Probation officers are denied handhelds despite big national IT contracts

By Tony Collins

The  Ministry of Justice has been struggling with national IT contracts and suppliers for years.  Are things much better today?  

In 2009 the National Audit Office reported on a project that MP Richard Bacon said was a “checklist of what not to do in a government IT project”.

He was referring to the failure of the National Offender Management Information System – Nomis.

The Home Office launched the project – originally called C-Nomis – in 2004. The aim was to provide a single database of offenders to replace a range of legacy systems.

When the Ministry of Justice was formed in 2007, it took over the project from the Home Office and found that projected costs had risen from £234m to £690m.

The MoJ simplified the plan which was to link various systems on offenders, rather than have the data stored in one place.

Today the National Audit Office has published “Restructuring of the National Offender Management Service” which discloses that suppliers are still struggling with Nomis systems. Indeed the MoJ’s IT suppliers have come up with plans that civil servants found unrealistic, according to today’s NAO report.

The National Offender Management Service is an agency of the Ministry of Justice. It manages 117 public prisons,  the contracts for 14 private prisons, and 43,000 staff in prisons. It commissions and funds services from 35 probation trusts, which in turn oversee 235,000 offenders released into the community.

Says the NAO in today’s report:

“The Agency [National Offender Management Service] estimates the additional costs necessary to resolve defects in legacy information and communications technology projects will be in the region of £12m to £35m in 2012-13.

“In the summer of 2011, the Agency learnt that two of its suppliers were experiencing significant difficulties in meeting agreed delivery dates.

“Both a national case management platform for probation and a national offender risk assessment system, shared between prisons and probation, were in difficulty.

“The suppliers had not understood the complexity of the project requirements when they committed to fixed price contracts, and underestimated the difficulties of migrating data from legacy systems.

“Upon review, the Agency found that suppliers’ plans to resolve these issues were unrealistic.

“The Agency invited the Major Projects Authority to conduct a series of reviews in 2012 on probation information and communications technology projects. A review in April 2012 recognised the Agency’s positive progress throughout the year.

“However, the projects remained high risk and would continue to require a high degree of scrutiny. Problems persist in resolving the projects’ data migration and management information issues.

“These projects are part of the Agency’s National Offender Management Information System, which the NAO previously examined in a value-for-money report in 2009.”

The agency wants to cut IT costs as part of general efficiency savings. But the NAO report says that IT spending is going up. ICT and procurement costs in 2013/14 are projected to be £15m – and £24m the following year.

Probation officers tied to MoJ IT contracts

Probation officers find the MoJ’s IT particularly grim. The NAO found that probation trusts, although semi-autonomous, are tied to the MoJ’s national IT contracts, from which there is no escape.

 Says the NAO:

“… Most of the work of a probation officer is done out in the community, but probation officers must return to their offices to complete paperwork because of Information and Communications Technology restrictions, which trusts regard as an inefficient use of time…

“Probation officers are unable to use handheld devices to allow home working and lower travel costs.”


When it was formed the MoJ was handed a chaotic concoction of IT  from the Home Office in 2007. Things seem to be little improved, judging by NAO reports.

That probation officers who spend most of their time in the community have to go back to the office to do their paperwork because of restrictive national IT contracts is  madness.

It is also odd that the MoJ asked the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority to look, earlier this year, at probation service IT.

What about prison service IT, which is where most of the MoJ’s IT budget goes? Do departments pick and choose what projects they want investigated by the Major Projects Authority?

Anyone who says that central government IT works in the main and should not be tampered with should look at the Ministry of Justice’s IT and its national IT contracts.

Indeed there is still so much wrong with central government IT. Why is change happening so slowly?

NAO – Restructuring of the National Offender Management Service.

Report on C-Nomis – NAO website

Known mistakes repeated on £234m IT system for prisons

Why big government IT projects keep failing – public accounts MP

Failed £234m C-Nomis IT project – ministers not told the full truth

Offender IT is a spectacular failure  

C-Nomis a masterclass in sloppy project management

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