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Government cans electronic monitoring overhaul

Nearly £100m of taxpayer money has been spent in tech that will not result in future benefits, according to the Ministry of Justice's annual accounts report

HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) has cancelled the replacement of an electronic monitoring system just before it was due to be finished, squandering nearly £100m worth of taxpayer money in the process.

The electronic monitoring (EM) project comprised of a new electronic monitoring system and a service for the day-to-day monitoring of individuals wearing the devices. According to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) annual report and accounts for 2020-21, the project had fulfilled three of its four objectives, such as the introduction of alcohol monitoring tags, with the last one being the development of a case management system and self-service platform.

However, this final objective was delayed and, after reviewing the options available, HMPPS decided it was best to can the case management system rather than continue to invest. According to the report, the conclusion was that dropping the programme was less risky to operational delivery than looking to finish it.

As a result, the prison service had to spend £98.2m in payments that will not result in future benefits, the MoJ report noted, adding that it would have cost another £30m to finish the project. As part of the actions taken, the report noted that Integrity, a system on which EM live services currently operate, “has been extended and has proven itself to be robust”.

The electronic monitoring system was part of the Infrastructure Projects Authority (IPA) Government Major Projects Portfolio. Since launching in 2013, the project was deemed mostly unlikely to be delivered over the years.

At launch, the project was rated by the IPA as amber, meaning successful delivery appears feasible, but significant issues exist and require attention. It later moved to amber/red, which placed doubts over the successful delivery of the project and major risks, before finally being assigned a red status in 2016, which deemed the project unachievable.

In subsequent years, the project got back on track and even received a green status in the IPA report of 2019, pointing to the likelihood of successful delivery on time, budget and quality. However, the initiative moved back to amber/red status in 2020. Projects often join the GMPP at an early stage of development and have an uncertain delivery confidence level. The IPA often oversees closure of GMPP projects for strategic or operational reasons, or to help departments prioritise their project pipelines.

Additional write-offs listed in the MoJ accounts report included a £18.3m impairment relating to a common platform for case management developed jointly by HM Courts and Tribunals Service and the Crown Prosecution Service. This followed a successful trial where, among other activities, both teams built interfaces to legacy systems.

A review of the delivery approaches and a process review at CPS ensued, as well as a the completion of the design work for the digital case file, a joint CPS and Police initiative. These events led led to a change in the requirements, which meant the work done up until that point was not reusable.

Moreover, a £12.3m write-off relating to the Technology Transition Program (TTP), the delivery element of the Future IT sourcing programme, initiated in 2011 and aimed at delivering new technology to users across the MoJ. The money was spent on tech that has gone almost entirely unused after the MoJ decided to retain legacy datacentres and platforms.

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