Public Services > Justice

NAO critical of timeline and “towers” approach to MoJ tagging revamp

Neil Merrett Published 12 July 2017

After at least five years of delays to the ministry's electronic monitoring programme, improvements are now being made to the multi-contract tagging solution, yet “major risks” remain


A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) strategy to expand use of GPS electronic monitoring tagging has failed to deliver its intended benefits, with particular concern noted over the use of a high risk multi-contract “towers” strategy, the National Audit Office (NAO) has concluded .

In a new report looking at the 'new generation electronic monitoring programme', the national auditor was critical of the department's approach to the project. 

Although launched in 2013, the new tagging system is not expected to launch until at least early 2018, with the MoJ still making use of legacy technology in its place after multiple procurements.  An estimated £60m has so far been spent on the project that aimed to move away from radio frequency (RF) transmission used to monitor home curfew in favour of wide-scale adoption of GPS.

Just this week, G4S was unveiled as the new supplier of the tagging equipment that will support its electronic monitoring services as the company continues to face a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation alongside Serco over their handling of previous arrangements for tags.  No timeline has been set for when the SFO investigation, which was launched in 2013, will conclude.

“The Ministry has now appointed G4S as preferred bidder for the tags. It expects the new tags to be deployed from the end of 2018, completing roll-out six months later,” said the report.

In an overview of the programme's management, criticism was raised by the NAO over a variety of factors around the original scope of the project.  This included the initial 15 month implementation timeline plan that was due to commence in August 2012 and include testing, manufacture and employment of the tagging equipment.

However, the NAO said the contracts were not signed until July 2014 due to the discovery of suspected overbilling by G4S and Serco and two failed procurements for tags including a contract for a bespoke solution that was terminated last year in favour of an off the shelf alternative.

Having failed to so far achieve the intended value for money benefits, NAO head Sir Amyas Morse concluded that the ministry pursued an “overly ambitious” plan to introduce a huge expansion of monitoring using GPS technology that has failed to deliver.  The auditor general also argued the original case to switch to wide-scale GPS adoption to monitor individuals was unproven.

“After abandoning its original plans, the ministry’s new service will now, ironically, be much closer to its existing one. Even if it launches in 2018, it will still be five years late. The ministry has learnt costly lessons from its failings but significant risks still remain,” he said.

Particular concern was raised over the decision to divide provision of the solution into four separate contracts with the aim of curbing reliance on a single supplier for the provision of a critical technology solution.

The NAO noted that under the so-called “towers model” approach, the MoJ sought to appoint a single supplier to serve as an integrator that would coordinate the work of the other contractors to provide an end-to-end electronic monitoring service.

“The Ministry’s original 2011 business case recognised that this approach posed the highest risk, due to the challenge of integrating the service,” stated the report. “However, at the time it was promoted by the centre of government. In February 2015, the Government Digital Service (GDS) stated that this tower model was 'not condoned and not in line with government policy'.”

According to the NAO's findings, Whitehall had since indicated a shift away from the towers model of procurement over perceived difficulties in transferring responsibilities to the integrator.  The report also noted fears about difficulties integrating components and technology that may not be compatible with the wider system as a result of the towers approach.

Despite these complications, the report found that the ministry had opted against restarting the tagging project and chose instead to improve its multi-supplier approach, a decision the department viewed as the “least bad” option for proceeding with an overhaul of tagging technology.

Despite welcoming improvements being made to the strategy, which was viewed by Whitehall's major projects watchdog as improving delivery confidence, the auditor general said major risks were still identified in the new approach that opts to curb the need for a contracted integrator.

The MoJ is now anticipated to have to be more closely involved in handling the integrated end-to-end service, as well as expanding technical capabilities to provide the required support for the technology solution.

In terms of core recommendations for the monitoring revamp programme going forward, the NAO urged the MoJ to build on existing work to implement a long-term strategy to create senior responsible owners (SROs) with sufficient programme delivery capabilities.  This would include the abilities of the department to oversee system integration internally.

The report also urged the department to engage with the Cabinet Office to better understand where to make use of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in future procurements and ensure its own programme management processes can match and support supplier capabilities.

Related articles:

G4S awarded MoJ monitor tagging equipment contract

MoJ to terminate GPS offender tagging hardware contract

MoJ carries out rethink of FITS programme

GDS says tower model "not in line with government policy"



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