G4S awarded £25m government contract despite fraud inquiry

Private security firm being investigated over claims of overcharging in monitoring contracts will supply tagging devices

G4S sign at its headquarters in Crawley, West Sussex
G4S will provide the equipment used to enforce home curfews under the Ministry of Justice contract. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

Critics have raised questions over a Ministry of Justice decision to award the private security firm G4S a £25m contract for the electronic tagging of offenders despite an ongoing Serious Fraud Office investigation.

The initial three-year Ministry of Justice contract – with options to run until 2023 – is to provide the equipment used to enforce home curfews on convicted offenders and released prisoners, including a minority of “next generation” GPS satellite tracking tags.

G4S will supply only the equipment, the majority of which will be first-generation “radio frequency” ankle tags that cannot track the movements of the offenders, only whether they are present at a specific location. The public services company Capita is now responsible for the main part of the contract, including fitting the tags and monitoring the offenders.

The confirmation of the G4S contract award comes as the National Audit Office is expected to publish on Tuesday a highly critical report on the lengthy delays behind repeated ministerial promises to introduce satellite tracking of offenders in England and Wales. A three-year attempt to develop a “bespoke” GPS tag by the justice ministry was abandoned in 2016.

An SFO investigation into allegations of overcharging in the main electronic monitoring contracts of offenders in England and Wales began in 2013, when a general ban was imposed on G4S and a second company, Serco, bidding for any government work. The ban was lifted in 2014 when G4S agreed to repay £109m and put in place a “corporate renewal plan” to prevent any recurrence.

The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, raised questions over the decision: “It beggars belief that the government has sneaked out this contract with G4S while a serious fraud probe is still exploring its misconduct in a previous contract.

“We’ve seen scandal after scandal with G4S, from billing the government for tagging thousands of “phantom offenders” – including those who were dead or in jail – to serious delays in informing the authorities that over 100 prisoners had been fitted with faulty electronic tags,” he said.

Burgon said if the “phantom offenders” overcharging scandal had not been exposed, taxpayers would have been ripped off to the tune of more than £100m.

“The government needs to explain what has changed to justify awarding its first big contract to G4S,” said Burgon. “It really is unclear just how bad G4S’s service has to get before the government stops trusting them with taxpayers’ money”.

Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, added: “Despite past problems and an ongoing criminal investigation, the hold G4S has over the Ministry of Justice only seems to be tightening.

“While plans to ’transform’ rehabilitation are foundering, Ministers appear willing to pull out all the stops to rehabilitate G4S,” he added.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed that G4S had won the new contract to continue to provide the hardware for the electronic monitoring of offenders.

“G4S has been selected through an open and competitive tender process to supply tagging equipment as part of a suite of contracts required to provide electronic monitoring services,” said a spokesperson.
“Electronic monitoring is an important tool to improve supervision in the community and support offenders to change their lives.”

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