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The Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) electronic monitoring programme is five years behind schedule and has so far failed to deliver value for money, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
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The NAO report said the severely delayed project to deliver a new generation of GPS-based electronic ankle tags was overly ambitious and has so far failed to deliver value for money.
The project, which began in 2011, was due to deploy new electronic tags in November 2013, however the new tags are now due to be rolled out from the end of 2018 – five years behind the original date.
The NAO said that the project has an estimated lifetime cost of £130m by 2024-25, with an expected £470m spent in running of the service between 2017 and 2025.
The aim of the programme was to transform and expand the monitoring service, reduce annual costs by 9% to 30%, and “provide wider operational benefits” by developing a world-leading ankle tag combining both radio frequency (RF) transmission and GPS technology.
The MoJ went for a “tower model” approach to the procurement, splitting the end-to-end service, which was previously delivered by G4S and Serco into four supplier contracts which would each supply a part of the service pulled together by an integrator.
However, the NAO found that the MoJ “did not do enough to establish the case for location monitoring tagging using GPS”.
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“There is still limited evidence on the effectiveness of electronic monitoring in the UK,” it said, adding that the ministry’s bespoke requirements for the tags were too ambitious.
“Over time, the Ministry evolved some 900 prescriptive requirements for the new combined RF and GPS tags. They would have to store and send much more location data than existing tags in the market, meet higher data security standards, and prove reliable and robust,” the report said.
“They also had to be compact enough to wear comfortably, and not require continual recharging.”
The issues led to conflicts between the MoJ and its suppliers. Its first preferred bidder, Buddi, and the MoJ disagreed on how to handle location data and protect intellectual property, which led to the ministry terminating the contract, replacing it with another supplier, Steatite, in March 2014. However that contract also ended in difficulties, with the MoJ terminating the deal with the supplier in November 2015.
Capita, which was responsible for the integration part of the contract, also encountered difficulties with the project. The NAO report said the two parties had “differing expectations of what this role entailed”.
The Ministry expected Capita to act like a traditional prime contractor, but Capita had no contractual responsibility for the work and performance of the other suppliers,” the report said, adding that eventually the two settled their differences and the MoJ brought the integration in-house.
During the project it also became clear that the contracts didn’t specify who would provide the electronic link to transfer data between the old tags and a central data centre.
“It only became clear after the contracts were signed that no party had made plans to build the link. Agreeing on who was responsible for doing the work and meeting the cost proved a lengthy distraction, until the parties agreed not to proceed with this electronic link, the NAO said.
NAO head Amyas Morse said the case for expansion of tags using GPS “was unproven, but the MoJ pursued an overly ambitious and high risk strategy anyways”.
“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. The Ministry has learnt costly lessons from its failings but significant risks still remain,” he said.
Addressing the issues
The programme also suffered from a high turnover of senior responsible officers (SROs) – a common denominator in failed government technology projects. Since its inception in 2011, the project has had five different SROs.
The ministry’s governance arrangements were weak, resulting in slow decision-making and allowing internal disagreements to persist. The Ministry did not consistently fulfil its own obligations on the programme,” the report said.
“Until 2016, internal and external reviews noted a lack of accountability to the SRO and unhelpful disunity between operational, technical, commercial and programme staff. The ministry’s decision-making on some critical matters was excessively slow, creating delays of several months on the programme, and preventing suppliers from progressing their work.”
In 2015 and 2016 the project underwent significant external and internal reviews. This included a Cabinet Office review which found that continuing with the four-supplier model was the “least bad” option, considering the cost that would occur by starting over again.
The NAO said the ministry has taken action to address many of the issues as a result of the reviews. The MoJ has now moved away from developing a bespoke tag to procuring tags already available in the market. G4S, one of the original suppliers, will now work with the other suppliers to “integrate its tags with their systems”.