Gateway reviews, ID cards and work on a £244m government IT programme that's "on hold"

The Times has published a leaked email written by Roger Hill, Director of the Probation Service. It said that costings on a C-NOMIS IT project were over-optimistic.

The email said: “Many of you will be aware that, in light of subsequent developments, the original costing for the C-NOMIS programme has proved to be optimistic.

“We have advised ministers that we will need to undertake a fundamental review of the work, to return to an affordable programme …Whilst we are reviewing the programme we had instituted a moratorium on further development work.”

The National Offender Management Service [now part of the Ministry of Justice] had said in a bulletin that a “major roll out” of the system was planned from January 2007.

The EDS C-NOMIS system was designed to give an overview of offenders from conviction and during their prison sentences to supervision in the community by the Probation Service.

Computer Weekly has been told that gateway reviews – independent assessments of C-NOMIS – failed to identify that costs had been underestimated. Indeed the latest gateway review is said to be positive. But how would we know for certain? The reviews are unpublished and the government is going to the High Court to try and make sure they remain unpublished.

Those working on the project said that the costs for C-NOMIS had been mainly for hardware, software, networking and IT services, and not enough money had been allowed for end-user training and managing changes in working practices that would be required in the probation service.

As on the project to support the introduction of ID cards, the costs on C-NOMIS related mainly to the central infrastructure, and neglected to a significant extent the costs associated with managing change.

On ID cards, a link-up with government departments is part of the justification for the scheme. Yet the Identity and Passport Service has not published any estimates of the costs of departments making use of the National Identity Register.

A further problem with the C-NOMIS project – as with the NHS’s National Programme for IT – was that Whitehall did not seek to win over the end-users to scheme, particularly probation officers. The system required a change in their way of working.

The Office of Government Commerce, which runs gateway reviews, advocates secrecy in part because it is says the gateway review scheme is a proven success. But is it? Gateway reviews exist to help stop government IT-based programmes and projects running into a ditch.

But they haven’t helped C-NOMIS – and may even have imbued project leaders with an unjustified confidence. Nor did they help prevent a disaster with the over-optimistic Single Payment Scheme of the Rural Payments Agency.

The C-NOMIS project might have been stopped and reviewed much earlier – and perhaps delivered to time and within a realistic budget by now – if gateway reviews had been published. The scrutiny would have given an incentive to gateway reviewers to ensure they had identified early on any material flaws in a project. Publication of the reviews would also have provided an incentive to departments and agencies to ensure they did not ignore warnings.

With the secrecy over the results of gateway reviews ministers and officials cannot be properly held to account because nobody outside government knows for sure whether the reviews had provided warnings which were ignored or whether the reviews themselves were deficient and did not identify the project’s most serious defects.

Roger Hill’s letter disclosed that David Hanson, the Prisons Minister, had sought an audit trail of the programme since it was set up by the National Offender Management Service, which oversees both prisons and probation.

The Home Office commissioned C-NOMIS to give a single view of the offender at whatever stage they are in their sentence.

To do this the project’s leaders need to consolidate more than 200 disparate prison and probation service databases. The idea is that, eventually, more than 80,000 users within the criminal justice community, including courts, prison and probation services, police forces and other partner organisations, would be able to share up-to-the-minute information for more efficient and effective management of offenders.

The C-NOMIS Case Management system is based on a commercial off-the-shelf software package called TAG from Syscon Justice Systems Ltd under contract with EDS.

It’s described as a major investment which enables prison and probation staff to:

share information in real time

manage risk

manage sentencing and rehabilitation

increase efficiency.

The Home Office said:

“Implementation of C-NOMIS is an important tool to help end-to-end offender management. When accessing a single record of the offender on the C-NOMIS database both prisons and the probation service will be able to share constantly updated information, thereby increasing efficiency and reducing risk .

“C-NOMIS is a major investment requiring new ways of working, an improved information technology infrastructure and the training of around 80,000 staff. Its introduction throughout the prison estate and 42 separate probation service areas, is planned to take a little over two years. Successful adoption of the system began at the first prison, HMP Albany on the Isle of Wight in December 2006.”


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Good analysis on the leaked email

MP Edward Garnier, a QC and Shadow Home Affairs Minister has written to the new Lord Chancellor Jack Straw about the C-NOMIS system

C-NOMIS system

C-NOMIS system – Ministry of Justice website

£950m bill forces rethink

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Are gateway reviews a waste of money?