1.We took evidence from the Home Office and the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) to assess the progress made since our report in May 2018 on modernising the services provided by the DBS.
2.The DBS is an arm’s length body, sponsored by the Home Office, that operates a safeguarding service to help employers decide who should work with children or vulnerable adults. The service includes: issuing disclosure certificates which show safeguarding information such as criminal records; an update service that lets employers check whether a certificate is up-to-date; and a barring service which checks whether people are on government lists of people deemed unsuitable to work with children or vulnerable adults. These services are widely used by organisations such as schools and care homes who work with children or vulnerable adults. The DBS aims to cover its costs by charging fees for its services. Such fees are often paid for by the employer and are waived if the person being checked works as a volunteer.
3.The DBS was created in 2012 as part of a programme launched by the Home Office to modernise and improve safeguarding. It was created by merging the two organisations which previously undertook safeguarding functions - the Criminal Records Bureau and the Independent Safeguarding Authority. In addition to the merger and modernising the way safeguarding operates, the Home Office sought to launch a new product (the “Update Service”) which would make it easier for the individuals being checked to move jobs using a digitally available portable disclosure certificate. The update service was also expected to be cheaper for the DBS which, along with savings from its wider modernisation programme, would reduce the costs of running the DBS. These savings would be passed on to users either directly as price reductions, or indirectly through a shift of demand from repeated purchases of disclosure certificates to the update service. As well as benefiting individuals and employers, this was expected to benefit the taxpayer because employers (who are mostly publicly-funded bodies in the public sector) often pay for certificates and the update service was expected to be cheaper.
4.At our follow up evidence session in March 2019, the DBS confirmed that modernisation still has not been completed seven years after the programme to modernise was started in 2012. The DBS confirmed that the only parts of the modernisation programme delivered have been the Barring and Basic certificates functionality in September 2017. The DBS and its contractor, TCS, assured us in March 2018 that the programme would be completed in 2018. However, the DBS told us that in June 2018, its board agreed that TCS would not be able to deliver the last part of the modernisation in respect of enhanced and standard disclosure certificates and would terminate that part of the programme.
5.The DBS told us that, out of a total of some 7.6 million certificates delivered in total, only 1.8 million of these are issued from the modernised system for Basics which represents less than one third of DBS’ total activity. This means that two thirds of DBS’ activities will now not be modernised.
6.The DBS told us that the decision to abandon the completion of the modernisation programme stemmed from productivity problems with the Basics function – the Chief Executive of the DBS accepted that DBS agents were not able to complete enough “matching decisions” per day per person - and the risk this created if the same problems were replicated in future disclosures functionality. In response to our questions on why the design of the system was not challenged at the planning stage of the programme, the DBS wrote to us after the session to confirm that the initial Business Design Documents were approved by the DBS in 2014 and that the DBS was not satisfied with the quality of these design documents despite a number of iterations being delivered throughout 2015. TCS insisted that further work on the architectural design was unnecessary and that the solution would be delivered in November 2015. The DBS reported that it reluctantly accepted the designs and TCS’ reassurances rather than stop work on the programme at that stage.
7.The DBS also wrote to us after the session to confirm that the DBS owns the Intellectual Property Rights to materials that have been specifically developed by TCS for the project, such as codes, interfaces, portals, firewall rules, documents and training materials. The DBS has further informed us that custom-made aspects of the system are not, in its view, marketable to third parties as they do not function effectively. This provides further evidence of the contractual failures in this project leading to the acceptance of systems not meeting the DBS’s needs.
8.The DBS now intends to continue using the original system for this critical part of its business and is currently assessing the need to upgrade this system as it no longer plans to modernise enhanced and standard disclosures. The DBS told us that the original system is seventeen years old. Whilst it continues to run reliably, we expressed our concern that, having made a business case to modernise its systems architecture at great cost and with long delays, the DBS has now decided to stay with an ageing platform with the risks of obsolescence and a provider not being able to support the system much longer. The DBS set out that it was considering the way forward but could not tell us when or how this might be done, nor the costs involved.
9.The DBS told us that while it decided not to extend its contract with TCS, it granted a short extension of some six to twelve months so there would be an effective transition of services from TCS to a new contractor. As at the end of March 2019, the new contractor had yet to be appointed and there was no clear timescale for when one would be in place. This makes the TCS contract extension beyond six months more likely with all the resultant costs and risks involved with this failed contract. The Committee established that the dispute with TCS remains ongoing and that the DBS did not know when this may be resolved.
10.There are also risks that the DBS and its new contractor may not be able to access systems information. TCS designed the architecture supporting the programme and holds the documentation and codes which the new contractor will need to be able to deliver the services it will inherit. The DBS does not have this knowledge as it was not involved in the detail of the design of the system and failed to act as an ‘intelligent customer’ in its oversight and challenge of TCS as the new system was being delivered. The DBS twice characterised TCS as having been “less than co-operative” when asked to share documentation and information. The DBS said that any risks would be mitigated because its discussions with potential contractors to date had indicated that they would have the experience to be able to pick up these services during the transition period.
11.We are concerned that the DBS is overly confident in the assurances it has received from prospective contractors over their ability to deliver the services they inherit from TCS given the tight timescales involved for the transition, and its reliance on TCS to work constructively in handing over systems documentation to the new contractor given the DBS’s own lack of knowledge over the design and code for its systems. The DBS will need to carefully manage this risk during the transition period. The DBS also could not provide the Committee with clarity on what it is tendering for from the new suppliers and what the likely costs involved in transitioning to a new supplier could be.
1 Committee of Public Accounts, , Forty-Second Report of Session 2017–19, HC 695, 25 May 2018
2 Report by the Comptroller & Auditor General, , Session 2017–19, HC 715, 1 February 2018
3 Report by the Comptroller & Auditor General, , Session 2017–19, HC 715, 1 February 2018
4 Qq 29–32
5 Qq 33, 38
6 Qq 47, 49
7 Q 46
9 to the Committee of Public Accounts, 22 March 2019
10 to the Committee of Public Accounts, 22 March 2019
11 Qq 65–71, 86–88
12 Qq 146–150
13 Q29, 112, 113
14 Q 93
17 Q 107
18 Qq 94, 113
19 Qq110, 111
20 Qq 108–116
21 Q 117
Published: 1 May 2019