i Editor's Letter: "Not fit for purpose"



Things teachers say stay with you through life. Magnificently eccentric Monsieur Mogford's "every time I open my mouth … some fool speaks" remains my favourite. Happy days, even being shouted at by Mr Perry, the fierce head of PE, as another lineout drill went to pot. "It's bloody Fred Karno's Army," he'd yell. None of us had a clue what that was, but we all knew what he meant.

The UK Border Agency is our Fred Karno's Army. Only it wasn't called the UKBA, before it was founded only five years ago. Then, Labour decided the Home Office Immigration and Nationality Directorate was "not fit for purpose", a familiar phrase. Today, as Theresa May assesses a 24-year backlog of 320,000 immigration cases, she would do well to delve into civil service history.

In 1996 John Major's government awarded Siemens a massive IT and "business process engineering" contract to be implemented by 1998. It was to speed up processing the 50,000+ backlog of asylum-seekers and create a "paperless office". In 2001, Jack Straw scrapped the entire chaotic, over-ambitious plan.

A decade later, Lin Homer, former IND boss and first head of UKBA, admitted 450,000 cases had been left in boxes at the Home Office. Today, there are 28,500 asylum cases, 4,000 immigration cases and 182,000 in a "Migration Refusal Pool". Ms Homer is now head of HM Revenue & Customs.

Oh, I forgot, so many staff were laid off, the Home Office had to ask some back – on better terms – to cope with the Olympics! Fred Karno's Army? To quote dear old Pete Perry: they couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery.