21 February 2012

Home Office announce UK immigration authorities shakeup

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Home Secretary Theresa May announced last night that the UK immigration authority, the UKBA, would be split in two following reports of lax checks and poor management.

UK immigration

Home Secretary Theresa May announced the UKBA would be split in an attempt to put an end to the border fiasco.

An investigation by the independent chief inspector of the UKBA, John Vine, found that UK immigration checks were relaxed approximately 15,000 times over the last five years, resulting in over half a million people entering Britain without appropriate checks via the channel tunnel alone.

Mr Vine's report also detailed an initiative at Heathrow which allowed students from countries deemed 'low-risk' to enter the country even if they did not have the entry clearance.

The UKBA has been scrutinised in politics since summer 2011 when reports of border relaxations first surfaced. Then head of the UK Border Force, Brodie Clark, resigned after being blamed for the relaxations; Mr Clark described being blamed as "political convenience".

In an attempt to solve the issues with border enforcement, Mrs May announced last night that the UK Border Force, which deals with immigration, will be split from the UKBA and form its own agency which will be "directly accountable to Ministers."

"The Vine Report reveals a Border Force that suspended important checks without permission; that spent millions on new technologies but chose not to use them; that was led by managers who did not communicate with their staff; and that sent reports to ministers that were inaccurate, unbalanced and excluded key information," said Mrs May.

 "I do not believe the answer to the very significant problems exposed in the Vine Report is just a series of management changes.

"The Border Force needs a whole new management culture. There is no getting away from the fact that UKBA, of which the Border Force is part, has been a troubled organisation since it was founded in 2008.

"The extent of the transformational change required - in the agency's case working functions and in the Border Force - is too great for one organisation."

Mrs May explained that, as of next month, the Border Force would "become a separate operational command, with its own ethos of law enforcement, led by its own director general, and accountable directly to ministers."

Shadow home Secretary Yvette Cooper accused Mrs May of simply passing the buck and told her to "stop hiding and take responsibility for the unclear instructions for things that have happened on your watch, for the policy decision to downgrade border controls, for the failure to monitor and check what was going on, and for the failure to take responsibility now.

"This mess got worse and escalated on your watch, every month that went by. Unless you accept responsibility for it, you will fail to sort it out and you will also fail to reassure us that you can cope with future fiascos, and that you as home secretary can keep our borders secure."

Matt Cavanagh from the independent think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research said reorganisation was a "favoured tactic" of pressured politicians and that with the Olympics just months away, it is a dangerous time to reorganise an entire department now.

"The government is taking a risk attempting yet another structural change at a time when border staff will be preparing for the significant operational challenge of the Olympics," said Mr Cavanagh.


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