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The agency set up to recoup the ill-gotten gains of criminals lacked the appropriate information systems, according to a group of MPs.

A failure to invest in IT left the Assets Recovery Agency unable to manage either its case load or staff resources adequately. The claim is made in a report from Parliament's committee of public accounts.

Edward Leigh, chair of the committee, said: "The Assets Recovery Agency has done a good job in testing through the courts new powers for recovering the proceeds of crime. But the agency has been successful in little else.

"Its management information systems were in a mess, it prioritised cases badly, and it underestimated the time it would take to pursue them."

The committee found that the agency gave insufficient consideration to its business processes, resulting in basic management failures.

It had no comprehensive database of cases and was unable to provide the National Audit Office (NAO) with a list of all cases under its management.

The agency also decided against spending £300,000 on a staff time recording system, and as a result had no records of the time staff spent on individual cases. This made it difficult to estimate the cost of individual cases, to make informed decisions on which cases to prioritise, and to make the best use of staff resources, says the report.

The Assets Recovery Agency was set up in 2003 to recover assets from criminals. But it recovered only £23m against expenditure of £65m, missing its target to be self-financing by 2005-06.

It is to be disbanded, from April 2008 at the earliest, with its powers and ongoing cases transferring to the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

The committee calls on the agency and its successor to implement new management information systems to provide reliable and easily accessible information on total caseload activity, prioritisation of work, cost of handling cases, productivity of staff and monitoring of how cases progress.

"The Serious Organised Crime Agency will have to learn from these mistakes. Otherwise few criminals will suffer sleepless nights worrying about losing the proceeds of their crimes," said Leigh.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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