Up-to-date procurement systems could save the Prison Service more than £9m, but they are unlikely to be in place before 2005, a report by the Commons' Public Accounts Committee revealed.
In 2001-2002 the 128 directly managed prisons in England and Wales spent £461m on supplies and the Prison Service's headquarters spent a further £491m on central projects and services. But the committee found that the Prison Service's procurement systems were still largely paper-based, limiting the amount of information available to managers.
MPs said better IT systems would provide staff and prison governors with better information on stock levels and prices across the prison estate.
The Prison Service has already implemented a new IT infrastructure and expects to introduce a finance module in April next year, but it will not implement the key procurement module until April 2005.
Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said, "The Prison Service is working to modernise its procurement of goods and services, on which it spends almost £1bn a year. I find it dissatisfactory that progress has been patchy, with procurement fragmented and costly to deliver."
Earlier this year the National Audit Office highlighted shortcomings in the Prison Service's procurement strategy. It said the the organisation lacked common, service-wide IT support for purchase orders and stock control.