Offender tracking project criticised

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A "masterclass in sloppy project management" led to the failure of a huge government computer system designed to track inmates through the prison and probation system, it was claimed yesterday.

Public spending watchdogs attacked spiralling costs and delays in the National Offender Management information system (C-Nomis). The £234m system had been designed to track offenders "end to end" through prison and the probation service. But within two years the C-Nomis project was two years behind schedule and its cost increased to £690m, the National Audit Office found.

Ministers had to step in to scrap the original plans and introduce a simplified system, although that will still cost at least £279m more than the original budget. Auditors warned that the failure of the project was avoidable, with managers at the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) making a string of common mistakes.

Their report said: "Overall, the C-Nomis project was handled badly and the value for money achieved by the project was poor. Many of the causes of the delays and cost overruns could have been avoided with better management of well-known issues."

Edward Leigh, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the project had been a "spectacular failure". He said: "All of this mess could have been avoided if good practice in project management had been followed. A new project team has been brought in. They cannot afford to repeat these kindergarten mistakes."

David Hanson, the Prisons minister, said: "As soon as the extent of the projected costs and delays to the C-Nomis project were recognised, we took immediate steps to halt the project and consider the most cost-effective way forward."