Probation staff spend majority of time on admin due to inadequate IT systems

The Probation Service has inadequate IT systems, which have contributed to staff spending three-quarters of their time on administrative tasks, says a report by MPs.

The Probation Service has inadequate IT systems, which have contributed to staff spending three-quarters of their time on administrative tasks rather than dealing with offenders, a Justice Committee report has found.

MPs found that the creation of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), which merged prison and probation services, has not led to an improved "joined-up" treatment of offenders.

This has been partly due to the cancellation of the £234m C-NOMIS system, which was scrapped in 2009 due to running two years late at double the original cost.

As a consequence the Prison Service cannot share its database with the Probation Service, something C-NOMIS was intended to achieve.

"This was to have been a crucial building block for achieving end-to-end offender management. The probation service still has to pay the costs and is charged above market prices for basic IT equipment," said the report.

The committee also recommends that probation trusts are given greater freedom over the IT systems they use, and calls on them to focus scarce resources on the frontline.

Chairman of the Justice Select Committee, Alan Beith MP,said: "The ability of probation professionals to undertake effective work directly with offenders has been hindered by a tick-box culture imposed by the National Offender Management Service which has focused predominantly on prisons and has micro-managed probation."

Christine Lawrie from the Probation Boards Association said: "I don't think we want to go back to owning our own systems, we do want trusts to be treated as proper clients. The money is top-sliced from trusts' budgets, and we want to be able to have a proper client function so that we get what we need from what are very expensive systems."

The Northumbria Trust has recommended that future IT contracts should agree key specifications within a framework which allows local flexibility through a range of approved suppliers.

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