evidence in Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall and Avon and Somerset.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, wrote to Commissioners last November to let them know she was launching an Innovation Fund totalling £50m per year from 2014/15. To set the ball rolling, a fund of £20m was made available in the current year.

Mrs May said the money would be awarded for innovative bids which enhanced regional collaboration.

After consultations between the Commissioners and Chief Constables of the five regional constabularies – Wiltshire, Avon and Somerset, Gloucestershire, Dorset, and Devon and Cornwall – it was agreed that three joint bids would be submitted.

1. Regional forensic services collaboration This is the first five-force forensic collaboration in England and Wales. The aim is to maximise the use of mobile data technology to produce a streamlined state-of-the-art forensics service at a lower cost. It is estimated that phase one of the project will save the five partners £1.9m. The forecast for savings by 2018-19 is that they could exceed £6m.

The Home Office has agreed to contribute £180,000 towards the cost of managing the project.

Phase one will see fingerprint identification bureaux at Exeter and Bristol, chemical enhancement laboratories and submissions units at Exeter and Gloucestershire and a drugs analysis unit in Bristol.

2. Command and control software for tri-force specialist operations Three of the constabularies - Wiltshire, Avon and Somerset, and Gloucestershire - will invest in a common software platform, called STORM, which will rationalise working practices, allowing the newly merged firearms, dogs and policing units to be seamlessly deployed across all three areas. STORM will also provide the teams with much greater resilience.

Devon and Cornwall and Dorset may join the project in the future.

The Home Office has approved £300,000 in 2013/14 and £150,000 in 2014/15.

3. Transforming the use and storage of digital imaging evidence This four-force bid will radically transform the way in which digital imagery is used by police, local authority and criminal justice partners in Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall and Avon and Somerset.

The intention is to enhance public confidence and reduce crime, anti-social behaviour and disorder.

The project is also designed to improve service to victims, increase time spent on patrol by reducing bureaucracy, and speed up the criminal justice process.

Digital evidence is a vital asset in tackling 21st Century crime. The project will encompass the recording of digital images (by mobile phone, video and stills cameras and CCTV) through to storage, management, sharing, retrieval and disposal of images.

The Home Office has awarded £994,000 in the current year.

The bids were co-ordinated and submitted to the Home Office on behalf of the South West region by Wiltshire Police.

Angus Macpherson, Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon, said: “Commissioners in the South West are pleased to see money coming into the region from the Government, although it is important to point out that the Home Office is ‘top slicing’ our budgets to finance the Innovation Fund and other initiatives in future years.

“All the Commissioners in this region will be working hard to ensure that future grants from the Home Office Innovation Fund are at least equivalent to the money which we will be required to contribute to the central pot.

“In my Police and Crime Plan I said that savings would need to be made through regional collaboration. So the ability to access these central funds will enhance the speed at which collaboration savings can be made.

“The convergence of information technology across our region will enhance our capability to operate efficiently and effectively.”

Pat Geenty, Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police, said: “I am delighted that the Home Office has recognised the fine work that we have already implemented in these specific areas and rewarded us with extra funding to ensure each project is as successful as it possibly can be.

“We are all aware that funding for police forces across the country has been scaled back in recent years but this is a fantastic opportunity for all the regional forces involved to continue to build upon the impressive and necessary collaborative work that is already underway.”