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MPs give offender system drubbing in scathing report

Government cannot explain where the millions went

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The Public Accounts Commitee, the funding watchdog, has reported back on its investigation into the failed National Offender Management System - which was abandoned in 2007 after wasting millions of pounds - without pulling any punches.

The EDS-run project was effectively gutted two years ago - it will now, hopefully, provide three databases rather than one, by 2011 at a cost of £513m.

The original spec was for a single database for all offenders at a cost of £234m. It originally aimed to create a single database with an individual record for every offender at every stage of the justice process which would be used by prison service and probation service.

The Committee found the same depressing roll call of faults that dog so many government IT projects in the UK. There were no cost or progress checks for the first three years of the project. The "Senior Responsible Owner" - meant to carry the can throughout the life of the project - had no project management experience, which meant that NOMS cannot explain in any detail how or where the £161m was spent.

The relevant government departments had a "good news culture", so senior managers did not challenge the promises they were given by vendors.

No individual took key decisions or responsibility for the failure.

The report is robust in its criticism of the failed project. It said:

C-NOMIS is a singular example of comprehensively poor project management, and roll out of the re-scoped programme has only just begun. The C-NOMIS project, initially envisaged by the Home Office for delivery in January 2008 for £234 million, was stopped in August 2007 because costs had trebled. The NOMIS programme was revised and scaled back to three offender databases for £513 million, for delivery by 2011.

The Committee warned that despite assurances from NOMS it remained concerned that the reduced project would fail.

The PAC report, available here, reflects almost exactly the verdict given by the National Audit Office. The NAO report described the running of the project as a "masterclass in sloppy management".

It said the failure could have been avoided if the "basic priniciples and existing good practice had been followed". ®

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