Wednesday 12 July 2017

NAO says MoJ handled ankle tag programme badly

Auditor’s report points to excessive ambition, clumsy procurement and long delays in introducing new tech for electronic monitoring of offenders

Whitehall’s central auditor has come down hard on the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for a series of failures in its programme for a new generation of electronic monitoring of offenders.

Electronic tag on ankle - with bright socksThe National Audit Office (NAO) has published a report on the programme that says it has endured a five-year delay and not yet come close to achieving value for money, with a cost estimate of £130 million by 2024-25 and projected running costs of £470 million between 2017-25.

In addition, the number of offenders ankle tagged in 2016-17 is estimated at less than 65,000, well below the initial forecast of 160,000-220,000.

The report says the MoJ pursued an overly ambitious strategy that was not grounded in evidence, and failed to deliver against its vision.

The programme began in 2011 when the ministry decided to expand its electronic monitoring service, which had been running since 1999, by developing a new ankle tag. This would combine the traditional radio frequency (RF) transmissions, which indicate whether an offender is in their home in line with a curfew order, with a new global positioning system (GPS) capability to keep track of their location at all times.

No clear case

But the NAO says the MoJ did not establish a clear case for the expansion, set out bespoke requirements for new ankle tags that were over-ambitious, and set an unachievable timescale of just 15 months from the signing of the contract for the tags in August 2012.

It also structured its procurement badly, opting for a ‘tower’ delivery model that incorporated contracts with four separate suppliers who would provide four different elements of the service, with their work pulled together by a contracted integrator.

This did not work well. The MoJ disagreed with its first preferred bidder over intellectual property and handling the data from the tags, and there were shortcomings in the contract with Capita, which was integrating the work of other suppliers, that caused problems and ultimately led the ministry to take the work in-house.

Subsequently the new tags have still not been deployed, with the latest timetable set for a six-month roll out beginning at the end of 2018 – five years after the original target date.

The report offers some hope for the ministry, saying it has learned from its previous failings. It now has more stable leadership of the programme, has changed its approach to buying tags that are already on the market – with G4S now the preferred bidder for their supply – and has set the new timetable.

Remaining risk

But major risks remain. Achieving an effective monitoring service without relying on a contracted integrator will require the MoJ to be much more closely involved than before in integrating the end-to-end service. It will have to build and sustain its technical and programme management capabilities to effectively perform this expanded role.

To deal with this, the NAO says the MoJ should avoid asking for additional uses for the tags until the core services of curfew and location monitoring are in place, and needs to develop a robust evidence base for future decisions.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The case for a huge expansion of electronic monitoring using GPS was unproven, but the Ministry of Justice pursued an overly ambitious and high risk strategy anyway. Ultimately it has not delivered.

“After abandoning its original plans, the ministry’s new service will now, ironically, be much closer to its existing one. Even if it launches in 2018, it will still be five years late.

“The ministry has learnt costly lessons from its failings but significant risks still remain.”

Image by Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick, CC BY-SA 3.0 through Wikimedia