Jail upkeep spend scrutinised

6 November 2009

6 November 2009 | Jake Kanter

Procurement of maintenance services for prisons in England and Wales has been criticised by a group of MPs.

A report out this week by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) - the body responsible for maintaining 129 public sector prisons - does not analyse whole life costs, lacks spend data and fails to include product specifications in requirements when going to tender.

Despite these downfalls, the PAC maintained the agency secured value for money from its £320 million spend on prison maintenance in 2007-08, while tackling aging properties with a high turnover of inmates.

But the PAC said NOMS should consider whole life costs when refurbishing or replacing prison wings, plants and facilities. It said the agency must further standardise parts and materials specifications in order to reduce costs. Collecting pricing data across prisons could improve performance and produce savings, the committee added.

In a separate PAC report this week, the MPs lambasted the failures of C-NOMIS, a project run by NOMS to purchase a single database to manage offenders through the prison and probation systems.

First planned for delivery in January 2008, the system was revised and scaled back because costs trebled and will now be completed in 2011.

PAC chairman Edward Leigh said of this 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."

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