Border staff 'taken off' immigration searches to process que Sept 4, 2013 6:17:20 GMT
Post by Focus on Sept 4, 2013 6:17:20 GMT
Border Force staff at Calais were told to stop searching vehicles for illegal immigrants in order to help deal with queues at passport control.
A National Audit Office report says this is an example of "trade-offs" as staff juggle competing objectives.
Thousands of illegal immigrants try to reach the UK from France each year
Queue times fell in response to pressure over the Olympics, but targets for confiscating counterfeit goods and refusing entry were missed, it added.
Labour blames a lack of resources, but ministers said action had been taken.
The Border Force was brought under the direct control of the Home Office in 2011, when the UK Border Agency was abolished following a row over the relaxation of passport checks at Heathrow without the authorization of ministers.
In a report on its performance over the past year, the public spending watchdog said the Border Force - which is responsible for both immigration and customs checks - had achieved some notable successes.
But it suggested these gains had come at a price.
Nearly all new arrivals were subject to full passport checks while targets for waiting times at Heathrow and other airports were being met more regularly: 99% of sampled passengers from outside Europe cleared passport control within 45 minutes between May 2012 and April 2013 compared with 81% in April 2012.
Ministers insisted on improved performance in the run-up to last summer's Olympics and Paralympics, with the home secretary being given daily updates on waiting times and more than 400 additional staff recruited at Heathrow.
But while the watchdog said the daily feedback to ministers highlighted the significance of queue times, it unintentionally "sent a strong message to the workforce that queues are more important than other aspects of performance".
The watchdog said the Home Office's own auditors had found that the priority given to the Olympics and "wider resourcing issues" had had an impact on the Border Force's ability to consistently carry out secondary customs controls.
It said full-time staff numbers had fallen by 6% from 8,023 to 7,527 between April 2010 and March 2012, but since separating from the Border Agency its budget had increased and funding was in place to increase staff numbers to 8,477 by next year.
When they interviewed staff at nine sites, the watchdog was told they had not been able to spend an "appropriate" amount of time on customs checks as they would have liked, particularly last summer, and had to "compromise" on the number of questions they could ask passengers thought likely to abuse their visa conditions.
"In Calais, we observed officers being taken off controls to detect clandestine illegal entrants to the UK concealed in lorries in order to deal with passenger queues," the watchdog said.
Freight searches were also suspended due to under-staffing and to allow staff to have meal breaks, although vehicles continued to be searched by French officials and subcontractors employed by the Border Force.
"The Department is aware that such trade-offs are regularly being made," it added.
Morale among staff was "exceptionally low", the watchdog found, with a "culture of fear" prevailing in certain areas and many front-line staff concerned that they were not able to exercise their own judgment and their specialist skills were not being used.
The report also identified problems with the database used to check passports against a watch list of potential threats. Much of the information on the Warnings Index was out of date and the system was "at risk of collapsing".
NAO director general Amyas Morse said the Border Force "now needs to show it can apply the lessons learned from its successes to date across its full range of activities to ensure the security of the border and the department needs to fund it to do so".
Amyas Morse, NAO director general
Labour said the home secretary must be held accountable for the Border Force's ability to perform its duties.
"We already raised concerns that illegal migrants caught on lorries in Calais were not being finger printed," said the shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, referring to recent reports that UK border staff in France are failing to take the fingerprints of thousands of illegal immigrants caught trying to enter Britain.
"Now it is clear they often weren't being checked at all. Cutting checks for clandestine illegal migrants is very serious. Tackling illegal immigration and human trafficking requires proper checks to be in place.
"Theresa May now needs to set out how often freight checks were stopped because of under-staffing and her own decisions."
'Areas of excellence'
Immigration minister Mark Harper said the UK had one of the most secure borders in the world.
"I am pleased the National Audit Office recognizes the success of Border Force in implementing full passenger checks while also reducing queue times," he said.
"We inherited an organisation with significant challenges and, while some of these remain, I am confident that under the long term leadership of the new director general, Sir Charles Montgomery, Border Force will continue to build on its many areas of excellence.
"We have recruited more Border Force staff, established command centres to deploy those staff more flexibly and effectively and are reforming working practices."
[Sir Charles Montgomery, Border Force will continue to build on its many areas of excellence] - Excellence ... LUNACY more like - They couldn't make it more easier for them to illegally enter Britain if they tried, which I'm sure the fools will!! - Fx