The failure of technology used by UK immigration at British borders have resulted in huge costs, according to MPs. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) blasted the Home Office after a plan to upgrade computer systems was delayed by three years. The PAC said: “The Home Office has a miserable record of failing to deliver on hugely expensive digital programmes.”
“These programmes fail to deliver for the taxpayer or border security because of a lack of effective leadership, management and oversight,” the PAC added.
Continued delays to the Digital Services at the Border (DSAB) programme have reportedly cost the taxpayer a whopping £173 million so far, while UK immigration staff at British borders are stuck using out-of-date technology to determine who can enter the UK.
300 staff using part of programme
It’s understood that just 300 UK immigration staff are using part of the programme when 7,000 should be using it by June this year, according to the PAC. In its report, the PAC said: “The Home Office continues to struggle with delivery of technology programmes at staggering cost to the taxpayer.”
When confronted about the ongoing delays, Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft said: “£173 million is a very large amount of money and we are doing everything that we can to avoid that number going up any further.”
Meanwhile, PAC chairwoman Meg Hillier said: “UK immigration and border security are among the biggest political issues of our time. It is incredible that the Home Office can have failed so badly, for so long, to deliver technology that is crucial to our national security objectives, crucial to protecting the public from terrorism, crime, illegal immigration and trafficking, and crucial to facilitating legitimate movement across the border.”
“The Home Office has struggled to get to grips with the technical challenges, resetting the programme and changing the leadership repeatedly. And it is the taxpayer hit by both the financial cost and the risks to our security,” she added.
The PAC’s report deemed that the Home Office had ‘failed to identify, acknowledge and be transparent about its difficulties with delivering technology programmes.
140 million passengers per year
The hope is that the new system will help to process some 140 million passengers a year at UK borders. However, the Home Office is yet to demonstrate how it can cope with a return to the volume of travellers seen prior to the coronavirus outbreak, plus a potential 6% rise in annual traveller numbers.
The PAC has urged the Home Office to outline how it has changed its approach to the project and to make sure that it is delivered by the new deadline of March 2022.
The findings come following an investigation carried out by the National Audit Office (NAO) in 2020, which found that the Home Office failed to deliver on improved digital border systems in line with its planned timetable of March 2019.
The NAO’s report said that this led to rising costs and further dependence on ‘legacy technology’, which included a 26-year-old system for its passenger watchlist to check whether suspects and persons of interest were trying to enter the UK. The Home Office had sought to upgrade the decades old system in 2014.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “The Home Secretary agrees with the assessment made by the Public Accounts Committee of historical issues at the Home Office. She is working closely with the Permanent Secretary to make changes within the department, and deliver value for money and results for the taxpayer.”
“Following the reset of the Digital Services at the Border programme in 2019, the rollout of the new Border Crossing system is on schedule to be completed by the end of June 2021, delivering increased efficiency and providing a better experience for travellers.”
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