UK Home Office's £885m crim records digi effort: A 'masterclass in incompetence'

Watchdog not happy with Emergency Services Network, either

The UK government's digitization of its Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) – a system for checking criminal records – is "a masterclass in incompetence," according to a damning report by the government's spending watchdog.

In a dossier published today, Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the modernisation programme was yet another example of a Home Office project "marred by poor planning, delays, spiralling costs, and a failure to understand what service users want".

The programme is over four years late and costs are expected to be £229m more than the £656m initially planned. It has seen just a fraction of the demand expected by the Home Office in 2012.

The DBS enables employers to check people's background against police databases such as criminal records and government lists of people considered unsuitable to work with children or vulnerable adults.

After the functions of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and the Independent Safeguarding Authority were merged in 2012 to create the DBS, the body embarked on a "modernisation programme".

That was supposed to improve the service offered to customers by moving away from a paper-based system to one that is digital, aka on the internet.

The government had contracted Tata Consultancy Service (TCS) to design, build and run a new IT system for the provision of DBS and transition existing services, including the update service, from Capita.

But instead of providing savings, DBS is charging customers £13 a year for the update service instead of the £10 expected in 2012. DBS is holding onto cash generated from the rest of the services it provides, building up a surplus of £114m at the expense of its customers.

"The Home Office and TCS now accept that, when the contract was signed in 2012, no one had a good enough understanding of what it would take to make the programme successful," said the report.

The contract specified 450 requirements for business processes and 1,350 requirements for the IT system.

Modernisation

DBS is now negotiating with TCS to deliver the programme, including agreeing a date for when modernisation will be complete. There is a strong risk that they may run out of time before the contract ends in March 2019, said the report.

A TCS spokesman told The Register: "TCS and DBS are discussing the recommendations made by the PAC and will incorporate these, as appropriate and feasible, in the remainder of the modernisation plan."

PAC head Meg Hillier said: "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.

"These are testing times for the Home Office. We continue to have serious concerns about its largest project, the Emergency Service Network, which is critical to the ability of our emergency services to do their jobs and keep citizens safe.

"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."

The PAC has previously warned the Home Office that the UK border could be left exposed after Brexit as departments have failed to plan for new IT systems.

Separately, DBS has taken a gamble by opting to use the Government Digital Service's floundering online ID system authentication portal Verify. ®

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