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UK Border Force criticised in recent NAO report

A recent report from the National Audit Office (NAO) is highly critical of the performance of the Border Force in certain key areas, although it has also recognised a number of areas of improvement.

The report claims that in order for the Border Force to provide value for money, it needs to perform effectively and in a sustained way across the full range of its activities.

Border Force achievements

According to the report, the UK Border Force has delivered on some important objectives since it was separated from the UK Border Agency, such as reducing queuing times both during and after the 2012 London Olympics.

The NAO reports that in April 2012, just before the Olympics, it became clear that the Border Force was struggling to manage queue times. The Border Force introduced measures to deal with this and, in 2012-13, more than 99% of passengers cleared passport controls within the target times of 25 minutes for European arrivals and 45 minutes for those arriving from outside the EEA.

The Border Force has also standardised how its officers check passengers, and almost 100% of passengers at the border now receive full passport checks.

Other duties neglected

However, the report also found that staff shortages and the requirement to prioritise full passenger checks while managing queue times often prevented UK Border force staff from performing other important duties, such as checking freight.

In addition, says the report, the Border Force’s performance in some of its activities, such as seizures of cigarettes and counterfeit goods, entry refusals and detecting forgeries, was below target during the first months of 2012-13. The Home Office’s internal auditors confirmed in April 2013 that the 2012 Olympics and wider resourcing issues had an effect on the Border Force’s ability consistently to resource customs controls.

“The Department has placed greater demands on the Border Force, which has successfully implemented full passenger checks and reduced queuing times. It has achieved this progress by focusing on a subset of its full range of responsibilities,” explained Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office. “The Border Force now needs to show it can apply the lessons learned from its successes to date across its full range of activities to ensure the security of the border. The Department needs to fund it to do so.”

Further problems identified

Additional problems identified by the NAO in the report include:

  • A lack of organisational identity amongst employees of the Border Force. The workforce is largely made up of officers who previously worked in separate customs and immigrations agencies and typically still identify themselves as ‘ex-customs’ or ‘ex-immigration’. There have also been five different director-generals in post over a period of just 18 months.
  • Continued staff shortages at the border, despite increased staff recruitment. More staff have been recruited to meet the demands placed on the Border Force by the Home Office, such as carrying out full checks on all passengers rather than risk-based checks, however the report states that the Border Force has still not yet established whether it has the resources it needs to deliver all its objectives.
  • Contractual restrictions. The Border Force needs to be able to deploy staff flexibly to meet demand, but is unable to do this effectively because almost a fifth of its workforce is employed under terms and conditions that restrict working hours to fixed periods during the week.

Home Office response

The Home Office has issued a short statement in response to the NAO report, in which it acknowledges that there had been problems, but claims that despite these the UK has one of most secure borders in the world.

“We inherited an organisation with significant challenges and, while some of these remain, I am confident that under the long term leadership of the new Director General, Sir Charles Montgomery, Border Force will continue to build on its many areas of excellence,” commented Immigration Minister Mark Harper.

“We have recruited more Border Force staff; established command centres to deploy those staff more flexibly and effectively; and are reforming working practices,” he added.

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