Select Committee on Public Accounts Thirty-Second Report



8. The Home Office had originally planned that the probation service as a whole should own and manage the NPSISS programme. The Strategy was to be overseen by a board comprising representatives from the probation service and the Home Office.[8] Individual probation services, however, could refuse to accept the NPSISS network and associated software. Despite good buy-in to the strategy initially, there was a high level of resistance throughout the probation service to accepting CRAMS. A key lesson from this programme was the need for clarity of ownership from the outset of an information technology project. The establishment of the new National Probation Service was expected to bring tighter management control over information technology in the probation service.[9]

9. In its first seven years to 2001, the Home Office's programme management team was led by seven successive programme directors, of whom only two had significant experience of managing major information technology projects.[10] The first programme director was in post for four years until 1997 when she took early retirement. Subsequently, a number of people were brought in to provide temporary cover, but some left because they did not have the experience or capacity to do the job. The National Probation Service has now appointed a new Head of Information Technology, with relevant experience.[11]

10. The high turnover in the programme director post, and the lack of appropriate skills and experience, was damaging to the programme. In the Department's view, the development of the professional skills required for such specialist jobs was often difficult within the Civil Service because there was a tendency to reward and promote officials for breadth of knowledge rather than specialist knowledge. This made it difficult to keep people focused on a relatively narrow objective over a period of years. Following a recent review, the Home Office was introducing better training in project management disciplines for senior staff and more intense training for those working on major projects.[12]

11. Consultants commissioned by the Home Office in early 2000 had found the programme team badly under-resourced with misaligned skills.[13] The Home Office failed to recognise at an early stage the need for appropriate resources to manage the programme. At times, during the 1990s, there had been as few as five or six people working on the contract. By November 2001, the National Probation Service had increased its Information and Technology Group to around 40 staff comprising a mix of permanent staff, probation service secondees and consultants. With major information technology projects of this kind it is essential to invest not just in the initial programme design but also in the management of the contract.[14]

12. The Home Office had intended that normal project management controls and reporting arrangements, based on the PRINCE 2 project management methodology, would be used throughout the project but in practice the procedures fell into disuse. The Home Office had expected, for example, that the project assurance function - which provides a check that the project continues to meet its specification - would be undertaken by the people taking delivery of the system, but they did not do it. Failure to operate proper project management procedures was a problem more widely in Government, and the Office of Government Commerce's Gateway review process, introduced in early 2001, was addressing this weakness. The Gateway process requires major projects across Government to go through a process of external review while they are in negotiation and during implementation.[15]


13. Where information technology is being introduced to link a group of organisations, responsibility for delivering the programme, and the resources needed, should be clearly specified from the start, along with the desired outputs and outcomes.

14. The programme management team were not properly equipped with the resources and skills needed to deliver a complex information technology system. Excessive turnover amongst specialist staff and potential skill shortages on individual projects must be identified and addressed quickly.

15. Normal project controls and reporting arrangements were not followed, nor was timely action taken to address these weaknesses. The Home Office executive board should review regular, independent reports on progress of information technology projects, for example from the Government's Gateway review process and the Department's internal auditors, and assess the adequacy of the action taken in response to recommendations made by such reports.

8   C&AG's Report, paras 1.4, 1.7, 2.18; Qs 8-9, 18 Back

9   C&AG's Report, para 2.19; Qs 8, 18, 26, 115 Back

10   C&AG's Report, para 2.39 Back

11   Qs 53, 132-137 Back

12   Qs 7, 52, 54, 58 Back

13   C&AG's Report, para 2.43 Back

14   Qs 8, 149; Ev 2 Back

15   C&AG's Report, para 19; Qs 56-57 Back

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