Heathrow hits back at government in blame game over queues

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The Independent Travel

The new man in charge of the UK's borders faces a grilling from MPs this week as further evidence emerged of bungled planning over staffing levels.

Brian Moore, Director-General of the UK Border Force since March, has been called to appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee tomorrow.

Last week the committee was told that queues for passport control at Heathrow, the busiest airport in Europe, were sometimes so long that they could not be measured. The rift between the UK aviation industry and the Home Office has widened with a row over planning for peak arrivals.

The Immigration minister, Damian Green, told the Home Affairs Select Committee that the UK Border Force had been caught unawares last Monday because of a serious understatement in the number of arriving passengers.

He told the committee: "What I was told – not by senior border force management, but by the person who actually organises the rosters for the mobile teams – was that on Friday, the Border Force was told that 2,500 people would be arriving at peak time, Monday morning, at Terminal Five. The actual number – I've just checked – between six and nine – was 7,500."

Mr Green later corrected the upper figure to 5,000.

The minister's explanation for the length of queues baffled BAA, the company that owns Heathrow, and British Airways, which has Terminal Five to itself. Because BA has a monopoly at Terminal Five it is a simple task to calculate the likely number of passengers presenting themselves at passport control.

BA has around 40 international flights scheduled to arrive at Terminal Five between 6am and 9am every Monday morning. Forecasts are routinely provided by BA and BAA to the UK Border Force about likely inbound passengers. The nature of aviation means these can only be approximations, but they are normally accurate to within 5 per cent.

A spokesman for BA said: "We continue to provide regular updates to the UK Border Agency of our passenger loads several times a week and we are confident the figures we provide give accurate predictions of the likely passenger flow."

At the weekend, leaked emails from the Home Office revealed that junior civil servants are being recruited to help handle peaks in demand this summer – especially during the Olympics. They will be given only three days' training in spotting fake documents, rather than the three months required for a fully trained officer. Temporary staff will be deployed to check the documents only of returning UK travellers and EU citizens, rather than passengers from outside Europe.

The Home Affairs Select Committee's chairman, Keith Vaz, said long queues and low staff morale "cannot continue". "We will be questioning Mr Moore on the action he has taken to resolve this situation," he added