Home office staff paid to compete in tug-of-war contest

Civil servants are being given time off during their working day - to join in a tug-of-war contest, it was revealed today.

Home Office officials can apply for five hours off work to take part in the department's "Winter Games" to be held next month, according to a leaked email.



It invites male and female staff for games of "mixed" tug-of-war and non-contact rugby in the middle of the working day.



Outrage over the event was compounded by revelations that the official running it, Ashley Robinson, is responsible for tracking down illegal immigrants.



On Tuesday UK Border Agency officials admitted they had lost 40,000 immigrants thought to have no right to be in this country.



Chief executive Lin Homer said there was no record of whether they had left after being told their visas were not being renewed.



In an email to officials, published by the blogger Guido Fawkes, Mr Robinson, who works in UKBA's national arrest team wrote: "I will be organising Mixed Touch Rugby and Mixed Tug of War at the Home Office L&SE (London and South East) Winter Games on Thursday 26th November 2009 11-4 Metropolitan Police Sports Ground...



"SPECIAL LEAVE with PAY for Home Office staff working inside London & South East - subject to line-management authorisation can be applied for. Are you keen to enter a team/event?"



Critics said the event was an "absolute disgrace".



Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Taxpayers' Alliance said: "The fact that the Home Office thinks taxpayers should pay for their staff to scrum down in work hours is an absolute disgrace, and the fact we're paying extra for their fun just adds insult to injury.



"There are so many areas that need more attention from Home Office staff, it's hard to know where to begin.



"It's no surprise the department has been falling short of the mark if they are prioritising recreational sports days above tackling immigration problems and prison reform."



Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: "This is just not good enough.



"Our immigration system has been shambolic for years, and far too few people refused the right to stay here have actually been deported.



"If this is symbolic of what is happening in the Home Office, then it really does need major changes."



Three years ago then home secretary John Reid said Britain's immigration system was "not fit for purpose", after it emerged more than 1,000 foreign prisoners had been released and not deported.

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