Monday, 24 September 2012

Tagging value for money and effectiveness

I am absolutely astounded that it has taken 13 years and almost £1bn before someone asked the question, 'does electronic tagging of offenders deliver the desired outcome?'.

Now a Think Tank, Policy Exchange, appears to have actually given the question some thought.  Their conclusion, in a nutshell, is that tagging isn't cost effective, and apart from those tagged, the only other winners are the two contractors providing the service.  In addition it has now been highlighted that a new £3bn procurement process in underway for the next deliveries.

To me there are some interesting questions for procurement which are worth reflecting on:

  1. Last week I discussed  the government's introduction of a supplier blacklist.   In that blog I considered how the blacklist might work and used a cautionary example of G4S - I suggested their unsatisfactory performance at the Olympics should not be assumed relevant to the award of other contracts.  Little did I know at that stage that the influential Home Affairs Select Committee would advocate G4S should be blacklisted or that they are one of only two suppliers of the ineffective tagging system.  Now we have an interesting dilemma - if G4S are only one of two providers of the tagging system and they are blacklisted, how on earth can you ensure meaningful competition in the current procurement process if there is only one person completing, and they know it?
  2. Separately, the ineffectiveness of the tagging services appears to demonstrate an over-reliance on a technical/output based specification.  In such a specification the provider has no incentive to develop a more effective solution, they just deliver and, I assume, manage the tags.  Why were the bidders not required to deliver against an outcome based specification, in which case they would have been incentivised to develop 'a better mousetrap'?
  3. It strikes me that virtually everyone who is tagged is likely to carry a mobile phone with them.  Why can we not issue a challenge to the market to develop a technological solution which improves on tagging and is largely paid for by the criminal?
  4. Finally, could it really be true that the scheme has been running for 13 years and has never been evaluated for effectiveness?  
Of course the above could apply to many other areas of procurement beyond tags, so,

  • Are we using outcome based specifications as the preferred choice?
  • Are we incentivising the market to deliver better, more cost effective solutions?
  • Are we having time-bound pilots and ensuring timely reviews which question on-going effectiveness?

1 comment:

  1. The subtle economist3 October 2012 at 15:06

    Dr Gordy,
    Answering your interesting questions:

    1) The EM competition has been broken into multiple lots to prevent the two big integrated suppliers of man-power, tags, sotware and spectrum from capturing this market. There are therefore about a dozen firms in this competition. Hardly a lock-down for the other incumbent.
    2) I wouldn't be basing my assessment of how effective tagging is on the biased report published last week that demonstrated as per usual a failure to understand the key differences between the US and UK markets. In the US, probation bodies buy and use a tagging system (software / spectrum / tags). In the UK, the MoJ procures a delivery / software /spectrum / tags solution which is far more expensive than a US style solution, but also alot cheaper than having probation or police staff installing and maintaining tags.
    3) The current contract is predicated on using new GPS technology, to improve the service.
    4) This is the right question. Does, pound for pound spent, tagging reduce crime more than other programmes?