Select Committee on Public Accounts Thirty-Second Report



16. The NPSISS strategy had helped to improve communications within the National Probation Service and create a computer literate workforce. It had introduced an information technology culture, improved communication with other probation services and, in some areas, improved the quality of operational information. Thirty of the 47 services with NPSISS reported at least some benefit to the quality of service provided to offenders. However, a majority reported little or no benefit in terms, for example, of improved financial information, external communications or savings in administrative support.[16]

17. The Home Office's original business case for both NPSISS and CRAMS had anticipated productivity gains arising from reduced non-productive work by professional staff and a reduced requirement for support staff. The plan had forecast savings of around £240 million over 10 years at 1994 prices. However, the Home Office did not monitor the costs and benefits of the programme against the original projections. Although productivity within the Service increased by some 18 per cent over the period covered by the implementation of the system, equivalent to about £16 million a year, only 18 of the services surveyed by the National Audit Office reported improvements in probation officer productivity as a direct result of the new systems.[17]

18. Whilst much of the cost of the information technology strategy lay with the installation of the computer network, the Home Office expected most of the benefits to arise from the introduction of CRAMS. However, ergonomic assessments carried out in 1999 and 2000 concluded that the software put excessive demands on those staff using and learning the system; and that there was a potentially high risk of stress to users. The National Probation Service is now working with unions and ergonomic specialists to improve CRAMS and ensure that new Probation Service information technology systems meet health and safety requirements.[18]

19. Probation services still have to rely on paper based systems to retain and access information on offenders presenting a risk of harm to the public.[19] The Chief Inspector of Probation had examined these issues in 2000 and concluded that the lack of information technology had not compromised safety or put staff at risk. This limitation was nevertheless a concern. The National Probation Service confirmed that, although CRAMS did not assist probation officers to do their job in the way hoped, public protection work continued to be carried out.[20]

20. CRAMS has cost almost £11 million at constant prices to develop and support over its lifetime, more than twice the expected amount. The Home Office and Integris underestimated the technical risks associated with developing CRAMS from an existing software package. The original user interface, developed by the Northumbria Probation Service, had been acceptable locally, but other probation services were less happy with it. Despite subsequent improvements made to CRAMS, the changes were still not sufficient to persuade all probation services to adopt the software.[21] By April 2001, over half of all probation services continued to use alternative case management systems or had developed facilities to supplement CRAMS.[22]

21. Concerns about CRAMS had been raised by some local probation services as far back as 1996. Whilst action was taken to resolve specific issues as they arose, the Home Office often found it difficult to obtain a consensus from probation services. Local views were very mixed. The Home Office concluded, however, that it had not always involved probation services closely enough in the specification of what was needed. The Home Office had failed, for example, to put together a strategy for communicating with probation services despite a recommendation from consultants in 1996. The National Probation Service is now working to increase levels of user engagement in the current management and organisation of the Probation Service. Information technology representatives from the probation services sit on project management boards; and users are involved in the design of new systems, the testing of their acceptability and identifying how to improve them.[23]

22. Forty-two of the probation services surveyed by the National Audit Office reported either no benefit or a detrimental impact on communication with other bodies in the Criminal Justice System. The National Probation Service indicated that sharing case information via information technology links with other agencies was likely to be about three years away. The Service is currently developing with the Prison Service an offender assessment system (OASYS). Initially paper-based, this arrangement is intended to enable Probation Officers and Prison Service staff to carry out, within a common specification, assessments of an offender's risk to themselves and others. The information technology support for the new system is being developed separately for the two Services with the intention of achieving some convergence within the next three years.[24]


23. 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.

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

25. 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.

26. 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.

27. 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.

16   C&AG's Report, paras 2.7-2.8 and Appendix 5, Section 3; Qs 9, 24, 94, 123 Back

17   C&AG's Report, paras 2.5, 3.6, and Appendix 5, Section 3 Back

18   C&AG's Report, paras 2.5, 2.13; Qs 26-28, 70-71, 156-157 Back

19   C&AG's Report, para 2.15; Q10 Back

20   Qs 10-11 Back

21   C&AG's Report, paras 11, 2.25-2.28; Qs 44, 69, 115, 139-142, 213 Back

22   C&AG's Report, paras 8, 11, 2.12-2.17, and Figure 7; Qs 10-11, 18, 213 Back

23   C&AG's Report, paras 2.22, 2.29-2.30; Qs 55, 150-155 Back

24   C&AG's Report, paras 2.9-2.10 and Appendix 5, Section 3; Q16 Back

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