MPs slam Home Office over e-Borders

Public Accounts Committee says department has been unrealistic in its approach to programmes for monitoring movements of travellers

Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has dished out a sharp rebuke to the Home Office over its programmes to monitor the movements of people at UK borders, with a report that says the effort is set to cost more than £1 billion with delivery eight years late and no sight of the initially promised benefits.

UK_Border_Force_croppedIt says the department "does not have a clear picture of the management information it has or needs to manage the UK border". Together with continual changes in senior management, this has hindered the successful delivery of border programmes.

The e-Borders programme was launched in 2007 with the aim of collecting information on passengers in advance of their travel to identify people who might be involved in illegal activities. The Home Office signed a contract with Raytheon to deliver a solution, but this was cancelled in 2010.

The report, which intensifies the criticisms of an earlier review by the National Audit Office, says this was due to an unrealistic price and timescale for delivery, with requirements that kept changing and the demand for high assurance that the solution would work.

Heavy costs

Successor programmes, including the Border Systems Programme and Digital Services at the Border, took over where Raytheon left off. By March 2015 the Home Office has spent at least £830 million on all these programmes.

The report says that, while the Home Office insists that UK borders are secure, its claims that it checks 100% of passports is “imprecise and unrealistic”.

It adds that the commercial approach for the e-Borders contract "could not cope" with the challenges faced and that, throughout the programme, the Home Office "has underestimated the importance of securing the co-operation of other government agencies and transport carriers".

It calls on the department to: set out as a matter of urgency what it expects to deliver in 2016 and who will be responsible for delivering it; clarify what data it needs to manage the UK border effectively and when it will be available; and report back to the committee in January 2017 on what has been achieved.

Missed target

Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, said: “It is accepted that successful completion of this project is essential to the security of our international borders. Yet the original target date has long passed and we are still at least three years away from delivery. The stop, start approach has cost the taxpayer dear.

“I am careful to say 'at least' three years from delivery because we are not convinced warnings about the progress of this project have been treated with sufficient gravity, nor that sufficient action has been taken to prevent a repeat of past problems.

“Some of these are depressingly familiar to this committee, not least the damaging effects of disjointed leadership and weaknesses in the handling of data. We have also seen another poorly conceived commercial partnership end in expensive failure.

“If the Home Office is to complete this project before the decade is out then it must get its house in order now — starting by setting out exactly what it expects to achieve this year, and who will be held to account for it."

Picture adapted from image by the Home Office, uploaded by Opihuck,Open Government Licence v3.0 via Wikimedia Commons