MPs label Home Office DBS digitisation programme ‘a masterclass in incompetence’

Written by Jim Dunton on 26 May 2018 in News

Failure of project to improve safeguarding checks also casts doubt on department’s capacity to successfully deliver the Emergency Services Network, report finds


The Home Office has been accused of presiding over a “masterclass in incompetence” in relation to a programme to digitise record checks conducted by the Disclosure and Barring Service that should have completed four years ago.

The failures of the project also call into question the department’s ability to successfully deliver the implementation of the Emergency Services Network, according to MPs on the Public Accounts Committee.

A new report from the committee says that the programme to improve the system for DBS safeguarding checks on those looking to work with vulnerable people – such as children – is on course to cost £229m more than was originally anticipated and still has no identified finish date.

The committee said that the DBS was charging 30% a year more for the update service than had been envisaged despite not delivering on any of its anticipated improvements. The update service is currently still paper-based and has fewer than half of its originally-anticipated 2.8m users.

Related content

The PAC said the programme had been delayed from the start, forcing DBS to extend a contract with then-supplier Capita for two years. MPs said there was now a danger that the contract with current supplier Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) would run out next year before the programme was complete. DBS is currently in negotiations with TCS to finalise a completion date.

MPs observed that a “flawed contractual approach” that focused on transaction volumes meant only 3% of the payments DBS made to the supplier were related to completing the modernisation programme. They said the Home Office’s attempts to incentivise TCS to complete the modernisation programme more quickly had “clearly not worked”.

They added that DBS has failed to understand its cost base and fee structure and was currently losing £9 for every application to the update service, losses that it offset by profits made from issuing conventional paper disclosure certificates, which had lead to a projected £114m cash surplus for 2019.

ESN questions
PAC chair Meg Hillier said the safeguarding service modernisation programme had been dogged by poor planning and contracting, delays, spiralling costs, and other failings that raised questions over the Home Office’s ability to handle the ongoing project to roll out the Emergency Services Network – the new communications system for the blue-light services currently being rolled out across the country.

“Government has a crucial role to play in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults but the handling of this project has been a masterclass in incompetence,” she said. “None of the cost-saving and service benefits set out in the original business case have been achieved. At the same time, DBS has built up a projected surplus of £114m. These are testing times for the Home Office."

Hillier added: "We continue to have serious concerns about its largest project, the Emergency Services Network, which is critical to the ability of our emergency services to do their jobs and keep citizens safe. The department also faces huge challenges arising from the UK’s departure from the EU – not least, potential threats to security at the border from day one of Brexit. On both DBS and ESN, the Home Office appears either to have ignored or not fully understood the needs of the end user.”

Among its recommendations, the PAC called on the Home Office to set out the outcome of the negotiations with TCS, a clear and realistic timetable for when modernisation will be completed, and details of the cost implications for DBS and the Home Office before the summer recess.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the DBS’s safeguarding work was “of utmost importance” in protecting the public and that it was working with the body throughout “this period of transformation”.

“We recognise that there have been delays in some aspects of the delivery and implementation of the Disclosure and Barring Service’s modernisation programme,” she said. “However, the DBS has launched the first phase of its new IT system and will continue to work towards providing their customers with a faster and more efficient service. We will fully consider the Public Accounts Committee’s recommendations and respond formally in due course.”

Share this page




Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.

Related Articles

Local government and the NHS do not want outsourced IT, studies find
2 August 2018

Research from Dods shows that most public sector workers are not in favour of bringing in commercial firms to provide their IT

Scotland must learn lessons from the emperor’s new clothes of Whitehall transformation
26 July 2018

The digital scene in Westminster can be a self-congratulatory echo chamber, and the Scottish Government must block out the noise, believes Digital Scotland founder Neil McEvoy

Paramedics to be kitted out with body-worn cameras
4 July 2018

Emergency-care workers become the latest public servants to be equipped with the mobile recording technology

Related Sponsored Articles

Don’t Gamble with your password resets!
20 June 2018

The cautionary tale of the Leicestershire teenager who hacked high-ranking officials of NATO allies shows the need for improved password security

Intelligent Connectivity: Boosting Flexibility and Control
13 August 2018

At BT, we realise that digital technology is changing the way we all do business. Make smart decisions with intelligent connectivity.

BT: Intelligent Connectivity is where it all begins. Smarter decisions are the end result
7 August 2018

At BT, we realise that digital technology is changing the way we all do business. Make smart decisions with intelligent connectivity.

Building nation-level defences to fight cyber crime
30 July 2018

BT's Mark Hughes argues that nation states should act now to put in place cyber defences to protect themselves from the most advanced threats ever seen.