1.On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, we took evidence from the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) on the new generation electronic monitoring programme.
2.Electronic monitoring allows the police, courts or probation services to monitor an offender’s location and their compliance with home curfews. When used appropriately, offender-monitoring tags can be a cost-effective alternative to custodial sentences, as well as supporting the offender’s rehabilitation in the community and reducing offending. The difference between the cost of a custodial sentence and using offender tags can be substantial. Holding an offender in prison costs around £90 per day, compared to offender tags which cost around £12−13 per day.
3.The Ministry of Justice currently uses two types of tags: one type for supervising offenders who are subject to a curfew, which use radio frequency transmission; and the second for monitoring the location and movement of an offender, which combine radio transmission and global positioning system (GPS) technology. In 2011, the Ministry of Justice launched a programme to develop a new world-leading, bespoke ankle tag using GPS technology which would be used by all tagged offenders. The programme was intended to reduce the annual cost of tagging by between 9% (£9 million) and 30% (£30 million) as well as provide wider benefits and more sentencing options for courts.
4.The new tags were originally due to be rolled out from November 2013. Owing to a series of delays, the new tags are now expected to be rolled out from early 2019, more than five years late. We were concerned that so far the programme appears to have been a catastrophic waste of public money to deliver very little. The Ministry of Justice disputed this assessment on the basis that the programme was still being delivered. It told us that it remained committed to the successful delivery of the programme as a sensible alternative to custodial sentences. However, the programme that is currently being delivered is very different in scope to the one that the Ministry originally proposed.
5.The Ministry told us that it had been “startled and stunned” by the over-optimism of the original project. Electronic monitoring services had been outsourced since their introduction and no one in the Ministry had any direct experience of running them before the programme was introduced. The Ministry admitted that it did not know enough about how offender tagging worked or how it was delivered before it started the programme and that not enough research was done before the programme was approved. In 2006, our previous Committee recommended that the Home Office (which was responsible for the electronic monitoring of offenders prior to the Ministry of Justice’s creation in 2007) should carry out further research to establish the role that electronic monitoring could play in minimising re-offending. The Ministry could not tell us why this did not happen and accepted that this research should have been undertaken before launching the programme. Some basic research was done, but this was very limited.
6.The Ministry pressed ahead with the plan for the new electronic monitoring programme without evidence that it was needed. HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) accepted that the business case for the programme was “shaky” and that it should have been based on a much more solid evidence base and much better research. The Ministry told us that it had not requested a Ministerial Direction since the current Permanent Secretary took his post in September 2015. It could not tell us whether a Ministerial Direction had been requested prior to this. The simple idea of providing tags to monitor offenders was made overly complicated and resulted in a scope and timetable for delivery that was unachievable.
7.The Ministry accepted that it was unprepared for what emerged to be a transformation programme, rather than the simple re-procurement of an existing service. This meant that the programme received severely limited external challenge. The programme wasn’t examined by the Major Projects Authority (now the Infrastructure and Projects Authority) until August 2011. At that point, it proceeded straight to a Gateway 2 review, which focused on the arrangements for conducting the procurement. Earlier reviews would have provided opportunities to examine the justification for the programme and explore whether it was achievable. The Ministry accepted that it was wrong to view the programme as a procurement exercise rather than a transformation programme and that it would have been much better to have earlier reviews of the programme. The Ministry assured us that this situation would not be allowed to happen in future. It told us that it had introduced two new governance mechanisms to better challenge its investment decisions and contract management. A new investment committee in particular will examine business cases for future programmes, the timelines involved and the benefits expected.
8.The Ministry chose a high-risk and unfamiliar procurement strategy by adopting the ‘tower model’ for delivering the programme, which split the end-to-end service into a four-supplier tower structure, with an integrator to bring the four contracts together. The original business case for the programme in 2011 highlighted the ‘tower’ approach as the riskiest procurement strategy owing to the challenge of procuring, integrating and managing multiple contracts and suppliers. The Ministry told us that it chose the approach because at the time it was considered a new and better model of contracting government services. It thought that it would be a good way of providing greater flexibility in electronic monitoring services, particularly in the light of criticism that it was paying too much money for the existing services and not allowing smaller technology firms to enter the market. Although Cabinet Office encouraged the Ministry to adopt the tower approach, the Ministry’s approach to procurement was fundamentally flawed. The Government Digital Service subsequently stated that the model was “not condoned and not in line with government policy”.
9.The Ministry’s decision to adopt a ‘tower’ approach for the programme led to serious difficulties and delays during its delivery which it lacked the capacity and capability to manage. The Ministry of Justice originally expected the new tags to be deployed from November 2013. But the programme has been subject to serious and successive delays, including two failed attempts to procure the new tags. At the time of the NAO’s report in July 2017, the Ministry expected to start rolling out the new tags from the end of 2018. The Ministry told us that owing to further delays, the new tags are now expected in early 2019. The Ministry assured us that it was “absolutely confident” that the programme will succeed, but that it was trying to be more realistic and honest about the timetable for the programme. It asserted that this was a minor slippage which was in part due to its inability to let one of its contracts during the pre-election period. But the NAO report was published after the election, so it is difficult to see how the additional delays can realistically be attributed to this period. The Ministry could not give us a precise date, or specify the month, by which the programme is now expected to deliver. It committed to writing to us and the NAO if there is any further slippage to explain the causes of any further delays and to provide the most up to date timetable for delivery of the programme.
10.During the procurement process, the Ministry discovered that it had been overbilled by the existing suppliers of electronic monitoring services, Serco and G4S. Serco and G4S subsequently re-paid the Ministry £179 million. The case has been referred to the Serious Fraud Office, whose investigation is ongoing. Neither Serco nor G4S were allowed to continue in the procurement for the programme, and the contract for providing field services was awarded to Capita, despite the fact that it had no experience of providing electronic monitoring services. It is not unreasonable to expect the Ministry to know what it is paying for when it has contracted private providers to deliver a service. The Ministry admitted that it should have known what it was paying for and not relied on the new procurement process to uncover issues of overbilling. It accepted that this showed poor contract management and that its oversight of previous contracts for electronic monitoring had been too light. The discovery of the overbilling diverted attention from the procurement process and led to delays as bidding for the new contracts was halted.
11.The Ministry also contracted Capita to be the systems integrator for the programme. As it was responsible for one of the four ‘tower’ contracts, this created a potential conflict of interest within the company. Capita had a single contract with the Ministry for these two parts of the service so the Ministry relied on Capita to put Chinese walls in place between the two teams working on the programme. The potential for conflicts of interest in the programme was exacerbated when Capita also took over the delivery of the existing electronic monitoring services when the contracts were removed from Serco and G4S following their overbilling of the Ministry. The Ministry accepted that in retrospect its arrangements with Capita meant that it did not have sufficient transparency of the services being delivered in other parts of the programme. As a result, the Ministry has brought the role of programme integrator back in-house.
12.The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies described the delivery of the programme as being so shambolic that it resembled an act of sabotage. The Ministry accepted that it had made mistakes in the delivery of the programme so far and that the approach it had used would not be the one it would choose now. It accepted that it should be more ready to use off-the-shelf products where these are already available and appropriate rather than re-inventing the wheel and seeking to develop ground-breaking, untested technology.
13.In response to the problems experienced during the programme, the Ministry has strengthened its commercial and project delivery functions. It told us that it now has more graduates from the Major Projects Leadership Academy than any other Department apart from the Ministry of Defence. Around 100 staff within the Ministry have now either taken part in the Leadership Academy or the project leaders programme run by Cranfield School of Management. Continuity in the leadership of a programme is also crucial to its success. While the programme has been led by five senior responsible owners (SROs) in its six-year life, we were pleased to hear that the current SRO has now been in place for 18 months and remains committed to delivering the programme. The Ministry told us that it was now confident that it had the skills in place to succeed.
1 Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, HC 242, Session 2017–19, 12 July 2017
2 Q 1, paras 1, 1.2, 2.16
3 paras 2–3, 1.2, 1.5
4 Qq 1–5, 39, 99, paras 4, 1.8
5 Qq 1, 5, 11–13, 32, 59−60, Committee of Public Accounts, , Sixty-second Report of Session 2005–06, HC 997, 12 October 2006
6 Qq 1, 5, 10, 12, 17, 20, 89, 94–97
7 Qq 13, 17−21, 99, para 2.2
8 Qq 20−24, 43−43, 59, paras 10, 3.3, 3.25
9 Qq 2−3, 99, 109, paras 4, 1.8−1.10, 2.5
10 Qq 52−56, 59, paras 8, 1.4, 1.9
11 Qq 24, 43, 47, 50−51
12 Qq 5, 19, 39
13 Q 58, 99, 106, para 3.27
23 January 2018