Public Services > Central Government

MoJ to terminate GPS offender tagging hardware contract

Neil Merrett Published 25 February 2016

Citing "challenging" development of bespoke monitoring hardware for tags, government to launch new procurement for currently available technology


The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced plans to terminate a contract with Steatite Limited to develop a bespoke Global Positioning System (GPS) tagging system for offender management in favour of launching a new procurement exercise for alternative off-the-shelf technology currently on the market.

In a written statement to Parliament today, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice Dominic Raab said the contract to develop a tagging system providing monitoring hardware had been "challenging" for the government.

"This decision will mean we can proceed with wider changes to the way we manage the programme. We will simplify our approach in order to meet the challenges of technical and business integration and continue to drive and monitor delivery from the other suppliers," he said in his statement.

Raab added that it was clear that it was more appropriate for government to look at technology that was already available on the back of a review launched last year into its electronic monitoring programme after "considerable delays" had been noted with the technology.

The review process looked at how the programme could be brought back on track to meet future government ambitions, while considering how other nations have looked to develop GPS tagging.

As part of a testing process for the programme, it is understood last year that civil servants working within the Government Digital Service (GDS) had been asked to wear prototype tagging devices for set trial periods of new technology that had been developed.

Raab said that the programme would continue to be kept under review as it moves forward with the new procurement, with pilots starting later in the year designed to try and inform use of GPS tracking technologies "to best effect in the future."

"The pilots will be independently evaluated and the results will inform policy decisions on the future use of this important tool," added the MP's statement.

In a statement issued to the Stock Exchange today, Steatite's parent company Solid State said it had been informed of a decision by the MoJ to terminate the Electronic Monitoring Hardware contract that was signed in July 2014 as one of several Lots under the government's tagging programme.

"Steatite Limited is to enter into discussions with the MoJ regarding the terms on which the relationship will end," read the notice.

Kable chief analyst Jessica Figueras said, "Electronic tagging is not a particularly competitive market. There are a small number of potential buyers - national governments - all of which will have different requirements based on local approaches to criminal justice, which do vary. It's hard to get the technology right too, raising the barriers to entry for new entrants.

"It's no surprise therefore that MoJ has been unable to find a suitable supplier so far. Its desire to use off-the-shelf technology may go unfulfilled unless it is prepared to invest in creating a market, which seems unlikely given short timescales and budget constraints. I imagine G4S and 3M will be waiting by the phone."

Scrutiny of the government's handling of the procurment of a new Global Positioning System (GPS) tagging system to track offenders has come under criticism over the last year.

In a report on the role of offender tagging in the UK justice system that was released in September, think tank Reform concluded that the potential of electronic monitoring (EM) has been undermined by poor procurement and contract management practices by the MoJ.

"The procurement of the 'new generation' of tags - has been beset by problems, and at best will have taken four and a half years to deliver," said the findings.

"The procurement has been hampered both by the commissioning model and the process. The model splits the electronic monitoring service horizontally into four Lots and appoints a single provider to each Lot for up to six years."

The report argued that as opposed to using the competition process to drive innovation and performance. Four providers had effectively been given a "near monopoly" to provide electronic monitoring in England and Wales.

"Given the pace of technological change this shows a profound lack of future-proofing," added the think tank.

"The commissioning process itself has damaged the EM market. Unclear and changing specifications and unreasonable intellectual property sharing requirements have led to potential providers exiting the procurement. This is bad for the service and bad for the taxpayer."

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MoJ finalises contractors for offender tagging revamp

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