back to article £60m, five years late... Tag criminal tagging as a 'catastrophic waste' of taxpayers' cash

The UK's Ministry of Justice's system of monitoring criminals with electronic tags has been blasted as a "catastrophic waste of public money" in a damning report by MPs.. The scheme was due to be completed in 2013 but is now running five years late at a cost of £60m to the taxpayer with further delays expected. It has incurred …

  1. Teiwaz Silver badge

    The evidence to support a wholesale transformation of the tagging system was weak at best but the Ministry pushed ahead anyway.

    Presumably they were conned by a persuasive and fast taking encyclopedia salesman.

    Next time, go fetch mummy, not her credit card.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9n11xtjZ3Y

  2. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

    I Object

    Could we please, please ban the phrase 'Lessons learned' because it is obvious to even the most dense of individuals that no lessons have been learned at all. The same processes will be repeated ad nauseum with the same failures resulting until the energy death of the Universe

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Flame

      I concur

      The only lesson that has been learned is that government wanks are ab-so-lutely incapable of defining an IT project, let alone managing one. Those who have learned that lesson are the taxpayers, not the government wanks.

      1. Mooseman Silver badge

        Re: I concur

        Is it just me, or did the list of companies given the contract make you wince? G4S and Serco, and then Crapita sent in to rescue the whole thing..!

        1. Barry Mahon

          Re: I concur

          All winced out.

          Quote from the NYT today -

          "Elsewhere shares in Capita, a firm strikingly similar to Carillion, have lost two-thirds of their value since 2015."

          In a very interesting commentary on the UK's obsession with outsourcing.

          https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/23/opinion/carillion-privatization-outsourcing-britain.html

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

        3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          WTF?

          "when Capita..took over the delivery..electronic monitoring services after Serco and G4S"

          So Gold, Bronze & Silver in the large project f**kup* awards then.

          This also looks like earning points on the "Look, see, we tried to work with these SME's, like the Cabinet Office said, but they are just don't get it. Now if someone like Carilion had been available, because they really understand us" agenda.

          *Silver for their Stirling display of work at the Olympics.

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: "when Capita..took over the delivery..electronic monitoring services after Serco and G4S"

            Stirling

            Objection yer Honour! Stirling engines are pretty efficient and that's the one thing the companies mentioned are manifestly not.

            Except in the misappropriation of monies from the public purse that is. They could teach[1] PhD-level courses in that..

            [1] Of course, teaching also not in their core competencies. Nor in their peripherial competencies. Or, in fact, within the same postcode, county or country as any of their competencies.

        4. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

          Re: I concur

          "G4S and Serco, and then Crapita"

          So which maps to Curly, Larry, and Mo?

      2. 's water music

        Re: I concur

        The only lesson that has been learned is that government wanks are ab-so-lutely incapable of defining an IT project, let alone managing one.

        IME the difference between private and public sector is that the private sector has better meeting biscuits and better cover-ups of failures

    2. ButlerInstitute

      Re: I Object

      I think I've seen the term "Lessons Unlearned" for this sort of situation.....

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I Object

      As someone working in healthcare I've realised "lessons learnt" really means "f*ck you daft c*nts, we need to sweep this under the carpet until people retire!"

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I Object

      The only lessons that should be learnt are that the current civil servants managing these contracts are totally incompetent and only project managers with proven track records should be allowed to run them in future.

      This dead wood would have been removed years ago in any private industry that valued accountability.

  3. Commswonk Silver badge

    Radical Suggestion...

    With the level of expenditure that has been incurred it might have been better and cheaper just to build a couple more prisons and keep the miscreants locked up rather than letting them wander around with what really is minimal oversight.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Radical Suggestion...

      It's about £30k in operating costs a year to lock somebody up, and one of our newest prisons (HMP Berwyn) is reported as costing £250m for 2,000 places, so over £12k capex per crim.

      I doubt that locking the bastards up would be cheaper. And since crims put little value on their own liberty, it's an ineffective punishment. The liberals need to understand that, and work at the mindset of these people. How about a trial of employing official thugs to go round and trash all the person possessions of (say) people convicted of assault? And maybe give them a kicking whilst they're their. That could be a day release job for existing prisoners, to go and turn somebody's home over and shit in the bed.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Radical Suggestion...

        "I doubt that locking the bastards up would be cheaper. And since crims put little value on their own liberty, it's an ineffective punishment."

        Do you have any evidence for that central assumption of value on liberty?

        Looking at court reports in my local paper it seems that yet another suspended sentence has been handed out to someone who's already had several "chances", such as tagging, in previous cases. And yet another set of offences committed while on remand awaiting trial.

        AFAICS this adds up to training offenders to expect no real curtailment of liberty, no effective deterrence. By the time they get a custodial sentence they've been thoroughly trained in recidivism. I wonder if a change of direction would be more effective: rapid escalation to a short sentence of imprisonment, maybe only a few days. Would it lead to a situation where there were fewer long term prisoners because they'd been deterred early on?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Radical Suggestion...@Doctor Syntax

          "I doubt that locking the bastards up would be cheaper. And since crims put little value on their own liberty, it's an ineffective punishment." Do you have any evidence for that central assumption of value on liberty?

          Go look up HM Gov data on re-offending rates. Those released from custodial sentences have higher re-offending rates (49.2% reoffend within 12 months) than for non-custodial sentences (33.9%). Note that is only "officially detected and proven within twelve months", so actual re-offending rates from most normal people's point of view would be higher.

          So whilst your logic of "soft justice begets reoffending" sounds credible, the raw data doesn't support it. Faced with the appalling re-offending rates, we have to accept that prison is largely about crime prevention through detention, not reform. Even in countries with very extensive reform efforts (eg Sweden) they don't see that much better reoffending rates, by the way.

          Building more prisons would work for two reasons - 1) you can put more crims behind bars and thus keep them off the streets, and 2) you can extend sentences which works because re-offending rates are lower the longer the sentence served. But we then end up paying more and more to keep criminal idiots off the street.

          1. handleoclast

            Re: Radical Suggestion...@Doctor Syntax

            Go look up HM Gov data on re-offending rates. Those released from custodial sentences have higher re-offending rates (49.2% reoffend within 12 months) than for non-custodial sentences (33.9%).

            Hypothesis:

            Stupid criminals get caught doing things (e.g., mugging) that earn them custodial sentences rather than non-custodial sentences. Because they're stupid, they get caught most of the time they re-offend. The brighter ones get caught less often.

            Just a thought.

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Radical Suggestion...@Doctor Syntax

            "Go look up HM Gov data on re-offending rates. Those released from custodial sentences have higher re-offending rates (49.2% reoffend within 12 months) than for non-custodial sentences (33.9%). Note that is only "officially detected and proven within twelve months", so actual re-offending rates from most normal people's point of view would be higher."

            It's not quite as simple as that. The ones who get custodial sentences have, in general, committed more serious crimes or are repeat offenders and more likely to re-offend than those given non-custodial sentences. And that's not cut'n'dried either.

      2. Insert sadsack pun here

        Re: Radical Suggestion...

        "maybe give them a kicking whilst they're their..."

        I think you overplayed you're trolling with grammertical errors like that - its to obviously thrown in their too attract the attention of pendants.

        1. 's water music
          Headmaster

          Re: Radical Suggestion...

          ...trolling with grammertical errors...

          Icy watt ewe dither.

          Should of spell checked, less errors.

          1. Laughing Gravy

            Re: Radical Suggestion...

            'Should of spell checked, less errors.'

            Should have spell checked, less errors.

            1. Korev Silver badge

              Re: Radical Suggestion...

              Fewer errors?

          2. $till$kint
            Headmaster

            Re: Radical Suggestion...

            of?

        2. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Radical Suggestion...

          The pendants are hanging on your every word.

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Radical Suggestion...

            The pendants are hanging on your every word

            As opposed to being hanged[1] by ones every word?

            [1] Nearly made the unforgivable error of using the word 'hung' there. Phew!

      3. Commswonk Silver badge

        Re: Radical Suggestion...

        @ AC: It's about £30k in operating costs a year to lock somebody up, and one of our newest prisons (HMP Berwyn) is reported as costing £250m for 2,000 places, so over £12k capex per crim.

        I'm not querying your figures (or anyone else's) but I'm not sure that we should look at this purely in terms of how much "enforcing the law" and "justice" costs. If we look at the whole thing purely in "cost" terms it becomes impossible to avoid the conclusion that a whole section of the criminal law should be torn up; think of what could be saved; no need for the police to investigate anything; no need to find an offender, charge them and put them before a court (think of the savings there!) and thus no need to either fit a tag or incarcerate them because at the stroke of a pen what they had done to get there is no longer against the law.

        Decriminalise burglary? Fine! Decriminalise car theft? Fine. Identify an offence and delete it from the law books. Think of all the savings the taxpayer will make.

        Of course that approach is reductio ad absurdum but I would hope that it illustrates the point that having a criminal justice system that costs a fortune to operate up to and including the point where what is already a minority of offenders are brought to court and found guilty, only then to scratch around to find ways of not spending any money on effective deterrent and punishment is utterly pointless.

        In this case we (as taxpayers) have shelled out handsomely for a system that has failed, with no end to the continuing failure in sight.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Radical Suggestion...

          I'm not sure that we should look at this purely in terms of how much "enforcing the law" and "justice" costs.

          I wasn't (he says, decloaking like a Klingon battle battle cruiser). As you say, we are locked in a cycle of excessive cost and no good outcome. But one major win would be decriminalising most drugs. Take out the drug baron profits that make drugs costly and drive drug users to crime, and that's a huge volume of "funding crimes" that are eliminated. That would also eliminate the minor drug distributor crime which is a disproportionate number of UK prisoners. Also, whilst the drugs barons would move on to other forms of crime, we'd probably have fewer violent turf wars and gun crime. We could require users to be registered, and their use monitored by their GP, allowing healthcare interventions; Quality of drugs could be monitored, reducing some of the load on health services from bad shit. If the regular drugs were readily available legally and cheaply, then there would also be far less of a market for the designer synthetics that are something of a problem (eg spice zombies).

          Obviously the drug abusers would go on to kill themselves, but that happens already. And we permit it with alcohol, fags, so why persecute the druggies? And freed of the significant costs of a failing war on drugs, the police could attend to focusing on organised crime, or the resources put into the threadbare social care pot.

          1. Johndoe132

            Re: Radical Suggestion...

            As someone who spent 13 years in drugs related law enforcement, I eventually came to the same conclusion - we are never going to control this stuff so the only sane option is to legalise it, control it in a socially acceptable way and tax it just like we do with other drugs e.g. nicotine and alcohol.

            I'm no expert on the medical side of things, but from what I understand it's the crap the raw drugs are cut with that causes much of the harm / deaths rather than the drug itself. Regulated supply would take that out of the equation plus raise a pretty penny for the treasury. And yes, much other 'low level' crime (I don't consider someone breaking into my house low level, especially not if my family is inside) is committed to fund a drugs habit so reducing this would be of huge benefit to all.

            My only concern would be that legalising highly addictive drugs (e.g. cocaine) would lead people to try it once who would not have otherwise, only to find themselves hooked. There would need to be a barrier to entry of some kind, but not enough to make illegal supply viable. The answer to that one is almost certainly way beyond the mental capacities of govt. policy makers so I guess we go on chucking good money after bad....

            1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

              Re: Radical Suggestion...

              Regulated supply would take that out of the equation plus raise a pretty penny for the treasury

              As well as giving the social and medical world access to the addicts in a neutral setting rather than cleaning up after them post-crime or post-death.

          2. jigr1969

            Re: Radical Suggestion...

            There is a growing debate in America which is favoring the decriminalizing of drugs. The classic line is that if you cannot control drugs in a maximum secure prison, where everything is vetted and monitored, what hope do you have in an open society?

            The war on drugs is lost.

            Best spend the money currently spent on combating the drug trade to help those people who genuinely want to get themselves of drugs.

            Another useless fact, it was reported that drinking during prohibition in America was higher than before or afterwards.

        2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          "we (as taxpayers) have shelled out handsomely for a system that has failed, "

          But don't you feel that the criminal has been punished?

          Because AFAIK that's the core idea of the British system.

          BTW IIRC the UK has both the highest proportion of its population (per 1000 head of population) and the highest repeat offending rates in Europe.

          But no one likes a "Bad guy" and everyone loves governments "getting tough" on crime.

          With a place at prison costing more than a place at a University (not even a good university) you could (literally) pay each repeat offender £20k/pa to not commit another crime*

          Like farming "Set aside" for crims, not famers, which HMG seems to have no trouble doing.

    2. sictransit

      Re: Radical Suggestion...

      “Holding an offender in prison costs around £90 per day, compared to offender tags which cost around £12−13 per day.” https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/458/45806.htm#footnote-019-backlink

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Radical Suggestion...

        compared to offender tags which cost around £12−13 per day

        Yeah - but the former is (relatively) good at keeping the criminal confined and tracked whereas the latter is manifestly not.

        Cheapness does not equate to value.

  4. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    As usual I will context this figure with UK national Debt interest Payments: (ndips)

    60m?

    sod all - half a DAYs ndip

    source:

    https://fullfact.org/economy/interest-payments-national-debt/

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      As usual I will context this figure with UK national Debt interest Payments: (ndips)

      60m?

      sod all - half a DAYs ndip

      source: https://fullfact.org/economy/interest-payments-national-debt/

      That's as maybe - does it excuse the waste 60 charities could have made an impact with that (provided they didn't decide an expensive carpet for their HQ was a better investment). Instead, it was snorted up one nostril for an ego trip and frittered away

      1. 's water music
        Happy

        >>...I will context this figure...

        [but] does it excuse...[?]

        What it doesn't excuse is verbing a noun.

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Verbing?

  5. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Consequences?

    The Audit Office discover (on a weekly basis) that vast sums of public money have been 'wasted'.

    What happens?

    "Lessons are learned" (not)

    How about some sackings, loss of pension, claims for negligence, or even imprisonment - for responsible civil servants and politicians. If they stole £9million and gave it to their chums they would be in deep doo-doo, as it is they probably get promoted and a knighthood.

    1. hplasm
      Mushroom

      Re: Consequences?

      How about -

      s/Lessons will be learned/Heads will roll/g

      and follow it though.

  6. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    A waste of money

    It seems that after every major government initiative the National Audit Office comes along and discovers it was a total shambles, incompetently managed and a waste of money.

    Surely a lot of taxpayers money could be saved by abolishing the NAO. We could preprint the announcement of total failure as soon as any project is announced and the message could be published once the project is finally delivered or abandoned?

  7. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Locking people up who aren't a risk to the public is a waste of time and money, especially on short sentences. They aren't in prison long enough for it to be a major deterrent or for them to get any skills to enable them to get a job on release, and will often pick up other tips from criminals on how not to get caught next time.

    Electronic tagging and curfews could work for a lot of these offenders, but why they decide to do their own bespoke version rather than buy an existing 'off the shelf' system is beyond me.

    1. MK_E

      I'm not 100% sure I'd trust advice on how not to get caught from someone currently serving time.

  8. PNGuinn
    Devil

    The usual suspects

    See title.

    How about locking THEM up for ever and throwing away the key?

    Cheap at the price.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lessons Learned? never

    I worked in the public sector in days gone by. Change management/PMO didn't have a repository for Lessons Learn, it was called Lessons Identified because spotting a f**k up was completely different from learning from it.

  10. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Riding the gravy train

    Once again a project which was intended to save money has actually cost more than it was supposed to save and given us nothing better than we already had.

    "It will save money" appears to be the magical incantation for anyone seeking to take the government for a ride.

    We will all likely get conned at some time in our lives, but governments seem to get continually scammed and usually by the same people. Lessons are never actually leaned, the same mistakes are repeated time after time, and then the NAO inevitably pops-up to say, "yup; you've been had again".

  11. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    Back to the old ways

    What's wrong with the traditional tagging system - a large iron ball, weighing a couple of stone, secured to the ankle by a chain?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Back to the old ways

      No, that should be reserved for the unaccountable civil servants and politicians, who at worst might lose their job. And go on to get re-employed elsewhere for the state.

    2. Lost it

      Re: Back to the old ways

      Isn't that what getting married does?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Am I missing something?

    Aren't the miscreants already being tagged?

    Or are criminals the only one's that aren't carrying a tagging device?

    Even if they tried to disable the GPS tracking in settings doesn't it still send location data back to the wardens?

    Not really understanding the enormous price tag unless the criminals are using a tagging device with face unlock.

  13. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    FAIL

    Classice Govt IT F**kup template #3. Implement a good idea in the worst possible way.

    See NIRS II etc.

  14. SGJ

    Only six months late...

    The NAO report on which this story was based was published in July 2017, so El Reg is only six months late in reporting it...

    See https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/The-new-generation-electronic-monitoring-programme.pdf for the full gory details

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      thanks for the catch.

      Our article is based on the report of the commons public account committee, which was published yesterday... that said, the opening par was a slip of the brain and we have updated the article and added link to PAC report.

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