Last chance for Home Office as Reid announces major changes

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Indy Politics

John Reid will today unveil changes to the beleaguered Home Office in a final attempt to prevent it being broken up.

The Home Secretary will announce that the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) will become semi-independent in nine months, giving its managers more freedom from the Home Office. This decision follows the release of more than 1,000 foreign prisoners who were not considered for deportation.

Mr Reid will also set out ways to improve communication between different parts of his department - a failing highlighted by the oreign prisoners fiasco, which exposed the poor liaison between the IND and the Prison Service. Civil service job cuts are expected at the Home Office's London headquarters to create "a leaner HQ and more dynamic front line". There will be new performance targets and improvements to computer systems and data collection.

The shake-up will come on the day that Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, singles out the Home Office for the strongest criticism when he publishes the first in a series of "capability reviews". The others are for the departments responsible for work and pensions, education and constitutional affairs.

The Cabinet Office inquiry will vindicate Mr Reid's description of his own department as "not fit for purpose" only three weeks after he succeeded Charles Clarke in May. He said then: "It is inadequate in terms of its scope, information technology, leadership, management, systems and processes." He has told allies he was not "shooting from the hip" but reflecting the views of his top civil servants, including Sir David Normington, his Permanent Secretary.

Mr Reid, who admits his own credibility is now on the line, believes the Home Office can survive in its present form, but concedes that pressure for it to be broken up will grow if his reforms do not work. He will insist that the Home Office has improved since 1997, but will argue that it now needs nothing less than a complete "transformation" to cope with global trends which have dramatically affected its work - mass migration, international terrorism, organised crime and the expansion of the EU - and changes in Britain, such as the breakdown of traditional families and the growth of antisocial behaviour.

Mr Reid concedes that the Home Office has spent too much time "firefighting" problems such as the rise in asylum-seekers rather than spotting the trends which have revolutionised the challenges it faces. A source said: "We need to ensure the department is focused on our core purpose, which is protecting the public. We have to make sure each part of the department is delivering and also that there are linkages across the department."

Tomorrow Mr Reid will announce reforms to the criminal justice system. Rules which allow an automatic 30 per cent cut in jail terms when criminals plead guilty and to be considered for release after serving half of their sentences will be scrapped for serious offenders. These changes are in response to the case of Craig Sweeney, the paedophile who kidnapped and assaulted a three-year-old girl. Under existing rules, Sweeney will be eligible for release after five years.