by Leo King

Ministry of Justice faces MPs wrath

Nov 02, 2009
GovernmentIT LeadershipIT Strategy

A government database of offenders has been branded a “shambles”, after costs trebled to £700 million.

The C-Nomis programme was “out of control” and three years late, the House of Commons Committee of Public Accountsstated in one of its most damning reports, blasting the government’s “stupidity”.

The system was supposed to provide full tracking of offenders from the courts, through prison, release and probation. In January last year, the MoJ abandoned plans for a single shared database and began work on a re-scoped programme for five separate smaller IT projects with a delivery date of March 2011.

The committee criticised the managers in charge of the project for lacking even a “minimum level of competence”. Weak management and a “culture of over-optimism” among staff had led to a string of failures and the “grossly underestimated” costs, the committee found.

The IT system was abandoned in 2007 when the cost overruns became apparent. The committee found that the National Offender Management Service, in charge of the project, was unable to properly explain what the £161 million spent befoer the system was abandonned had been used for, though the MPs estimated lead supplier EDS had been paid £87 million in the period.

In March, the National Audit Office, whose report led to the Committee of Public Accounts’ hearings, said the project was a “masterclass in sloppy project management”.

It highlighted weak supplier contracts that did not allow the MoJ to put pressure on the IT firms involved, but largely blamed the government rather than suppliers EDS and Syscon.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said he was “inured to the dismal procession of government IT failures”. But he added for today’s report that “even we were surprised by the extent of the failure of C-Nomis”.

“There was not even a minimum level of competence in the planning and execution of this project,” he said.

Richard Bacon, a member of the committee, blasted the government for appointing a Senior Responsible Owner on the project who had no IT experience.

“What on earth possessed the Home Office and the National Offender Management Service to appoint someone whom they knew didn’t have sufficient experience or training to run this project properly?” he said. “Such stupidity defies rational analysis.”