The existence of a supplier ‘duopoly’ and the Ministry of Justice’s ‘single buyer’ approach to procurement have hampered the use of electronic offender tagging in the UK, according to a new report from think tank Policy Exchange.
The ‘Future of Corrections’ report claims that UK police forces pay 60% more for electronic tagging systems and services than equivalent organisations in the US.
The Policy Exchange also surveyed police and probation officers, and found that one in four believe that current electronic tagging services are ‘inefficient’ and that 51% believe they could provide a better service if contracts were agreed locally.
The think tank lays some of the blame for this with the supplier duopoly held by services giant Serco and security company G4S. This duopoly was created following 2008 legislation that asserts that the ‘responsible officer’ for electronic tagging projects must be an employee of either Serco or G4S, depending on where in the country the police force or probation service is located.
"By requiring that the responsible officer be an employee of either G4S or Serco, the Ministry of Justice has succeeded in stifling the market for electronic monitoring while also excluding criminal justice practitioners from taking on the role," the report asserts.
It also criticises the Ministry of Justice’s top-down, ‘single buyer’ approach (or monopsony) to procuring electronic tagging systems. This, the Policy Exchange argues, has prevented local forces from trying alternative approaches to electronic tagging, and has therefore stifled progress in using the technology.
In other areas of public sector spending, notably software licensing, the government is actively pursuing a ‘single buyer’ approach to procurement, negotiating government-wide licensing deals with the likes of Microsoft and Oracle. This has been driven by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who also happens to be the founder of Policy Exchange.
According to Rory Geoghegan, author of the ‘Future of Corrections’ report, a single buyer approach is appropriate "the item being traded is a commodity, and where the supplier(s) have a large market for that good/service outside of government, where they are subject to private sector market forces, competitive pressures and there is a feedback loop between the end-user and the single buyer."
But while the electronic tags themselves are close becoming a commodity, Geoghegan told Information Age this morning, "the rest of the service is riddled with inefficiency and complexity that provides significant scope to add cost, and margin."
England and Wales account for 80% of the European market for electronic offender monitoring technology, Policy Exchange found.