Committee of Public Accounts


Publication of the Committee's 40th Report, Session 2008-09

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"This Committee has become inured to the dismal procession of government IT failures which have passed before us; but even we were surprised by the extent of the failure of C-NOMIS, the ambitious project to institute a single database to manage individual offenders through the prison and probation systems.

"NOMS, the body managing the project, was formed in 2004 from the merger of two complex and very different organizations. This placed a severe strain on senior managers' ability to deliver such a major project. The scale and complexity of what had to be delivered were underestimated; a culture of over-optimism held sway, not subject to rigorous and sceptical challenge; costs were grossly underestimated; there was a lack of capacity and experience among senior staff; and too much reliance was placed on a few key individuals. Financial management was deficient to the extent that costs and progress were not monitored or reported for the first three years.

"There was not even a minimum level of competence in the planning and execution of this project. The result has been a three year delay in the roll-out of the programme, envisaged separate databases for prisons and probation instead of the original one, each with different information about an offender, and a doubling of costs.

"This project has been a shambles. We now expect the substantial progress in its implementation promised by NOMS to be capable of being demonstrated satisfactorily to a future hearing of the Committee."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 40th Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), examined why the C-NOMIS project, intended to deliver a single offender management IT system across prison and probation services, failed badly and what NOMS has done to retrieve the situation through a redesigned NOMIS programme.

In 2003, Lord Carter's Correctional Services Review recommended bringing together prisons and probation services and introducing 'end-to-end offender management'. This change was designed to improve the supervision of individual offenders throughout their sentence by a single offender manager, whether the sentence was served in prison or in the community. NOMS initially part of the Home Office and since May 2007, part of the Ministry of Justice, was created in June 2004 to bring this about. Some five years later, the information systems required to support offender management are still not in place.

C-NOMIS is a singular example of comprehensively poor project management, and roll out of the re-scoped programme has only just begun. The C-NOMIS project, initially envisaged by the Home Office for delivery in January 2008 for £234 million, was stopped in August 2007 because costs had trebled. The NOMIS programme was revised and scaled back to three offender databases for £513 million, for delivery by 2011.

The original concept was ambitious but still technically feasible. Problems at every level, however, led to an out of control programme which eventually NOMS could no longer afford. NOMS significantly underestimated the technical complexity of the project and the need to standardise ways of working to avoid excessive customisation. There was also poor planning, poor financial monitoring, inadequate supplier management and too little control over changes.

Costs and progress were not monitored or reported for the first 3 years after the inception of C-NOMIS, in part because the first Senior Responsible Owner overseeing the project did not have relevant project experience or training. The Project Board, the NOMS Board, the Home Office senior management and Ministers were all unaware of the true cost and progress before May 2007. NOMS cannot say in detail what £161 million to October 2007 was spent on.

NOMS has assured us that it has implemented the changes needed to deliver the revised NOMIS programme by 2011. However, there are significant challenges yet to address, including further contract negotiations with suppliers, and we look to NOMS to implement the new systems effectively and deliver the intended benefits.