The Ministry of Justice has signed a £4m deal for sensors to monitor and report back on the occupancy of government office space.
According to newly published commercial documents, the MoJ will enter into a two-year engagement with US tech company FM:Systems on 1 February 2023. It is understood that about £1m of the contract's value relates to the ministry – which has worked with the tech firm since 2014 – and its agencies. The remaining £3m will be spent by other government departments.
Departments have been collecting data on attendance at their headquarters since February as part of a Cabinet Office-push to get civil servants back to offices in greater numbers as Covid restrictions came to an end. Departments have used methods such as: wifi and/or computer log-ins associated with location; swipe pass entry data; space or desk booking systems; and manual count.
The contract with FM:Systems states that it covers the provision of a “a web-based reporting solution to measure and report on desk and room utilisation”.
“[This] will be provided by a physical sensor recording heat and motion and those sensors then sending this information to the cloud where an agreed set of reports provide the occupancy data,” it added.
The MoJ – and any arm’s-length bodies or other government entities that make use of the contract – will require sensors to provide reports of office-space use broken down by department, directorate and individual teams, as well as by “date, time, asset type, asset, zone, floor, [and] building”.
“The solution must be designed in such a way that it can be effective without recourse to building infrastructure such as data cabling and WiFi in buildings where this isn’t available,” the contract said.
“The sensors must be capable of reporting whether desks, touchdown spaces and meeting rooms and occupied or not… [and] recording the number of people entering and leaving an enclosed work area – such as a floor of a building – and be able to send alerts when predefined occupancy levels are reached.”
The document added that “the flexibility inherent” in both the technology and the commercial agreement means that the “the MoJ can specify ongoing implementation plans that will then be met” by the supplier.
Once its initial two-year term expires on 31 January 2025, the ministry has the option of extending the deal by two further 12-month periods.
The award of the MoJ contract comes a few months after the Department of Health and Social Care signed a contract for use of FM:Systems sensors and reporting platforms. The deal with DHSC – which has about 3,000 staff, compared with the near-80,000 employed by the MoJ – will be worth up to £300,000.
Union leaders have criticised the use of technology to monitor occupancy rates of government offices. Speaking in September, PCS chief Mark Serwotka described it as a “worrying, Big Brother-style development that we fear could be used to victimise our members who work from home rather than in the office”.
A spokesperson for the MoJ said: “The OccupEye technology is widely used across government and the private sector to help organisations understand how their office spaces are used. MoJ has used it since 2014. It will never be a tool for monitoring individuals’ office attendance.”
Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology where a version of this story first appeared.