Image source: NAO
Problems with recruitment to digital roles have contributed to the poor performance of the UK Security Vetting (UKSV) operation, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
It has published a report on UKSV – which is run by the Cabinet Office – highlighting that it has not met its targets for counter terrorist checks (CTSs) and security checks (SCs) since August 2021 and for developed vetting (DV) since May 2021.
UKSV aims to complete 85% of CTC and SC clearances within 25 days and 85% of DV clearances within 95 days. For CTCs and SCs the figure fell to a low of 15% in September 2022 and for DVs there was a low of 7% in April 2022.
The report identifies problems in modernising the digital infrastructure as one of the major factors in the shortcomings.
It says a pledge to modernise IT was included in the Vetting Reform programme begun in 2019, but UKSV has consistently struggled to recruit people with the right skills and its current resource shows a shortfall of 68 full-time equivalents for relevant roles. Despite aiming to move to an in-house approach it still has a heavy reliance on IT contractors.
Further problems arose when a request for £7 million partial approval for continued automation was not approved, and when the shortage of expertise prevented full alignment with government digital service standards, the report says.
In addition, the initial modernisation efforts ran almost 50% over budget, resulting in £2.5 million being written off.
UKSV is also under-resourced in commercial, project management and human resourcing.
NAO says the Cabinet Office needs to quickly implement an agreed vision for betting transformation, with transparent performance metrics that accurately measure whether clearances are being processed in a timely manner, and sufficient resilience to react to new events.
Head of the NAO Gareth Davies said: “Our investigation finds unacceptable delays continue to hamper security vetting, which is of vital importance to the effective functioning of government, and in particular, national security work.
“UKSV must build on initiatives from its stabilisation plan to ensure that it is on a sustainable path to meet the increasing demand for vetting. And it is essential that the Cabinet Office set a clear pathway for meaningful reform, including recruiting and retaining talent to implement and manage sustainable improvements.”