MPs attack Border Force failings

Poor planning and outdated IT systems mean the Border Force is failing to protect national security properly, an influential committee of MPs has concluded.

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Margaret Hodge said the security of Britain's borders has been weakened

Poor planning and outdated IT systems mean the Border Force is failing to protect national security properly, an influential committee of MPs has concluded.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the body tasked with securing Britain's air, sea and rail ports admitted it was failing to meet eight of its 19 performance targets.

It meant freight went unchecked for illicit goods and illegal immigrants were able to sneak in while Border Force officers focussed on carrying out checks on every single passenger coming into Britain.

Committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge said: "The Border Force prioritised passenger checks on arrival at the expense of other duties and weakened the security of our borders.

"The force neglected to examine freight for illicit goods, neglected to check lorries in Calais for concealed illegal entrants, and failed to check passengers coming into Britain on private planes or boats, potentially letting billionaire gangsters off the hook.

"The morale of staff is at rock bottom, threatening the prospect of achieving the increases in productivity and flexibility of workforce which the Border Force so sorely needs. Senior management must provide strong and stable leadership capable of providing a sense of purpose."

The PAC said Border Force needs to set out plans for how it will meet all of its obligations from now on.

And it needs to acknowledge how this will be done better in a time of squeezed budgets. The committee said in recent years the number of officers has been cut, only to go straight back up again.

A clear timescale should also be laid out for improvements to the IT systems assisting the work of officers, the MPs concluded.

Mrs Hodge added: "(Border Force) has a big task ahead of it, given the limited resources it has and the significant growth in demand from forecast increases in passenger numbers and air freight.

"The planning of the Border Force's workforce has been extremely poor. A cut in staff of 500 between 2010 and 2012 was immediately followed, when 100% passenger checks were introduced, by spending to increase the number of frontline staff from 7,600 to 8,000. Paying out redundancy and then rehiring staff is bad value for money and demonstrates poor planning.

"The force's plans for 2013-14 involve spending of 4% more than its budget. It then faces cuts in the following two years. Little progress has been made in recent years in introducing greater flexibility to its workforce, with 40% of staff at Heathrow still on inflexible terms and conditions, making it difficult and expensive to cover the early-morning shifts."