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The National Probation Service Information Systems Strategy (NPSISS) network is operating in 38 out of the 42 new local probation areas in England and Wales. Nevertheless, there were serious problems in the development of a case recording and management system, known as CRAMS, leading to its use by a minority of probation service areas. During 2000 CRAMS was being used substantially by only 16 of the 54 former local probation service areas, representing only 20 per cent of the probation service budget.

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Key findings identified in today’s National Audit Office report include the following.

  • Implementation of the NPSISS computer network was a notable achievement – but the Home Office’s poor specification of expected outputs, weaknesses in service monitoring and inadequate control of purchases contributed to the full cost of the NPSISS programme, including CRAMS, being £118 million, some 70 per cent above forecast. CRAMS alone cost almost £11 million compared to the Home Office’s initial estimate of £4 million.
  • The introduction of these systems was always likely to present a significant management challenge. However, the Home Office’s programme team suffered from a lack of continuity in its leadership and was not fully resourced to deal with the scale of the issues facing it. In its first seven years, for example, the programme team had seven different programme directors.
  • Since early 2000, the Home Office has held back its pursuit of IT development work because of concerns about whether letting new orders under its enabling agreement with its contractor, Bull Information Systems Ltd, would comply with public procurement requirements.
  • Failure by the Home Office to prioritise necessary preparatory work has contributed to delay in establishing a new strategic partnership to follow on from the end of the current agreement with Bull in December 2001. As a result, the Home Office will have to bear the likely additional cost of undertaking two phases of procurement.

The Home Office underestimated the technical risks associated with developing CRAMS from an existing probation service system. And the development of CRAMS did not keep pace with the changing business needs of probation services. It does not, for example, provide local services with direct access to data on offenders held by other areas.

The NAO report recognises that action is being taken to address past failings in the management of the IT programme. The report encourages the new National Probation Service to build on this work by:

  • ensuring that the national NPSISS network is completed to provide a backbone for the operation and accountability of the new National Probation Service;
  • developing proper user specifications for case management systems to succeed CRAMS, building on current experience and reflecting clear statements of the business objectives and requirements for the new National Probation Service;
  • providing for greater continuity of leadership for its IT programme and adequate staffing; and
  • ensuring that the new National Probation Service pays full regard to recent recommendations made by the Committee of Public Accounts and the Cabinet Office relating to the management of IT projects.

"Good information systems have a vital part to play in helping probation officers carry out their work in supervising offenders serving their sentences in the community and in helping them turn against crime.

"Whilst the Home Office has been able to install a standard information technology infrastructure across a large part of the probation service, there are some important lessons to be learnt from the serious flaws in the Home Office’s procurement and management of this IT programme. The new National Probation Service now has an opportunity to address these issues as it develops a new IT strategy and enters into a new strategic partnership."

Sir John Bourn


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