Wednesday, 24 January 2018

More on Tagging Omnishambles 3

The Public Accounts Committee have today published another scathing report on the tagging fiasco. Regular readers of this blog have become very familiar with the extraordinary incompetence of the MoJ in general and their contracting ability in particular. What I now want to know is, how can it be that the chief civil servants such as Michael Spurr can not only keep his job, but in the recent past, be eligible for bonuses? 

Simple idea made overly ambitious, overly complicated and poorly delivered

Offender-monitoring tags can be a cost-effective alternative to custodial sentences, but the Ministry of Justice's delivery of the new generation electronic monitoring programme so far has been fundamentally flawed.

The simple idea of replacing the contracts for electronic tags was made overly ambitious, overly complicated and has been poorly delivered. The programme has so far been a catastrophic waste of public money which has failed to deliver the intended benefits.

The Ministry pressed ahead with the programme without clear evidence that it was to be operated or that it was deliverable. Its selection of a high-risk approach to procure the new electronic tags, and its poor management of both the programme and potential suppliers, exacerbated these problems.

Huge amount of time and taxpayers' money wasted

The Ministry of Justice has ultimately wasted a huge amount of time and taxpayers' money to end up with an approach which uses the same types of tags and supplier it had when the programme started.

Many of the lessons the Ministry claims to have learned are simply common sense and should not have resulted in such a shambolic delivery of an important programme.

We welcome the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service's realism and candour, but this situation should not have been allowed to happen in the first place. We do not expect to see similar failings in any of the other 16 major projects currently being undertaken by the Ministry of Justice.

Deputy Chair's comment

Comment from Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, Deputy Chair of the Committee:

"The Ministry of Justice took an all-singing, all-dancing approach to what could have been a relatively simple procurement exercise. The evidence to support a wholesale transformation of the tagging system was weak at best but the Ministry pushed ahead anyway. This ill-fated adventure in the possibilities of technology has so far costed taxpayers some £60 million.

The new tags are expected to be rolled out more than five years later than planned and, even then, the system will rely on the same form of technology that was available when the programme launched.

The Ministry accepts it got this badly wrong but admitting its failures does not excuse an approach that disregarded fundamental principles we would expect to see applied in the spending of public money. It must act on lessons learned from this programme. We urge it to demonstrate a commitment to doing so by publishing details of the steps it is taking to avoid such wasteful mistakes in future."


Conclusions and recommendations

1.The Ministry of Justice’s unjustified and overly ambitious scope for the programme has proved to be undeliverable. The Ministry of Justice (the Ministry) told us that it had been “startled and stunned” by the over-optimism of the original project. It accepted that not enough research was done before the programme was approved and that it should have piloted the programme. The programme received limited external challenge because at the time it was seen as just a simple re-procurement of an existing service. Earlier reviews would have provided opportunities to examine the justification for the programme and explore whether it was achievable. This combination of failures resulted in requirements for the programme that were far too ambitious, including the development of a bespoke tag, and a timetable for delivery that was unachievable. The Ministry 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. 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 commercial and contract management.

Recommendation: The Ministry should ensure that it has a full understanding of the complexity and deliverability of futureprogrammes and that estimates are tested for optimism bias and subject to proper levels of external challenge.

2.The Ministry’s weak management of the programme meant that it failed to spot and manage problems. The Ministry had a fundamental lack of knowledge of electronic monitoring services or how they operated when the programme started as the service had always been outsourced. Yet it chose the highest risk procurement strategy in adopting the ‘tower model’ for delivering the programme. This split the end-to-end service into a four-supplier ‘tower’ structure, with an integrator to bring the four contracts together. The Ministry was unprepared for what emerged to be a transformation programme rather than a simple re-procurement. It lacked the capacity and capability to manage the difficulties and delays that it created. The Ministry discovered during the procurement process that it had been overbilled by the existing suppliers of electronic monitoring services, which better contract management by the Ministry would have addressed. This has resulted in a repayment of £179 million from Serco and G4S. This matter has been referred to the Serious Fraud Office. The programme lacked continuous leadership, having been led by five senior responsible owners (SROs) in its six-year life. The Ministry now recognises that the model it had adopted will not deliver the system that it wants. It has brought the integrator function in-house and strengthened its commercial and project delivery functions. The Ministry accepted that its oversight of the early stages of the programme and previous contracts for electronic monitoring had been too light but told us that it was confident that it now had the skills to succeed.

Recommendation: The Ministry should ensure that it puts the right skills in place to properly oversee future projects from their outset and keeps them there, particularly those being delivered by private contractors.

3.We are deeply concerned that, despite the programme already running five years late, further delays are now expected. The Ministry 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 Nation Audit Office’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 to be ready in early 2019. While the Ministry assured us that it was “absolutely confident” that the programme will succeed, we remain to be convinced that the programme will be delivered to the new timetable.

Recommendation: The Ministry should, by the end of March 2018, write to the Committee with a full breakdown of the timetablefor the programme, and write to us with details of any further slippage as the programme progresses.

4.The Ministry of Justice’s approach to involving small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the programme meant that they were set up to fail. The decision to adopt a ‘tower’ structure for the programme was driven in part by the Ministry’s aim to increase competition and participation by small and medium sized enterprises. But the terms it imposed on SMEs were unreasonable and its approach ultimately failed. The Ministry appointed an SME, Buddi, as its preferred bidder to develop and produce the new tags in August 2013, but ended the company’s involvement in March 2014 after being unable to resolve fundamental differences. In particular, the Ministry expected Buddi to hand over its intellectual property for nothing. Also, different companies in the supply chain were supposed to work with each other but there was no contractual relationship between them, only with the Ministry. It contracted another SME, Steatite, to develop and produce the tags in July 2014, despite the fact Steatite had scored below the minimum benchmark in the procurement. The Ministry ended its contract with Steatite in November 2015 after growing delays to the programme. The Ministry failed to adapt its approach to help smaller suppliers, or to take into account their more limited staffing arrangements and financial resources. The Ministry told us that it regretted that it had been unable to agree a contract with Buddi, and accepted that it would have been better to re-open the procurement exercise rather than to rely on Steatite as the last remaining bidder. We were concerned that this programme is a bad advertisement for SMEs working with government and extremely damaging to SMEs’ confidence in government programmes.

Recommendation: The Ministry of Justice should, by March 2018, write to the Committee with details of where it has adapted its approach to working with SMEs to ensure that they are able to participate in similar projects in future.

5.The programme has so far failed to deliver the intended benefits and potentially undermined confidence in electronic monitoring services, wasting at least £9 million of taxpayers’ money. The Ministry spent £60 million on the programme up to the end of March 2017, yet still relies on the service that was available when the programme started in 2011. The costs it has incurred so far include paying Steatite £4.4 million (plus VAT) in compensation for ending its contract for the programme, on top of the £3.3 million (plus VAT) paid during Steatite’s contract. The programme was originally expected to reduce the cost of tagging by between £9 million and £30 million a year but has failed to deliver any tangible benefits so far. The Ministry over-estimated the number of people who would be subject to tagging. The number of offenders who are subject to tagging orders has been falling and is now well below expectations, which could suggest that confidence in electronic monitoring has been undermined. The Ministry of Justice does not know why the take-up of offender tagging has declined. It told us that it was working with stakeholders so that they better understand the role of tags to ensure that they are used more fully as an alternative to custodial sentences where it is appropriate to do so.

Recommendation: The Ministry should, by the end of March 2018, write to the Committee with an update on how it is working with decision makers in the criminal justice system to ensure they have confidence in the electronic monitoring service and understand their options to use tagging as an effective alternative to custody.

6.The Ministry has paid dearly to learn lessons which should have been common sense, and we are not assured that this situation could not happen again. We were not convinced that the Ministry should have paid such a high cost to learn the lessons it described. The fundamental over-ambition of the programme should have been self-evident. The Ministry accepted that it did not have sufficient knowledge of electronic monitoring services or how they operated as they had always been outsourced. It told us that it was now piloting GPS tagging to understand better where decision makers within the system will choose to use location monitoring as a sentencing option. The pilots should have been undertaken at the beginning of the procurement process, not four years later. The Ministry asserted that it was learning lessons from the pilots which will inform the future delivery of the programme, but it did not explain what these were or how they would change the programme in practice. The Ministry currently has 16 major projects in addition to electronic monitoring, almost all of which are rated as amber or less in terms of confidence in their ability to deliver.

Recommendation: The Ministry should, by the end of March 2018, publish the lessons it has learned from the programme and how it has used these to improve delivery of its current portfolio of programmes.


  1. From the Independent:-

    The Government has wasted millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on “fundamentally flawed” plans to redesign the electronic tags worn by criminals, an influential committee of MPs has said.

    The Public Accounts Committee accused ministers of a “catastrophic waste of public money” over the “shambolic” introduction of the new tags, which is already five years over schedule.

    The Ministry of Justice admitted it had made failings during the process, which has so far cost £60m, including at least £7.7m of unrecoverable losses. It said steps have been taken to ensure the mistakes are not repeated.

    The controversy stems from Conservative plans, first announced in 2011, to upgrade the electronic tags used by police and other authorities to monitor an offender’s location and ensure they are meeting conditions such as curfews.

    Conservative MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, deputy chair of the PAC, said: “The Ministry of Justice took an all-singing, all-dancing approach to what could have been a relatively simple procurement exercise.

    “The evidence to support a wholesale transformation of the tagging system was weak at best but the Ministry pushed ahead anyway. This ill-fated adventure in the possibilities of technology has so far costed taxpayers some £60 million."

  2. "The Ministry over-estimated the number of people who would be subject to tagging. The number of offenders who are subject to tagging orders has been falling and is now well below expectations, which could suggest that confidence in electronic monitoring has been undermined."

    Luckily the MoJ has come up with a wheeze to deal with the under-use problem - remove all professional assessment from HDC decisions and shove as many prisoners out on tag as possible, suitability be damned! So what if it leads to more offending, breaches and recalls? Can't have the contractors' volumes hit!

  3. Get something wrong in work and there is usually some accountability. For the governing classes there are, however, different norms – from John Prescott getting a peerage for his sexual dalliance with his secretary, to wasting millions of taxpayers' money – money which could have been spent on useful things. While we constantly hear about vital support services being cutback or closed, we also constantly read about government departments' profligate spending on ill-thought-out projects. And departmental leaders later sit in front of select committees and harp on about their prudence, value for money and departmental expertise. It's no wonder the populace become disillusioned with leaders who have the look of self-serving elites, who prosper no matter how often they do stupid things that harm the public interest.

    This government rants on about the need to increase productivity while it fritters away money. The message that gets through is that our rulers have feet of clay – they are out for themselves and their friends in business. Their governance has more in common with the mafia than democratic accountability.

    1. The Tories treat the offices of state as their own personal lego set. It's OK to break things and flitter away taxpayers money. Public sector losses are after all become private companies gains.
      Work is the best route out of poverty they tell us, and today they announce a further fall in unemployment.
      Yet it puzzles me as to why the further the unemployment figures falls, the use of food banks and personal debt rises. It's OK for the MoJ to waste billions but the rest of us have to pay and keep paying.
      Just before Christmas I got a £80 fixed penalty for discarding a cigarette end. Imposed by a private company. I contested it but it's now got to over £200.
      Just before Christmas also I received a letter from the DWP (run by privateers) wanting over £500 for an unpaid loan. I phoned up and discovered it related to 1997. It was actually a community care grant (not repayable) I'd been given after a short period in custody. However, it was now somehow recorded as a lone, and the onus was on me to provide documentation to prove otherwise. From 20years ago? I'm still paying it.
      And this morning I received a summons for none payment of council tax to the amount of £25 plus a £28 fee for the summons being issued. If I don't pay before the summons date I get a liability order and some private company will make hundreds out of me.
      But the MoJ can waste billions without consequence, no penalty and a shrug of the shoulders makes everything alright again.
      We have a dirty government.


    2. Commiserations 'Getafix - I ended up paying bailiffs' fees for a parking charge I did not believe I owed after being overwhelmed with the paperwork as I had appeals rejected and the expected County Court Summons never arrived.

      So much for local Justice

      - the County Court - involved who somehow issued a warrant for the bailiffs without giving me an opportunity to appear was actually four counties and over a hundred miles away.

      I feel ashamed that England & Wales has such an unfair Justice system - I could not even get through on the phone to a person at the court.

      Decades ago - I would not infrequently help unravel some of the complexities that can occur for probation clients - I gave up in exasperation on my own account.

      I hope 'Getafix finds a way out and that we get a Corbyn style Government who can humanise the Justice system again - but it will take a long time.

    3. Getafix, I feel for you. Something similar happened to a client when he missed paying £12 off his fine because of the delays moving onto Universal Credit. I tried to ring the private collection company (the Court had passed the debt on within two weeks of default). His nearly £300 was now nearly £3,000 and for the first time in my career, the private company rejected any offer of payment in installments. We contacted CAB who advised us to sit tight and let the case be taken back to Court because there is a serious error with Universal Credit that it is not recognised as a benefit and the usual '£5 a week' deducted at source doesn't apply. The bailiffs went to the lads house and agreed he had absolutely nothing and there was nothing they could take. It went to Court, the client had all the evidence that he had tried to pay the bill, including a letter from me. The judge reset the fine amount to the original level and he started making his regular payments again.

  4. I don't want to come across as misty-eyed about the new prison minister, but I thought Rory Stewart intends to be hands-on and ensure that where HMIP recommendations are made, they are implemented and identified individuals in the bureaucracy are held to account. It's early days but he doesn't spout the usual defensive bullshit.

  5. The Ministry of justice clearly dosent have a clue. It's failed across the board to deliver anything that could be described as remotely success and wasted eye-watering amounts of public finance.
    Should it not just be disbanded? Put everything back under the remit of the Home Office?

    1. My experience of his academic work is that he is very flexible with the 'facts' in order to suit his own conclusions. Doesn't bode well

  6. The Worboy's hysteria is set to continue. But watching the BBC three-parter on tyrannical Saudi Arabia, the case of the Saudi prince who murdered his servant resonates. He is now back in Saudi, though he keeps a low profile and no one knows if he's actually in prison. This from the Telegraph in 2013,

    'Prince Saud bin Abdulaziz Bin Nasir, a grandson of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah II, was jailed in 2010 for killing Bandar Abdullah Abdulaziz at their five-star hotel suite in London. He was convicted at the Old Bailey, after the court heard he had subjected his aide to a "sadistic" campaign of violence and sexual abuse, which culminated in the "brutal" assault. The 36-year-old, a member of one of the world's richest and most powerful dynasties, was told he must serve a minimum term of 20 years in jail for the Valentine's Day night out attack, fuelled by champagne and "Sex on the Beach" cocktails.

    Today, government sources confirmed that Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, had approved the prince's transfer to a jail in Saudi Arabia. '

    He served three years in British jails before being transferred. There was no great outrage about him effectively being sprung from jail.

  7. More MoJ omnishambles will be revealed tomorrow when the safety in prisons statistics are released.


      For comparison as & when...

  8. It is not just the politicians. It is all their helpers too! All the bureaucrats. And not just the MOJ. It's the entire set-up. All singing from the same depressing hymn sheet. They should all go. Every department.

    1. Yorkshire Post sums things up well.

  9. From F.T

    Ministers are coming under increased pressure to release risk assessments on Carillion made in the months before the contractor’s collapse.

    The Labour opposition has used an obscure piece of Parliamentary procedure to try and force the government to publish how they perceived the condition of all 30 or so “strategic suppliers” to the state.

    This “motion for a return” was passed by default on Wednesday night without a vote in the House of Commons.
    In theory the device — lifted straight from Erskine May, the ancient Parliamentary handbook — should now give MPs the power to force ministers to release government papers to the Commons public accounts committee.

    Labour played a similar manoeuvre late last year, successfully forcing the government to produce its controversial “Brexit impact assessment” papers.

    David Lidington, Cabinet Office secretary, earlier signalled he would try to resist the move, telling MPs that such assessments were commercially sensitive.

    1. He told the Commons he would share with MPs on the PAC any information that could reasonably help with their planned inquiryinto the fate of Carillion, but cautioned: “The information contained is highly commercially sensitive . . . the government also have obligations to ensure information is not put in a public place where that would not be proper.”

      Ministers would need to think about the impact, “for good or ill”, of making the documents public, he said, given that some of the information was “highly commercially sensitive”.

      There could be negative implications for suppliers and for jobs across the country — as well as legal obligations that could be breached, Mr Lidington said.

      “If the motion is passed, I will seek to discuss with the chair of the public accounts committee the best way to make information available to her while also ensuring that genuine risks are minimised,” he said.

    2. Jon Trickett, Labour’s Cabinet Office spokesman, said the government had tried to pre-empt the debate by writing to MPs earlier in the day naming six companies that would take over the running of Carillion’s public sector contracts.

      “The list is clear evidence that Tories have learnt nothing,” he said — pointing out that the list included various companies with questionable histories.

      “One of them amazingly is currently being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office ‘for suspected offences of bribery and corruption’. One has previously been caught red-handed mispricing contracts . . . One uses companies in the Cayman Islands as a mechanism to avoid paying over $500m in taxes in the US . . . One co-owns a firm which reportedly abused and exploited migrant labourers in Qatar,” he claimed.

      Ministers have insisted they were aware of Carillion’s problems, saying officials were in close contact with the group through its profit warnings in 2017. Critics have pointed out, however, that it gave the company multiple contracts during the period.

    3. Can the excuse of commercial sensitivity be used when the company in question doesn't actually exist anymore?

  10. In the meantime, what is happening about our wages,terms and conditions.Last November NAPO said it was seeking a meeting with the minister.Has it happened? Is it due to happen? We are almost at the point of them publishing yet another magnificent claim for the year ahead whilst some of us have still had nothing from last year despite the profligacy of the ministry to all and sundry except their employees

  11. Of course GPS tagging is obsolete. Smartphones are used in other jurisdictions for the same purpose and do more and the cost is very low.

    Could it be that because inconveniance for the user is very low is the reason they are not used.