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Offender tracking database could be binned

Costs jump to £950m

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Spiralling costs have prompted an urgent review of the government's new end-to-end National Offender Management Service database, it has been revealed.

The original estimate for the EDS-built system was £234m, but unions reckon that with £155m already spent the project will come in at £950m. The National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) yesterday described the project as "close to collapse".

Among other costs, according to The Times, bean counters neglected to include VAT in their costings.

The new Ministry of Justice audit will determine next month how much of the original specification can be delivered. A cancellation would slap taxpayers with a £50m penalty. Probation service boss Roger Hill said: "We expect that the revised programme will inevitably involve a reduction in the planned functionality and scope of the system."

The database was ordered in 2004 and is intended to monitor more than 80,000 criminals across prisons and probation services nationally. The aim was to reduce reoffending by providing better integrated support in finding employment and housing.

Trials on the Isle of Wight and in Northamptonshire have been beset with difficulties, and the full implementation date has already slipped to 2009, a target that now seems in jeopardy.

NAPO and the Prison Governors' Association both reacted with disappointment to the development, criticising the government. Charles Bushell, the general secretary of the Prison Governors' Association, said: "Many of us who have been critical of the extravagant expenditure of the National Offender Management Service had seen [the database] as the one real benefit on the otherwise bloated National Offender Management Service agenda." ®

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