Yesterday we commented a bit on the article yesterday, and noted the passing reference to Sir David Normington's "blog".
The Guardian has published a (.pdf) scan of a faxed email apparently "leaked" from the Home Office. N.B. the .pdf scan of a 4 page document is nearly 22Mb in size !
We looked in vain for any UK political blog comment or analysis of what the rest of the supposedly leaked email reveals about the Home Office under John Reid. Obviously with "leaks" to favoured media outlets like The Guardian, or any other major newspaper, it is hard to tell if this is a genuine "whistleblower" leak, or part of the Home Office's spin and disinformation system.
The leaked email appears to be the minutes of a meeting about NOMS, the National Offender (mis -) Management Service
Two sections stood out for us:
- "Unique Identifiers" for the several and variously incompatible manual and IT systems which the Home Office wastes billions on.
- The way in which the "handling strategy" for Media spin takes precedence over everything else
The management style of "2 page notes" is also worth thinking about. Is this all there is to Home Office policies ? Does the Home Secretary not bother to read any of the background details to such complicated polices ?
Admittedly a "2 page note" is possibly an improvement on the previous"back of a fag packet" policies which seem to have dominated NuLabour Government thinking.
1) "Unique Identifiers"
The HS said that the paper based systems prevelant in the Criminal Justice and HO areas were insufficient. All Criminal Justice/HO It systems needed a unique identifier to allow for cross-checking with PNC, IND systems. prisons, probation, courts etc.
HS = Home Secretary
HO = Home Office
PNC = Police National Computer
IND = Immigration and Nationality Directorate
If the unique identifier does not work even in just a minority of cases, then the whole system does not work. The HS said that we must urgently look at all IT programmes, such as C-NOMIS, to ensure that we are notrolling out new programmes that would need updating in a few years time to address the unique identifier issue. The unique identifier should also link with the future roll out of ID cards and discussions must be underway now to ensure that this happens.
If the Home Office cannot "uniquely identify" people they have in custody or in prison or who are appearing in a Court, then how can the supposed "gold standard" National Identity Register and ID Card scheme , applied to the entire population, ever work as promised either ?
In principle the HS said that he would prefer to use existing programmes, such as C-NOMIS, or off the shelf packaged to roll this out, but would consider any proposals.
"The C-NOMIS Case Management system is based on a COTS package called TAG from Syscon Justice Systems Ltd under contract with EDS." i.e. even more software and systems designed for the United States of America, rather than for the United Kingdom.
ACTION: Liam Byrne to take this forward with IT colleagues and project management across the Home Office. The HS staid he would chair the first meeting of this (this has already been arranged by Sharwana for 6 June).
So what happened to Vincent Geake, the Home Office's recently appointed Chief Information Officer ?
He is copied in on the email distribution list, but did not attend this NOMS meeting, and he does not appear to be involved with IT policies which should be at the core of his job specification.
Before taking on the poisoned chalice job of CIO at the Home Office, Vincent Geake was the Chief Executive of the Lorry Road User Charge (LRUC) programme in HM Customs and Excise, a project which has now been scrapped.
VISOR was mentioned as a new and useful database. The HS wanted reassurance that those on VISOR would also be notified on other databases such as List 99 and the vetting & barring system of CRB.
ViSOR = Violent and Sexual Offenders Register
List 99 = a list of people banned from working with children, maintained by the Department for Eduction and Skills (DfES)
CRB = Criminal Records Bureau
ACTION: John Woodcock and Matt Laxton. Please can you provide a 2 page note outlining how the various systems will talk to each other right now, and also in the future, once the Bichard recommendations have been implemented; this should include specifically VISOR and the DfES systems by 3pm Fri 2 June
Simply listing the recommendations in the Bichard Inquiry Report will take up most of a "2 page note" !
2) Media "handling strategy"
The HS said that the public could not understand why long sentences were curtailed and he wanted to look at more honesty in sentencing. The HS would consider community sentences if they were seen to be tough by the community. A strong handling strategy would be needed. He was very interested in exploring ways of increasing the visibility of unpaid work, e.g. through uniforms etc. Unpaid work would have to be portrayed as 'penance and contrition', and for them to be seen as genuinely paying back to the community. He also acknowledged the difference in cost for the less serious but persistent offenders under community punishments rather than in prisons, but again this would need a strong handling strategy to persuade the public. The strategy should make it clear that we are:
- Tough on serious cases
- Tough on less serious cases, but not prison (why should the tax payer pay for them to be accommodated/fed/watered in prison)
- We must not allow any signal that we are softening stance on crime, or that the prison population pressures are diverting people from prison.
ACTION: Gerry Sutcliffe to take forward this agenda with officials, SpAds and Press Office. ACTION: Sarah Mann to provide a 2 page note to Gerry on the plans for unpaid work - the numbers, its visibility, the commissioning of external providers etc. This should take account of the discussions that Helen is having on resources by 3pm Thurs 8 June ACTION: Dianna Luchford - the HS would like us to think outside the box for handling young offenders. He is keen on looking at involving the army to provide structure to young people's lives. Please could you provide a brief explanation of existing punishments/schemes and a recommendation on if/how to take forward this steer by 3pm Thurs 8 June
N.B. our italics
SpAds = Special Advisors
Note how the emphasis seems to be on the presentation of policy, rather than on trying to argue the cost versus the benefit. Surely the phrase strong handling strategy simply means "media spin" ?
As noted previously, the idea to use the Army for the social engineering and mind control, and presumably political indoctrination of feckless youths, is not something which a professional Army of volunteers should be involved in, and is something which they resisted when the same suggestion was made under the previous Conservative Government.
The phrase "commissioning of external providers", also raises the question of who exactly are the "external providers" of "unpaid work", and how such schemes would not undermine the jobs market for law abiding workers ?
Answers to such questions from Home Office civil servants would be welcome, but please bear in mind our advice to Home Office and other whistleblowers