Government lost £98m amid failings with electronic tagging project – report

The failure to carry out a ‘fundamental transformation’ of the scheme has cost the taxpayer millions of pounds, the National Audit Office said.

Whitehall’s spending watchdog has warned that the Government does not know if electronically tagging criminals is helping to cut reoffending because of failings with the system (PA)
Whitehall’s spending watchdog has warned that the Government does not know if electronically tagging criminals is helping to cut reoffending because of failings with the system (PA)

The Government does not know if electronically tagging criminals is helping to cut reoffending because of failings with the system, Whitehall’s spending watchdog has warned.

The failure to carry out a “fundamental transformation” of the scheme has also cost the taxpayer millions of pounds, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

It said the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) has not managed to improve the system as intended and “has lost £98 million trying to do so”.

HMPPS has extended tagging to new groups of offenders, but it has not achieved the fundamental transformation of tagging services it intended. Significant work remains to strengthen the evidence base and understand the impact of electronic monitoring on reoffending

Gareth Davies, National Audit Office

In 2011, the department set out to overhaul the tagging system in a bid to make it operate better and make it more efficient, but this has been “unsuccessful because HMPPS has failed to deliver a new case management system”, according to a report.

It said: “HMPPS has had to rely on old and outdated technology and fundamental inefficiencies in tagging services remain unresolved. The current system requires staff to re-enter information manually, which is slower and more prone to error.”

The new case management system – called Gemini – was “intended to improve data, streamline processes and save money” but the decision was taken in August 2021 to terminate the contract with Capita, the company tasked with developing it.

Without Gemini, information on journeys taken by offenders is “limited” and “the poor quality data means that HMPPS still does not have evidence as to whether electronic monitoring is effective in reducing reoffending or in diverting offenders from prison.”

“Unresolved issues” with Gemini meant cancelling the contract was “the best decision to take at the time”, but scrapping the project cost taxpayers £98 million, the report said. Some £153 million was spent on the programme between 2011/12 and 2021/22.

According to the findings, both HMPPS and Capita “contributed to severe delays” for the transformation programme.

“By the time the contract for Gemini was terminated, the programme was already 18 months late against its original, over-optimistic timetable,” the report said.

“An external review of the programme found that HMPPS did not intervene early enough to resolve issues across the suppliers involved in the programme, and there was a breakdown in trust and collaboration which led to three formal disputes between HMPPS and Capita, most recently due to delays.”

Since the transformation project for electronic monitoring came to an end this March, the MoJ has widened its use of tagging to more criminals and “achieved positive outcomes in its alcohol monitoring service, reporting offenders’ high sobriety rates while on tag”.

But plans for HMPPS and the Home Office to monitor foreign criminals using smart watches, which capture biometric data, have been delayed because the operating system “did not meet Government cyber-security standards”, the report added.

This soft-on-crime Conservative Government is letting criminals off and letting victims down through its incompetence

Shadow justice minister Ellie Reeves

Head of the NAO Gareth Davies said: “HMPPS has extended tagging to new groups of offenders, but it has not achieved the fundamental transformation of tagging services it intended.

“Significant work remains to strengthen the evidence base and understand the impact of electronic monitoring on reoffending.

“HMPPS must learn lessons so it can deliver a reliable, responsive and cost-effective service that protects the public.”

Shadow justice minister Ellie Reeves described the findings as “yet more evidence … this soft-on-crime Conservative Government is letting criminals off and letting victims down through its incompetence”, adding: “Labour would put an end to the Tories’ waste of public finances and get a grip on our justice system to stop it lurching from one crisis to another.”

An MoJ spokeswoman said: “Innovative GPS and sobriety tags are helping us to crack down on crime, from alcohol-fuelled violence to burglary.

“The decision to stop work on this back-office system means we can invest savings into doubling the number of offenders tagged by 2025.”

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