Parliamentary committee says Ministry of Justice has spent £60 million on a programme with nothing to show five years after the initial delivery date
Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has sharply criticised the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for the delivery of its electronic offender tagging programme, describing it as “catastrophic” and saying it has wasted “a huge amount” of time and taxpayers’ money.
The committee has published a report on the programme that says it involved a high risk approach to procurement, was poorly managed and ended up with the same type of tags and supplier as when it began.
It supports the idea of tagging as an effective alternative to placing offenders in prison, but says the MoJ pressed ahead with the programme without clear evidence that it was to be operated or that it was deliverable.
It did not do sufficient research or carry out appropriate pilots, failed to open up the programme to sufficient external challenge, and adopted a ‘tower model’ for delivery which has proved inappropriate. There was also a heavy turnover of senior responsible owners of the programme.
As a result, the programme is running five years late: the new tags were originally due to be delivered in 2013 but are now scheduled for 2019. The MoJ has said it is confident of achieving this date, but the PAC says it is not convinced it will happen.
Another criticism is that the ministry set up SMEs to fail in the programme, not taking into account the limits on their staffing and financial resources.
The MoJ had spent £60 million by the end of March 2017, but has so far failed to provide any tangible benefits, is not providing the savings of £9 million to £30 million a year it expected, and over-estimated the number of people who would be subject to tagging orders, according to the PAC.
Most damning is that it is not convinced the ministry would not make the same failings again.
Its recommendations include the MoJ getting the right skills in place, providing a full breakdown of the new timetable, showing how it has changed its approach to working with SMEs, and providing an update on how it is working with officials in the criminal justice to ensure they have confidence in the scheme.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, deputy chair of the committee, said: "The Ministry of Justice took an all singing, all dancing approach to what could have been a relatively simple procurement exercise. The evidence to support a wholesale transformation of the tagging system was weak at best but the ministry pushed ahead anyway.
“This ill-fated adventure in the possibilities of technology has so far costed taxpayers some £60 million. The new tags are expected to be rolled out more than five years later than planned and, even then, the system will rely on the same form of technology that was available when the programme launched.
“The ministry accepts it got this badly wrong but admitting its failures does not excuse an approach that disregarded fundamental principles we would expect to see applied in the spending of public money.
“It must act on lessons learned from this programme. We urge it to demonstrate a commitment to doing so by publishing details of the steps it is taking to avoid such wasteful mistakes in future."
Image from parliament.uk, Open Parliament Licence