Border Agency 'cut too many staff' watchdog claims

 

The troubled UK Border Agency has cut too many staff too quickly and is now having to hire extra people and increase overtime to meet demands, Whitehall's spending watchdog said today.

Instead of slowing down staff cuts when it emerged an automated system designed to save money was both a year late and tens of millions of pounds over budget, the UKBA increased the speed of its planned changes, the National Audit Office (NAO) said.

More than 1,000 staff over and above the planned reductions were lost last year, performance dropped and there is little evidence of the strong leadership needed to resolve the problems, the report added.

Border Force staff working at Heathrow Airport, one of its most high-profile and oft-criticised operations, also appeared reluctant to take up more changes.

A voluntary system where staff work a set number of hours each year, rather than each week - so they can work longer hours when it is busier during the Olympics, summer or Christmas periods - was taken up by 62% of staff, saving almost a fifth (£613,000) of premium payments and overtime in the first six months of 2011/12.

But less than a third (32%) of staff at Heathrow joined the scheme, meaning payments there increased 8%.

Changes were also brought in cautiously, "partly through concern about industrial relations, but also piecemeal, without evaluating their potential impact", the report said.

A lack of integration, with some 120 separate targets and significant changes being made "independent of headcount reduction", affected both efficiency and performance, the watchdog said.

Some 22,580 staff were employed by the UKBA, including the Border Force, in April last year, but this had dropped to 20,469 by April this year, figures showed.

"In 2011-12, the agency's workforce reduced by over 1,000 more than planned, despite the fact that progress was slower than expected in the ICW programme and workforce modernisation at the border, and no agency-wide skills strategy was yet in place," the report said.

"The result of this disconnect was, in some places, a dip in performance and the need to hire new staff or increase overtime."

It added: "Agency performance has dipped in some specific areas, in part due to implementing staff reductions faster than originally planned.

"For example, performance in London and the South East has come under pressure due to staff shortages."

More people than expected wanted to leave the organisation, with early exit costs amounting to £60 million between 2010 and 2012, the watchdog added.

The £385 million immigration case work (ICW) computer system, which aimed to improve efficiency and cut costs, has "significant problems" and, despite early successes, "has slipped by a year and is over budget", the NAO said.

Despite less being delivered than expected, the system was £28 million (12%) over its £224 million budget by the end of March and overall expected savings had been revised down to £106 million.

Some 540 requirements, previously described as "must haves", have been removed or postponed in the latest version of the system, leading to limitations, including that customers will not be able to track their applications online.

Further staff reductions before systems such as the ICW programme are implemented "may impact negatively on performance", a risk the agency acknowledges but the impact of which it "is unable to quantify", the watchdog said.

The report added: "Loss of focus, poor governance and a tendency towards optimism bias in planning, delivery and reporting, have contributed to the current problems."

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: "The UK Border Agency and the Border Force deserve credit for taking on an ambitious programme of change, but both organisations face a steep climb to ensure this work delivers both value for money and a good service.

"The real leadership test will be whether the agency can transform casework processing without relying solely on new IT, and whether the Border Force can improve its workforce practices and raise productivity."

A Home Office spokesman said: "We're under no illusions about the scale of the challenge in transforming the UK Border Agency and Border Force and we have already saved huge sums of taxpayers' money, overhauled our business planning and improved performance in key areas of our work.

"Both organisations have now been reorganised into smaller, more focused agencies capable of delivering the further improvements that the public expects and deserves to see."

Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said: "This NAO report proves what we've been saying all along - that the Home Secretary's cuts to Border Force and Border Agency staff have gone too far, too fast and have seriously undermined their performance, with over 2,000 staff members being lost since April last year.

"As a result of this huge reduction and with cuts set to continue, relief staff are being drafted into airports such as Heathrow and Stansted, being paid overtime, being given travel and subsistence expenses and accommodation in local hotels, in some cases 4-star hotels, to shore up our borders."

He added: "The Home Secretary now has some very serious questions to answer: how can she justify this cost to the taxpayer?

"Why is she continuing to cut the number of staff at UKBA and Border Force when both agencies are at breaking point?

"And at what point will she put her hands up and admit her mistake?

"The Home Secretary must now, as a first priority, secure the UK border with full trained, experienced officers, not temps with only three days training.

"Then she must now guarantee that taxpayers' money won't continue to be wasted to mask the mistakes she has made by drastically cutting the number of UKBA and UKBF staff."

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before