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Home Office IT system slammed

The Home Office is to scrap a £118m probation service computer system after its agreement with French IT company Bull was labelled 'unlawful' by a National Audit Office report.

The National Probation Service Information Systems and the Common Case Management System (Crams) were intended to revolutionise the tracking of offenders, but the NAO report, viewed by Computer Weekly magazine, said any Home Office funding of the computer systems would be unlawful.

According to the NAO report, the Home Office and Bull did not agree service level agreements until 1998, four years after the contract was signed, and even then ‘performance was not systematically monitored’. In addition Crams was introduced with a poor user interface and other technical problems unresolved by initial testing.

The report claimed the Home Office has already placed millions of pounds worth of legally suspect orders with Bull, despite being advised by legal experts in 1999 that both systems were defective and restricted further investment. By the end of the year the systems are expected to have cost £118m, 70% more than was originally budgeted for by the Home Office, plus an addition £16m already spent on Y2K prevention and £10m on maintenance.

The report also attacked the project management team at the Home Office. In the last seven years, seven different programme directors have managed major IT projects, only two of whom, the NAO claim had significant experience of managing major IT projects.

Other defects highlighted included Crams inability to list dangerous offenders separately, its confusion of similar first and surnames and mixing up people with the same date of birth.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of NAO Probation Officers was quoted in today’s’ Guardian as saying: ‘Crams has been a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.’

In response the Home Office has promised ‘much tighter controls and monitoring of probation IT development and support’ and has begun a search for short-term improvements before a replacement for Crams it introduced in 2003.

Links

NAO in bid to widen powers

NAO in Ordnance Survey accounts row

NAO online

Home Office online

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