MoJ’s troubled electronic tagging programme hampered by blacklisted tower delivery model, NAO report finds

Watchdog criticises ministry for failing to deliver value for money

Since 2015 the tower model used by the MoJ is “not condoned and not in line with government policy”  Credit: Charles Hoffman, under Creative Commons

The Ministry of Justice’s troubled rollout of a new-generation electronic monitoring programme for offenders was hampered by the use of a complex and risky tower procurement model since blacklisted by the Government Digital Service, a National Audit Office report has found.

The report criticised the MoJ for failing to deliver value for money on the programme’s implementation. Among the NAO’s key findings into the scheme’s failings was that the MoJ opted for a “high-risk and unfamiliar” tower delivery model.

The report said that the ministry sought four suppliers for the programme, in a bid to “reduce its reliance on a single supplier, allow it to swap out suppliers over time, and encourage innovation by attracting smaller companies”. The intention was that one of the four suppliers would serve as an integrator, bringing together the work of all four to create a comprehensive offering.

Capita was picked to serve in the integrator role, but the NAO found that the outsourcer had no contractual responsibility for the work and performance of the other suppliers. The ministry subsequently decided to bring the role in-house.

When the MoJ first penned its business case in 2011, this kind of tower delivery framework was endorsed by central government. But, in February 2015, GDS said that such models were “not condoned and not in line with government policy”.

Elsewhere, the NAO report said that the ministry had pursued an “overly ambitious strategy which was not grounded in evidence” for the programme, which aimed to reduce annual offender-monitoring costs by up to £30m a year.

The NAO said the ministry did not do enough to establish the case for a major expansion of location monitoring using GPS, and that its bespoke requirements for new world-leading tags had been unrealistic.

It said the ministry had so-far spent £60m on the programme, which is running five years late, and remained reliant on legacy services. It gave a figure of £470m for the cost of running the service between 2017-18 and 2024-25

According to the watchdog, the new service will not be operational “until the end of 2018 at the earliest” and will not feature a “bespoke, world-leading tag”, following an earlier specification that had around 900 prescriptive requirements that exceeded those of existing off-the-shelf devices.

The NAO said some of the delays with the programme’s implementation had sprung from the discovery of overbilling by G4S and Serco in relation to electronic tagging services, followed by two failed procurements for the tags.

The report said that in addition to specification and procurement issues, the MoJ had assumed there would be high demand for location monitoring from those who sentence offenders but did not run a pilot to test the assumption before launching the programme. 

It added that the department did not understand the potential financial costs and benefits of expanding location monitoring, while external reviews had noted a lack of accountability to senior responsible owners in the project – of which there had been five since 2011. 

‘Ultimately, it has not delivered’
NAO head Amyas Morse said the ministry had “learnt costly lessons” from its failings, and that although action had been taken to address many of the issues with the project, significant risks remained.

“The case for a huge expansion of electronic monitoring using GPS was unproven, but the Ministry of Justice pursued an overly ambitious and high-risk strategy anyway,” he said.

“Ultimately, it has not delivered. After abandoning its original plans, the ministry’s new service will now, ironically, be much closer to its existing one. Even if it launches in 2018, it will still be five years late.”

Among the NAO’s recommendations was a call to the MoJ to limit the expansion of the programme to incorporate additional uses for monitoring until the core services of curfew and location monitoring were in place.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said the report made “grim reading” and exposed a catalogue of errors spanning years.

“This has been a textbook case of an outsourcing disaster showing the very serious problems that can arise when profit is put before public service, and the MoJ should now halt plans for further privatisation of the justice system,” he said.

The MoJ said it had significantly expanded and strengthened its commercial teams following the challenges it faced with the electronic monitoring programme between 2010 and 2015, and had also strengthened its oversight procedures.

A spokesperson said: “We are now in a strong position to continue improving confidence in the new service and providing better for value for money for the taxpayer.”

version of this story first appeared on Civil Service World.

Sam Trendall

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