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The National Offender Management Information System

An initiative, begun in 2004, by the National Offender Management Service to build a single offender management IT system for the prison and probation services has not delivered value for money. A National Audit Office investigation found the project had been hampered by poor management leading to a three-year delay, a doubling in project costs and reductions in scope and benefits. 

More recently, the National Offender Management Service has made progress in getting the project back on track; but the core aim of the original project of a single shared database of offenders will not be met. The Service has however reduced the number of databases used from 220 to three.

The project to provide an IT system to support a new way of working with offenders was to be introduced by January 2008, and had an approved lifetime cost of £234 million to 2020. By July 2007, £155 million had been spent on the project, it was two years behind schedule, and estimated lifetime project costs had risen to £690 million.  The Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice called a halt to the project while options to get the budget under control were sought. 

Many of the causes of the delays and cost overruns could have been avoided with better management. There was inadequate management oversight and the technical complexity of the project was significantly underestimated.  Budget monitoring was absent and change control weak.  In addition, the main supplier contracts were designed in such a way that sufficient pressure could not be brought to bear on suppliers to deliver to time and cost. 

In January 2008, the National Offender Management Service began work on a rescoped programme with an estimated lifetime cost of £513 million and a delivery date of March 2011.   They opted for the lowest cost approach, which would deliver the Service’s revised needs, although this option did not have the best benefit to cost ratio.

The full financial impact of the delays is uncertain, but it is likely to be at least £41 million; £15 million of which has been spent on aspects of the project which have now been cut from the design.  £226 million has been spent on the project so far and roll-out of the system to prisons is expected to commence in April 2009.

“The initiative to introduce a single offender management database has been expensive and ultimately unsuccessful. These problems could have been avoided if the National Offender Management Service had established realistic budget, timescales and governance for the project at the start and followed basic project management principles in its implementation. In delivering the new reduced programme, NOMS need to focus on better financial controls and more effective management oversight.”

Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors

  1. The policy of end to end offender management was introduced following Lord Carter’s Correctional Services Review in 2003.  Under this system an offender is supervised by a single offender manager throughout their sentence, whether it is served in custody or in the community.  The aim of one integrated information system was to improve information sharing about offenders; address the lack of continuity and follow up of interventions with offenders as they move within the prison system and between prison and the community; and to provide a clearer alignment of prison and probation work with offenders.

  2. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.

  3. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Tim Burr, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 850 staff.  He and the NAO are totally independent of Government.  He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

PN: 17/09