13:34, November 13 238 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-13 13:34:03
'Disastrous' offender tagging scheme hit by fresh delays

Fresh delays have hit the government’s scandal-hit programme for the electronic tagging of offenders, which mean the next-generation satellite tracking tags will not come into use until early 2019, MPs have been told.

MPs on the Commons public accounts committee told senior Ministry of Justice officials on Monday that the programme to develop a world-leading, GPS tracking tag that was launched in 2011 had been nothing short of disastrous.

The scheme was intended to save up to £30m but instead has so far cost the Ministry of Justice £60m on top of its original £130m budget. Already running five years late, it was further delayed because the snap general election postponed the letting of part of the contract.

Senior MoJ officials admitted that major mistakes had been made in the programme, including a failure to pilot the new development, but denied it was a disaster saying they hoped around 1,000 offenders a year could be tracked when it is eventually implemented in early 2019. The private security company G4S has now been appointed to complete the project.

The current MoJ permanent secretary, Richard Heaton, told MPs that he had been “startled and stunned” by the over-ambition of the original programme, which had envisaged that 65,000 offenders would be electronically tagged in the community as part of their sentence.

“We got it wrong but to characterise the whole thing as a disaster is wrong,” said Heaton. “It is in mid-flight and we are determined that it is going to succeed,” he said adding that only £5m of the extra £60m spent could be classified as “fruitless expenditure”.

There are currently only 12,000 offenders on first-generation radio frequency tags, which do not have tracking ability and can only monitor whether someone is at a particular address or not. They are mostly used to monitor prisoners released early on home detention curfews, those on bail or out of prison on temporary licence.

A programme to introduce satellite tracking tags for offenders in England and Wales was first promised by David Blunkett when he was Labour home secretary in 2004. His promise to provide a “prison without bars” for the 5,000 most prolific offenders has been repeated by practically every prime minister since then.

Confidence in the government’s tagging programme as an alternative to prison had already been rocked by an overcharging scandal which triggered a Serious Fraud Office investigation into the basic tagging contract run by G4S and Serco. The two companies repaid £179m but the SFO inquiry continues.