Select Committee on Public Accounts Thirty-Second Report


The Committee of Public Accounts has agreed to the following Report:



1. Since April 2001, the National Probation Service (the Service) has been responsible for probation services in England and Wales. Previously the probation service was a network of 54 autonomous and locally managed services, each under the control of an independent board.[1] In 1993, the Home Office and local probation services adopted the National Probation Service Information Systems Strategy (NPSISS) to create a network of computers and supporting software across all the probation services in England and Wales, and to introduce a standard case record and management system, CRAMS. Until April 2001, implementation of the strategy was managed by the Home Office's Probation Unit.[2]

2. Installation of the computer infrastructure began in 1995 and was scheduled to be completed by March 1999. By the end of March 2001, the Home Office had succeeded in installing a common information technology infrastructure in 49 out of the 54 probation services. The full economic cost of the NPSISS programme, including CRAMS, was expected to be at least £118 million by the end of 2001 (£105 million at 1994-95 prices), 70 per cent at constant prices above the expenditure forecast in the Home Office's original business case.[3]

3. Not all of the areas which are part of the NPSISS network have chosen to introduce CRAMS. Users have found CRAMS difficult to operate and its development did not keep pace with the changing business requirements of the probation service. 34 of the new National Probation Service local areas use CRAMS in some way, with only 16 using it substantially. The Home Office suspended further development of CRAMS in 1999 except for essential maintenance of the software.[4]

4. The Home Office's contract with the supplier, Integris, formerly Bull Information Systems Limited, expired on 31 December 2001. A new contract between Integris and the National Probation Service, expected to run for at least two and a half years and known as the Phase 1 contract, provides for the support and maintenance of the existing probation information technology infrastructure, including CRAMS, and an upgrade of the system. In 2004, the National Probation Service expects to let a contract, known as the Phase 2 contract, to procure new systems, including a replacement for CRAMS.[5]

5. On the basis of a Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General,[6] we took evidence from the Home Office, the National Probation Service for England and Wales, and Integris.

6. Our main conclusions are:

  • Some 49 out of 54 probation services have installed the NPSISS infrastructure but only 16 probation services make substantial use of the case record and management system, CRAMS. The lack of take up can be attributed to a poor user interface, emphasising the need for sufficient user buy-in and involvement as major projects progress. In taking the lead on implementing an information technology system across a group of autonomous, locally managed services the Department lacked a strategy for communicating with them, and failed to enlist the support of users in those bodies.

  • The importance of leadership and project management by specialists to the effective delivery of large information technology projects was emphasised in our predecessors' Report on the management of Government information technology projects.[7] The project management team assigned to the NPSISS programme was, however, badly under-resourced; lacked the skills and capacity necessary to perform effectively; and, with seven programme directors in seven years, suffered from frequent changes of leadership. If future projects are to succeed, the Home Office needs to strike a better balance between developing and rewarding people for their breadth of knowledge, and developing people with specialist project management and other information technology skills.

  • The Home Office's original contract with its supplier was not sufficiently flexible to address the changing needs of the probation service, to facilitate effective partnership working with the supplier or to fully protect taxpayers' interests. There were flaws in the original framework agreement including poor specification of expected outputs. Future contracts should better balance risks between the Home Office (or the National Probation Service) and the supplier by reflecting, in contractual incentives, the business implications of late delivery or poor product quality.

7. Our more specific conclusions and recommendations are set out below:

On the Home Office's management and oversight of the programme

      (i)  Where information technology is being introduced to link a group of organisations, responsibility for delivering the programme, and the resources needed, should be clearly specified from the start, along with the desired outputs and outcomes. (paragraph 13)

      (ii)  The programme management team were not properly equipped with the resources and skills needed to deliver a complex information technology system. Excessive turnover amongst specialist staff and potential skill shortages on individual projects must be identified and addressed quickly (paragraph 14)

      (iii)  Normal project controls and reporting arrangements were not followed, nor was timely action taken to address these weaknesses. The Home Office executive board should review regular, independent reports on progress of information technology projects, for example from the Government's Gateway review process and the Department's internal auditors, and assess the adequacy of the action taken in response to recommendations made by such reports. (paragraph 15)

On meeting the computing needs of local probation services

      (iv)  NPSISS has delivered some, but not all, expected benefits to local probation services. The absence of rigorous monitoring against the original business plan has, however, made it impossible to assess the full impact of the programme. Management information systems should be in place to enable the costs of information technology projects to be monitored against plans, progress to be reviewed against milestones and, crucially, the achievement of the desired impact on services to be assessed. (paragraph 23)

      (v)  The impact of new information technology systems on staff should be assessed regularly, and health and safety issues addressed quickly. (paragraph 24)

      (vi)  In introducing any replacement to CRAMS the National Probation Service should put in place appropriate information technology systems to support the supervision of potentially dangerous offenders. (paragraph 25)

      (vii)  Neither the Home Office nor its supplier fully appreciated the risks of developing CRAMS from an existing software application. In taking forward future information technology projects, the National Probation Service should identify all key risks, including technical risks, and put in place plans for managing the risks. In particular, where monitoring reveals significant departures from planned delivery, costs and benefits, the risks of continuing with the project should be compared with alternative strategies before deciding the way forward. (paragraph 26)

      (viii)  Users were not engaged sufficiently closely in the specification of the information technology systems by the Home Office. User involvement should be built into project management structures, and users' representatives should be sufficiently knowledgeable to carry those they represent with them. (paragraph 27)

On the Home Office's relationship with its supplier

      (ix)  Flaws in the original enabling agreement with Integris held back urgent developments needed by local probation services. Future contracts should receive proper legal scrutiny prior to being finalised and, if problems occur, solutions should be identified which minimise the impact on probation services. (paragraph 35)

      (x)  For contracts that may run for some years, it may not be possible for all aspects of all services to be specified in detail at the time the contract is signed. Any significant new developments during the life of the contract should be based on a clear specification of the required outputs from the contractor, with costs being controlled tightly. (paragraph 36)

      (xi)  For a time, probation services received non-Year 2000 compliant equipment even though this fell short of best industry practice. Any failure to receive services or equipment in line with best industry practice should be vigorously pursued and suitable reparation received. (paragraph 37)

      (xii)  The Home Office underestimated the effort required to properly manage the contract with Integris. The National Probation Service should specify clearly the roles and responsibilities of its project management team, users and its contractor, establishing a shared understanding of key terms and deadlines. (paragraph 38)

1   C&AG's Report, para 1.7 Back

2   C&AG's Report, paras 1, 1.1, 1.7; Qs 8-9 Back

3   C&AG's Report, para 1.2, key findings 1st and 3rd bullets (page 2), and Figure 7 Back

4   Qs 109-111; C&AG's Report key findings 2nd and 3rd bullets (page 2), and para 8 Back

5   C&AG's Report, paras 1, 1.17, 2.53-2.55; Ev 3 Back

6   C&AG's Report, The Implementation of the National Probation Service Information Systems Strategy (HC 401, Session 2000-01) Back

7   1st Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Improving the Delivery of Government IT Projects (HC 65, Session 1999-2000) Back

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