19:34, May 24 139 0 theguardian.com

2018-05-24 19:34:24
Home Office criticised for failures in reforms to criminal records vetting

The Home Office has been accused of running a “masterclass in incompetence” over its attempts to improve the criminal records checking scheme.

Parliament’s public spending watchdog said a programme to modernise the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) has been marred by poor planning, delays and spiralling costs.

The programme is more than four years late and costs are expected to be £229m more than initially planned, a report by the public accounts committee (PAC) said.

In an unusually damning assessment, MPs also said a new facility introduced to make it easier and faster to check for changes to safeguarding information has seen a fraction of the demand expected when it was set up.

Meg Hillier, the chair of the committee, said the Home Office, which is still reeling from allegations over the Windrush scandal, was struggling to implement two of its major modernisation projects.

She said: “Government has a crucial role to play in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults but the handling of this project has been a masterclass in incompetence.

“These are testing times for the Home Office. We continue to have serious concerns about its largest project, the emergency service network, which is critical to the ability of our emergency services to do their jobs and keep citizens safe.

“The department also faces huge challenges arising from the UK’s departure from the EU, not least potential threats to security at the border from day one of Brexit. On both DBS and ESN the Home Office appears either to have ignored or not fully understood the needs of the end user.”

The DBS was established in 2012 as the result of a merger between two quangos, one of which was the much-criticised Criminal Records Bureau. It was intended to simplify and lower the cost of background checks for employees, often in the public sector, working with children and vulnerable adults.

In October 2012, the Home Office contracted Tata Consultancy Services to design, build and run a new IT system for DBS. The updated service was intended to allow employers to check whether there were any changes to the safeguarding information on a certificate since it was issued.

But the updated service has not delivered expected savings and is behind schedule. The National Audit Office said in February that Tata continued to make a £5m-a-year profit despite spending more than expected on the modernisation programme.

The Home Office said: “We recognise that there have been delays in some aspects of the delivery and implementation of the DBS modernisation programme.

“However the DBS has launched the first phase of its new IT system and will continue to work towards providing their customers with a faster and more efficient service.

“We will fully consider the PAC’s recommendations and respond formally in due course.”

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