Regulation

Prison IT System Branded “A Shambles”

The Public Accounts Committee has condemned the handling of the National Offender Management Information System, designed to track prisoners.

The government’s IT project to create a shared database of offenders across all of the UK’s prisons and probation services has been described by the Public Accounts Committee as “a shambles” and a “prime example of how not to develop a project”.

“There was not even a minimum level of competence in the planning and execution of this project,” said Chairman Edward Leigh, MP and chair of the public accounts committee, in a statement. “The scale and complexity of what had to be delivered were underestimated; a culture of over-optimism held sway, not subject to rigorous and sceptical challenge; costs were grossly underestimated; there was a lack of capacity and experience among senior staff; and too much reliance was placed on a few key individuals.”

The Home Office started developing the National Offender Management Information System (C-NOMIS) in 2004, with the intention of launching the service in January 2008. The project was supposed to cost £234 million and would track offenders throughout the criminal justice system. However, by July 2007, when the Ministry of Justice took over the programme, projected costs had risen from £234 million to £690million.

“Costs and progress were not monitored or reported for the first 3 years after the inception of C-NOMIS, in part because the first Senior Responsible Owner overseeing the project did not have relevant project experience or training,” said the Public Accounts Committee. It also revealed that NOMS, the national offender management service set up to manage the project in 2004, “Cannot say in detail what £161 million to October 2007 was spent on.”

The programme’s replacement, NOMIS, was scaled down to three offender databases costing £513 million for delivery by 2011, but by March this year costs had already spiralled to more than £500 million. At that point the National Audit Office estimated that the full financial impact of the delays was likely to be at least £41 million.

In its 40th report published yesterday, the Public Accounts Committee said: “It is deeply depressing that after numerous highly critical PAC reports on IT projects in recent years the same mistakes have occurred once again.”

Leigh demanded that NOMS provide evidence of the programme’s “substantial progress” to a future hearing of the Committee. NOMS is confident that it has implemented the changes needed to deliver the revised NOMIS programme by 2011, even though contracts with suppliers still require further negotiation.

According to the Prison Service, steps have been taken to ensure that the mistakes made are not repeated. “The work done so far has not been lost but is being used as the basis of the revised NOMIS programme,” said a Spokesman.