Reid promises cull of senior Home Office staff

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Indy Politics

A cull of senior Home Office civil servants was announced after the beleaguered department received a damning vote of no confidence from the Government's troubleshooters.

They found "significant weaknesses" or "serious concerns" in every one of 10 key tests of the Home Office's leadership, strategy and direction.

John Reid, the Home Secretary, published a "radical reform programme" for the department, which has been paralysed by controversies over foreign prisoners, immigration controls and sentencing. The shake-up, which will take several years, will see heads rolling among senior staff and thousands of civil servants transferred to frontline services.

It will be followed today by an overhaul of sentencing policy to make it "clearer and more honest". Mr Reid will announce tougher supervision of violent offenders after release, stricter rules on the granting of parole, more rights for victims, an end to sentence discounts in return for a guilty plea and a new prison-building programme.

The problems bedevilling the Home Office were underlined yesterday by Whitehall's new "traffic light" rating system under which departments are ranked in five levels from green (strong) to red (serious concerns).

Ten yardsticks were examined with six judged as needing remedial action, two requiring urgent action and two over which there were "serious concerns". It was not considered "strong" or "well-placed" in any category.

Mr Reid faced further embarrassment yesterday after it emerged that the Home Office had underestimated the number of failed asylum-seekers living in Britain.

The department has uncovered between 400,000 and 450,000 cases files in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) suggesting there are far more cases than previously estimated.

Mr Reid yesterday promised all the files would be examined over the next five years and as many people deported as possible. His Home Office reform plan will mean 15 of the department's directors - more than a quarter of the total - will be removed and could even be sacked if alternative jobs cannot be found.

All directors, plus another 250 senior civil servants, will undergo a "skills assessment". Head office staff levels will be slimmed from 8,000 to fewer than 6,000 within four years, with civil servants redeployed to the front line. IND will become a semi-autonomous agency in 2008.

Admitting that the Home Office structure had "sometimes led to confusion about who does what", the department promised new contracts clarifying the roles of officials.

Mr Reid said the changes amounted to "the biggest shift from the centre to the front line in the Home Office's history". Sir David Normington, permanent secretary at the Home Office, said: "This is... change on a scale I have never attempted before. It could not be more important to the country."

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "It is no hyperbole to say the crisis is the biggest faced by a government in modern times. The failures are multiple, are massive and have a serious impact on the public."

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, denounced a "hotchpotch of managerial doublespeak and wildly implausible targets".