The magistrates’ courts have been waiting for a new IT system for ten years, and the wait goes on. The National Audit Office sets out the ten year saga in a critical report which highlights management failures in the Lord Chancellor’s Department.IT systems in magistrates’ courts have been inadequate for many years and current systems do not allow information to be shared electronically with other courts. A further weakness is that electronic information transfer to other enforcement agencies is piecemeal. Development of the first project designed to meet the information sharing need was started in 1992. The project failed and was abandoned, as was the project which succeeded it. A third project was started in 1996, using the public finance initiative. In July 2002 the project was scaled down and this resulted in the signing of a separate contract for software. Nothing has been delivered so far.
The NAO report puts the spotlight on where things went wrong and spells out warnings for public procurement of IT systems. The Lord Chancellor’s Department went ahead with the initial procurement before they had revised business processes. During the two year PFI procurement all but one of the bidders dropped out and the Department was left with a single tender. This gave ICL (now Fujitsu Services) excessive leverage. The NAO warns that up to date contingency plans should be in place on all major contracts so that there is a fallback position if and when a contract goes wrong.
The cost of the 1996 PFI contract has escalated from 146 million, over 11 years to 318 million over 8.5 years.