Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)
MR MIKE DUGGAN, MR PAUL SMYTH MR JOHN BROWN AND MR FRANK THOMPSON
MONDAY 22 APRIL 2002
80. What impact do you anticipate there will be on the closure of the CCU at Inchinnan, if any?
(Mr Duggan) We agreed with the Department that there was a need to ensure that there was the most highly developed, technically up to date means by which our members on the ground were given information. We do not disagree with Terry Byrne's analysis of the issues. The problem is where should the National Co-ordination Unit be. There were lobbies within the Department for it to be in Glasgow and Ipswich. We argued that it should be placed in an area that is going to have maximum impact in terms of ensuring that the Department did not suffer any redundancy. We have been pressing hard for new work to come to Glasgow to ensure that those who previously worked in the Glasgow CCU were given jobs. There is going to be a package of work associated with Intelligence coming to Glasgow to deal with that. It is a solution that perhaps meets the problem. One of our concerns is that our members on the ground are given the most up to date support and that their safety is not compromised in any way. They need high technology to ensure that every database is accessed so that any actions they subsequently take do not put them at serious risk. We have been working very closely with the Department to ensure that that service is going to be made available from the National Co-ordination Unit to our members. We are satisfied that this is going to be a premier service to our members on the ground. I know that from the Scottish point of view it would have been preferable to have it based in Scotland but there is a balance to be taken and hopefully we have taken action jointly with the Department to ensure that our members who want to continue working with Customs and Excise have a package of decent quality work that they can continue with.
81. How is HMCE law enforcement provision in Scotland managing in its fight against the smuggling of tobacco, alcohol and class A drugs?
(Mr Duggan) We are concerned that there has not been any increase in staff in Scotland for a number of years. We believe there is a need, as well as focusing on the central belt, to provide more Detection and intelligence staff in the more remote areas to ensure that all the gaps are plugged. On tobacco, Scotland did not get any additional resources. 1,000 jobs were given to the Department but none came to Scotland and my colleagues reminded us centrally within the union that we did not achieve any increases in Scotland for tobacco. There seems to be evidence from the seizure in Lithuania that was recently in the newspapers that Scotland is being targeted directly again through the Baltic route and there needs to be a reappraisal of the amount of resources given to Scotland to deal with tobacco. On spirits, the Chancellor has announced additional resources and we have yet to see how much will be given to Scotland. We have to discuss that with the Department but overall we do not believe there are sufficient resources in Scotland to deal with either of those problems.
82. The National Audit Office estimates that 7.3 billion was being lost to the Exchequer each year due to smuggling and VAT evasion. That means, in Scottish terms, £730 million less spend on public services. Mr Byrne put that figure at four billion. I am not sure which figure is correct. Secondly, we have 56,000 heroin addicts in Scotland and 15,000 commit 2.6 million criminal offences every year. 90 per cent of the crime is drugs related and 21 per cent of the cigarettes smoked in Britain are smuggled. Do you believe that this is a satisfactory result from a Customs and Excise point of view?
(Mr Duggan) It clearly is not. Those are figures quoted in our submission. That is one of the reasons why we argued for additional resources. Customs and Excise is doing all that is possible with the resources, equipment and intelligence that it has. Year on year, its performance gets better and better. However, there is a limit to how much you can improve your performance on the amount of resources that you have available. There clearly needs to be an update of IT equipment. Scanners are extremely useful in terms of being able to detect large quantities. At the same time, there are large amounts of drugs, tobacco etc., being smuggled into this country that you cannot stop by having the same amount of resources to deal with it that you had five or six years ago. The trade is increasing and the Department has to respond by upping its effort. It can only do that with the support of government through additional resources. As we have argued before, the government will have benefit from the deployment of additional Customs resources. It is not as if you are pouring money away. You are pouring money into something that is going to give a pay back in terms of additional resources and stopping crime.
83. I appreciate that you are asking for extra resources but this was not the message coming from Mr Byrne and his team.
(Mr Duggan) It is not for me to put words into the mouth of Departmental officials. I am working full time as a union official, representing members. I am sure that civil servants have to be loyal to their ministers and, despite what they may argue in terms of resources they would like, have to put forward the views of ministers in terms of the resources that they have. I do not know of any civil servant in any Department who would say, "The Government has not given us sufficient resources." They always ensure that their answers say they do the best with the resources that they have. The question is perhaps to be put to ministers as to whether or not they believe that there are sufficient resources to tackle the problems for which they have responsibility. I respect Departmental officials arguing the corner that ministers have given to them. That is their job but I do not know many Customs officersand we represent thousands of themwho would not say that more resources would not have a major impact upon dealing with the problems that they have to deal with on a day to day basis.
84. How do your colleagues feel about Scotland's share of the resources?
(Mr Duggan) Extremely unhappy.
(Mr Brown) On overall staffing, official Departmental representatives seem unsure about overall staffing figures in Scotland. We have the same difficulty because of the amount of reorganisation that has gone on within the Department over the last nine or ten years. It is very difficult to identify where people are working because some of the names have changed and there are new things coming on stream. We have things we did not have ten years ago. We reckon, over the last seven or eight years, in Scotland, we have gone from 1,600 officers of Customs and Excise to around 1,100. I would like to see the Department's response to that in the figures they are going to put to you. It is possible that they would not go back further than five or six years. It would be difficult for us to say that a certain number have come out of the Detection area. In general terms, they have come out of all areas, including Detection, investigation, intelligence and VAT, excise, which would have covered excise assurance and controls. Mr Sarwar referred to the National Audit Office and the Department has put a lot of resources back in to combat a diversion problem. That was to counter the problem where they had reduced the number of officers there because they said there was no risk, which will become a very familiar statement to you. Mike referred to the tobacco strategy in Scotland. He is quite right to say that we did receive extra resources. We received two jobs. Unfortunately that year we lost in the region of 60 posts overall. The question was on the overall cut of the cake in Scotland. A lot of the reduction in staff has been due to reallocation within the Department. There were extra posts for Dover in anti-smuggling. I think 300 were removed from Dover. Then they said, "No, they are not going to go. Put them back in." We said, "Fair enough." These were new jobs. We are not saying that we have any more of the risk but there are new things coming on stream all the time and it is an ever depleting cake that we are dealing with. It is not true that we are keeping up with the amount of risk that we have. It is going down all the time. In the remoter areas, there were about 24. A lot of local offices have closed down but we had about 24 local posts in 1995 and we now have one. We have had to fight really hard to keep him. The only reason he is still there in Stranraer is because he is wanting a job in the police intel unit. We are not convinced. At Rosyth, we have no commitment that someone is going to put full time intelligence in there. I do not know how the Department is going to assess any risk that is coming through. On the CCU, one of the reasons they gave for the cutting of the remote stations was that there was going to be more expertise based at the CCU unit in Glasgow. That has now gone. I am not disputing we should have a large, specialised unit in one part of the country but we have had to take considerable reductions in local intelligence gathering over the years and that does not seem to have been replaced. Last year's figure has not reduced but it was a staff in post figure and that has been year on year.
85. The figures we were given informally relating to the northern isles were that, if you go back 15 years, you would have something in the region of 25 Customs officers in Shetland, 18 in Orkney and we would have three in Shetland to cover the whole of the northern isles. What is the morale of the front line, lower grade staff at the moment? What is your feeling about the views held by the lower grade, front line staff with regard to the senior management of the service and their grasp on the realities of the situation at the front line?
(Mr Duggan) The problem is not just at the lower grades but probably middle managers as well. The Department has been through a few years of considerable upheaval and reorganisation. Whilst we can see what the change is intended to deal with, it has been particularly difficult for those on the front line. From all the reports we have received, morale is not fantastically high. It has taken a bit of a drubbing over recent times, but our members take their work very seriously. Morale is bound to have suffered because of the sapping impact upon everybody but, despite all the upheaval and changes, we believe that our members have stuck to the task and done their best in all the circumstances. It is very difficult for them to keep up with the changing direction in which the Department is going. There seems to be some sense in the current concentration and focus upon the different activities of the Department but it has been the result of a long, hard process for our members. What they find most difficult to accept is that it has been accompanied, aside from the additional tobacco smuggling, by next to no increase in cost. For example, because there is no money for early releases when the Department moves work out, it is very difficult to effect those changes. The reorganisation may make sense but the Department has not been given enough money to implement it properly. There is money that should be available for dealing with HR issues that is not there. Morale is not as high as it has been. Our members are attempting to do the best job possible in the circumstances.
86. I asked Mr Byrne a question about his association with the DEA. His answer was basically that the main port of call of drugs coming into Scotland was Manchester. I said that my information from the DEA was that this had been moving from down south up to ports in Scotland, mainly Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Can you tell me exactly what you think?
(Mr Duggan) The PCS does not operate a separate intelligence service from the Department. We rely on information our members pass back to us and we studiously ensure that we do not pass on information that may compromise the operational integrity of the Department. Recent items of news in the newspapers up here indicate that there are two examples, one in Lithuania and one in France. It would appear that there is an increase in the amount of evidence to show that Scotland is being targeted for drugs and tobacco through its ports of entry, not necessarily through Manchester and Dover. We have no doubt that Manchester, Dover and Merseyside are risks as far as Scotland is concerned but the information we have about the seizure of class A drugs in France and Lithuania shows that there is gathering information that Scotland is being targeted by more direct routes.
87. That would seem to back up what I said. Why would you think that Mr Byrne has a different opinion of this?
(Mr Duggan) Mr Byrne is operating on the basis of intelligence that has been gathered and given to him by his officers in the field.
88. Without asking you to be too specific, do you have any view from your members as to how effective is the cooperation between the Department and the Scottish Drugs Enforcement Agency and between the Department and other law enforcement agencies in Scotland, both at local and Scottish level?
(Mr Duggan) My understanding is that relationships are good, effective and productive in Scotland. We have spoken informally to officials in Scotland and, as far as we are aware, there is a good operating relationship. One of the problems is that the money that is allocated to the drugs effort is for competing priorities. All the agencies are competing for money from the same pot. I am not sure that that always works for the best cooperation because if there is a limited amount of money to deal with the drugs issue, if a certain amount of money is given to the police, it will not be given to Customs and Excise. There may be barriers to as much cooperation as you would like because of competing priorities. Aside from that, I have no evidence to suggest that there are not good working relationships between all the bodies associated with the SDEA.
89. I was interested in Mr Brown's description of the position in Stranraer and the contrast with the position in Rosyth. Does your unit have a view as to whether or not that type of working at local level could be made better use of?
(Mr Duggan) As far as I am aware, Mr Brown's point was not the working relationship with the police and immigration locally but that they appear to have been able to move resources into these areas more speedily than Customs and Excise and the fact that they are given additional resources and we are not.
90. What difficulties do you see being posed by basing the dogs in Manchester and Hull? Do you see any advantages to this arrangement?
(Mr Duggan) I have been advised by my colleagues on this issue. Between 1997 and 1999, Scotland did have its own drugs service but, as far as we are aware, those were dogs that were merely used to check for cannabis. They were not trained for other functions. There has been a rationalisation of the service. Up until today's evidence, our members were aware that dogs had come up once. The problem we have with this is that we do not think you can call drugs an emergency. If you receive intelligence that there is going to be a shipment of drugs coming in, you have Customs officers there. You do not send dogs in necessarily; you have scanners. As far as we are concerned, the use of detector dogs in the field is to be deployed on a pretty permanent basis, to assist cold pulls. There is no point in bringing in dogs in an emergency. Dogs are a pretty useful resource to use and they need to be there for a long period of time. I do not think you can come to any conclusions about whether or not an area is particularly high risk or low risk on the basis of having a dog for a weekend or a week. That is not a very sophisticated level of risk analysis. We have argued that there should be greater use of dogs. They are particularly useful in detecting money that is being imported or exported for drug use. That is a direct route to large gains but, in our view, it is not particularly helpful to Scotland to have dogs in Hull or Manchester because they cannot be deployed on a long term basis. We believe that detector dogs are best used on a long term, fixed basis.
91. Can I suggest that there is a role that Customs and Excise have to play here? One of the analogies that we have drawn is with "the bobby on the beat". To that extent, the deployment of detector dogs at airports and ports has a significant role to play. It has a public perception role. That may be an area of the fight against drugs that Customs and Excise have an important role to play in. They are not presently playing it. One of the examples that was given to us in Orkney last week was the use of the sniffer dog there detecting drugs on a person coming in to the Faroes and getting a round of applause from all the passengers on the 'plane. It is as much to do with community involvement and perception as anything else. Do you agree?
(Mr Duggan) I agree with you entirely. As well as the Detection effect, it does provide a preventative effect and it makes it more difficult for certain forms of drug smuggling to be used.
92. Can I ask you about the Dogs Against Drugs campaign? Are you aware of that in Shetland?
(Mr Duggan) My colleagues have made me aware of it.
93. It is a project that was set up fairly recently as a result of community action following a drugs death in the islands. Over a period of six weeks, it has raised something in the region of £20,000 towards obtaining, training and deployment of passive drug sniffer dogs within Shetland. What view do you, as a union, take of communities acting in this way to protect themselves against drug smuggling? Why do you think such initiatives should be taken?
(Mr Duggan) Customs and Excise should provide sufficient service to give confidence to local communities that the work is being undertaken and communities should not have to resort to these measures. If a community feels strongly enough about the issue, it is something we need to take very seriously. Possibly the best answer is that the PCS would be happy to talk to you outside the meeting about the issues. In our view, this is something that Customs and Excise should provide.
94. Is there any point at all in having all these dogs based at Manchester and Hull, apart from use at Manchester and Hull? Is there a bit of kidology going on here, that they can be deployed to other places? Is it really the case that if you are going to have dogs you have to have them centred in an area?
(Mr Duggan) If there is an area that is assessed as a very low risk and dogs can be used on more than a week's basis to assess whether there is any danger, there is a need for deployment within a geographical area, but we do not believe that the dogs provide a service to Scotland based where they are in Hull and Manchester.
(Mr Thompson) Mr Carmichael asked a question about getting them to Shetland. You might find that animal cruelty comes into that, having them locked up in the back of a van, even to the centre of Scotland perhaps and in an emergency. It might cause the dog some stress.
95. Would the dog be any use when it got there?
(Mr Thompson) No.
96. Do you think there is a need for dogs at Rosyth? When I asked about the 500 extra staff and how much it would cost, did you say 1.5 million or 15 million?
(Mr Duggan) It is £15 million. Dogs are used very effectively in Dover to deal with ferries and traffic that comes through Dover. The most sizeable numbers of the Department's dogs are based at Dover and Heathrow. If there were dogs based in Glasgow and Edinburgh, I am sure that they could be deployed in Rosyth.
97. You made a comment at the beginning of your evidence. I asked the Customs and Excise management about the role of the Department in relation to the import of illegal meat. Do you have a view on the role that is currently played by the Department in relation to that?
(Mr Duggan) Mr Byrne's description is absolutely accurate. We have raised in our SR2002 submission the need for resources to be given to Customs and Excise because the money is not being given to us to do anything about it. We have acted on behalf of other agencies and in the Chancellor's Budget announcement he did make provision for some additional money for frontier controls to be given to Customs and Excise to look at this particular issue. I would not pretend there is an easy answer to it. It is something that the Department has become embroiled in and hopefully the additional money with the scope for more focused discussions between the agencies will have a better impact on this issue. I suspect that dogs may play a major role in this issue as well because, aside from the commercial declarations that are required for large quantities of meat, the problem is whether passengers are coming through with infected meat or meat that could cause problems. Despite Customs officers always having their noses to the grindstone, I do not think they have a nose for this. Dogs would be the resource that would be helpful.
Mr Carmichael: The interesting thing was that Mr Byrne seemed to think that it would be a popular job for dogs. If you are concerned at allI speak as a former prosecutorwith the preservation of evidence, it would be a highly frustrating job for a dog to do.
98. Is there anything any of your colleagues would like to add?
(Mr Smyth) I do not think we have answered Mr Sarwar's question about the apparent discrepancy in the figure in our submission and the NAO report. I think management was just talking about the lost fraud to tobacco; whereas the NAO report talks about the entire loss in terms of our regime.
(Mr Brown) On the Rosyth issue, I was concerned about the fact that Customs and Excise did not seem to put the same store on some of the small ports such as Aberdeen and Dundee, for instance. In the Rosyth instance, 12 extra staff were put in at a cost of roughly £200,000. The Department has not put any of these static teams in; they were just deployed from existing resources. Mr Byrne used the words "resourcing to risk". Within the Department, that is yesterday's buzz phrase. We seem to have moved on. No one has heard that for about a year. Apparently, "resourcing that achieve results" was the last one. Another point Mr Byrne made was about the priorities of the Department. He was very careful with his words and he said it was particularly that he took an interest in Class A, tobacco, oils and alcohol. I would be interested to see where class A drugs come on the list of priorities because we believe they are far further down the list than they should be. Class B drugs do not even appear on the list. That is Scotland's problem. It is perceived that the danger for commercial smuggling is cannabis smuggling but we would point to historical evidence for cocaine smuggling as well through the maritime routes. We were going to have a commercial job here where we had a lot of the local officers but those seem to have dried up and there are two conclusions. One is that it is not there any more but maybe we are not looking for it. Maybe it is still there but we are not getting to it.
99. I think he said tobacco, road fuel, alcohol and drugs.
(Mr Thompson) The other activities of the Department are VAT and excise duties. Similarly in those areas we are suffering a decline in staff to carry out the visits to traders. I am quite sure, if the proper staffing was there, we would get a lot more money for the Exchequer from errors and deliberate fraud. There is scope for increasing the activity in VAT and the excise duty area.
Chairman: Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed for coming along here today and giving us such full and frank answers. Your evidence will be enormously helpful to us when we come to prepare our report. Thank you once again.