Crack team to scrutinise Whitehall contractors


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The Independent Online

A team of expert number-crunchers is being established in the Ministry of Justice to pore over the numbers of the department’s suppliers in the wake of the electronic tagging scandal.

The analysts will report to senior MoJ mandarins as they look to avoid a repeat of recent experiences with G4S and Serco. Last summer, the contractors were discovered to have charged the department for tagging non-existent prisoners, including some who turned out to be dead.

The scandal was unearthed after a statistician spotted some unusual data. Now a team of what is expected to be around five to 10 people will be dedicated to simply examining on-going contractual figures.

An outsourcing industry insider criticised the move as “duplicating” the role of the Cabinet Office and the Government Procurement Service. However, the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, is determined to avoid another fiasco with suppliers on his watch. G4S only settled the electronic tagging issue with a £108.9m payment to the MoJ last week, while Serco staff have also been investigated by police over alleged fraud on a prison van contract.

Serco is generally considered to have handled the PR of repairing its damaged relationship with Government better than G4S. Last year, executives pledged that Serco would go through a “corporate renewal”, involving the improvement of internal controls, while long-time boss Chris Hyman left in the wake of the fiasco.

G4S had previously offered to repay just £24m in November. Mr Grayling said that the revised settlement was a “good deal for the taxpayer”, but warned that the MoJ could seek more money should a Serious Fraud Office investigation into G4S result in criminal charges.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We have undertaken a major review of contract management to ensure that we have in place robust and accountable systems. We are on track to have new systems and controls in place by the end of March to enable us to be more rigorous in our management of contracts, delivering best possible value for the taxpayer.”