MPs criticise ministry’s unrealistic ambitions and lack of scrutiny
HM Prison and Probation Service has been slammed for wasting £100m in a “high risk and over-ambitious” attempt to deliver a new case-management system for electronic tagging.
According to a new report from parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, the Ministry of Justice agency spent £98.2m on the Gemini system – only to scrap it before it was finished after years of delays saw it outpaced by advancements in technology. The MoJ has previously indicated that none of this expenditure would result in any future benefit.
MPs on the committee said they were “deeply concerned about the scale of these losses”, and are “unconvinced” that the MoJ can overhaul the situation, given the “long history of poor performance in this area”.
PAC chair Meg Hillier warned that the current “outdated” system is “at constant risk of failure” which could put the public at risk. She called for a “serious explanation and a serious plan” from the MoJ for how they are going to “stop haemorrhaging” money.
The report also criticised the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS for failing to rigorously evaluate whether tagging reduces reoffending. It said the government was pushing ahead with a £1.2bn programme to expand tagging to another 10,000 people in the next three years despite this knowledge gap. HMPPS has now strengthened its analytical capacity, and has committed to evaluating its expansion programme, PAC added.
Gemini was part of HMPPS’s Electronic Monitoring Programme, which sought to overhaul the electronic tagging system used to monitor curfews and conditions of court or prison orders. The new system would have enabled police and probation officers to access real-time data. Currently, they have to submit manual requests for location data, limiting the value of using GPS tracking.
The software was meant to be ready in 2015 but was massively delayed because of its complexity and the need to integrate different suppliers’ work. While the committee said the decision to scrap the system in 2021 was the right decision at the time, saving £30m, it criticised the failures that led to this being the best option.
HMPPS’s “pursuit of a bespoke technical solution introduced complexity and inflexibility, and limited innovation”, while the agency also did not intervene early enough to resolve integration issues, PAC said.
The committee also slammed the MoJ’s “weak governance” and “light-touch approach to scrutiny” despite the repeated delays.
HMPPS and the MoJ have now reformed their approaches to overseeing major projects and programmes, including introducing new thresholds for when risks and issues should be escalated for review, PAC said.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Innovative GPS and sobriety tags are helping us to crack down on crime, from alcohol-fuelled violence to burglary. Our decision to stop work on certain tagging systems saved taxpayers over £30m and we are now investing in doubling the number of offenders tagged by 2025 to better protect the public.”