A £656m government scheme to upgrade the UK’s criminal records checks system has been branded a “masterclass in incompetence” in a damning Commons report.
The Home Office project to modernise the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) has been marred by poor planning, delays and spiralling costs after it was outsourced to a private consultancy, said the Public Accounts Committee.
The programme is more than four years late and costs are expect overshoot its budget by £229m, the report added.
“Government has a crucial role to play in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults but the handling of this project has been a masterclass in incompetence,” said PAC chairwoman Meg Hillier. “None of the cost-saving and service benefits set out in the original business case have been achieved.”
In 2012, the government contracted Tata Consultancy Services to design, build and run a new IT system that would modernise DBS and move its services away from a paper-based system.
The project was expected to be completed by June 2014 but it was delayed from the start and the DBS was forced to extend a contact with its previous contactor, Capita, by two years.
The modernisation is still not complete, while the expected total cost has soared from £656m to £885m.
It is not clear when Tata now expects to complete the project and the PAC said there was “a strong risk that they may run out of time before the contract ends in March 2019”.
A new feature introduced to make it easier to check for updates to records has received only a “fraction” of the demand expected due to “a failure to understand what service users want”, added the report.
It said the project “has not delivered the promise of a cheaper, better safeguarding service for customers”.
It added: “Negotiations affecting the future of DBS are under way and government must monitor these carefully,” said Ms Hillier. “It then needs to be straight with Parliament and the public about what, if any, benefits it expects to materialise by the time DBS’s contract with Tata Consultancy Service ends.”
Four million disclosures were issued by DBS in 2016/17, of which 260,000, or 6.1 per cent, contained information that was “potentially relevant to safeguarding”, according to figures published by Whitehall’s spending watchdog earlier this year.
The PAC said it also had “serious concerns” about the implementation of the Emergency Services Network (ESN), the new communication system that will be used by the UK’s police, paramedics services and fire crews.
The £1.2 billion system, which has been contracted to EE, is scheduled to launch next year but in February the committee criticised progress as “deeply unsatisfactory”.
Ms Hillier said: “These are testing times for the Home Office. The department also faces huge challenges arising from the UK’s departure from the EU – not least, potential threats to security at the border from day one of Brexit.
“On both DBS and ESN the Home Office appears either to have ignored or not fully understood the needs of the end user. It does not fill us with confidence that all is rosy on the department’s other major projects. Although we received verbal assurances that they are running smoothly, these are not enough.
“We expect the Home Office to demonstrate that, when things go wrong, it has learned from and is acting on the lessons.”
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