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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 603-i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Home Affairs Committee
The Work of the UK Border Agency
(April 2012-June 2012)
Tuesday 18 September 2012
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 100
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 18 September 2012
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witness
Witness: Rob Whiteman, Chief Executive, UK Border Agency, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Mr Whiteman, welcome back to the Committee. Thank you very much for coming and for your very full letter. The UKBA has got much better at sticking to deadlines and giving information. This Committee is very grateful to you for doing that. Thank you. The problem is when you provide information, of course, it is a source of questions for the Committee, which may not be as pleasant as we had anticipated. I am a little disappointed-I think the Committee is disappointed-that the backlog of outstanding cases has increased since the last time you appeared. The live asylum cohort is up by 4,500. The immigration controlled archive appears to be up by 500. We have a problem also with the migration refusal pool, which we will come on to later. That is up by 24,000. By my mathematics, I think we are now at a total of 295,059 as of this morning. It seems to be going in the opposite direction, and I am puzzled as to why because I know you are very committed to bringing this down. This is going to be your legacy.
Rob Whiteman: It is not going in the wrong direction, Chairman. It is going in the right direction. Perhaps I can explain briefly why and then take further questions. In relation to the controlled archive, it stands at some 29,000 less than a year ago, when I first came to this Committee after taking up appointment at the end of September.
Q2 Chair: Sorry, can I just tell you we like annual comparisons, but this Committee is doing this on the basis of every three months. If we go back to the last figures you gave us, it was 74,000. It is now-?
Rob Whiteman: No, it was 80,000, and it has gone to 74,000. Of course, what I have said to the Committee, Chairman, is that while we now go through the controlled archive-and you will remember these were cases that could not be concluded at the time because the agency was not in contact with the client with whom we would make a decision-and check them against a number of databases to see if there is a footprint in the UK, most of those 74,000 will have gone home, but we will not close the case until we are absolutely certain by carrying out a number of financial checks. We will find cases, and indeed members of this Committee have written to me with your own casework. We have always been clear that the live casework will go up a bit. Elsewhere in the letter, Chairman, I give you the profile, after paragraph 32, of how we now expect to conclude, to close the archive before the end of December.
Q3 Chair: I will come on to that. What you are saying is the good news in the controlled archive, which is down by 6,000, has meant bad news for the live asylum cohort, because that has gone up by 4,500. You are basically the first UK Border chief to tell us that you have gone through this archive and you have found some real live people. In what we thought was the TARDIS where people disappeared for centuries, you have found some real live cases, and that is why the other bit has gone up. Is that right? Is that a fair summary?
Rob Whiteman: That is right, Chairman, and now as the agency looks to the future, as we close the archive, what are the lessons we learn from that? It is clear that in carrying out the checks on the archive some cases were put in there that should not have been. Therefore, we need to learn from that. That is the case, Chair.
Q4 Chair: Let us follow that through. It is minus 6,000. Of that you say the extra 4,500 live asylum cohort are people that you found in the controlled archive. Have any been found and removed from the country? Out of the 6,000, have any been told to leave the country?
Rob Whiteman: At this stage we have-
Chair: Of those 6,000; I know all the other figures, but of those ones you have found. You have sat there and you have scrupulously gone through the controlled archive. You found 6,000 cases. Have any of those 6,000 left the country?
Rob Whiteman: What I give you in the figures, Chair, after paragraph 25, are conclusions that relate to both cases in the archive and those that we move into live. You will see that over the period of time we have removed some of those.
Q5 Chair: Yes. Tell us how many of the 6,000, since we are all dealing with facts here and we are very keen in this Committee to get on to figures?
Rob Whiteman: I am afraid I do not have a breakdown of the number of removals for that particular element. What I do have are the conclusions that have been made and I set out in the letter for you-
Q6 Chair: What is the total, then?
Rob Whiteman: For example, after paragraph 23, the breakdown that has happened there, you can see that of those 3,800 conclusions in quarter 1, 1,900 were granted, 1,800 were removed. Similarly, in quarter 2, the quarter ending in June in the calendar year, you will see that we granted 900 and we removed 500 of those cases that we reached a verdict on.
Q7 Chair: So 60% of the people you found and you have dealt with are allowed to stay and 40% are removed? Is that a fair percentage?
Rob Whiteman: On those figures, yes, for those particular quarters.
Q8 Chair: Yes, we are happy to accept the quarter figure because we want to look at this quarterly. The other thing I have problems with is you are going to close all this, and I know you are ambitious about sorting out this organisation. There is no doubt that you are, Mr Whiteman, but I think you are being too ambitious in assuming that you will be able to clear all this. Are you telling this Committee it is going to go from 90,000 on 1 October down to 63,000 on 29 October, down to 28,000 on 26 November, down to 6,000 on 24 December, and on New Year’s Eve, it is going to be down to zero?
Rob Whiteman: Yes, I can say that, Chairman, because we have done a lot of the work already. It is not that all the work relating to the closure of these cases has to take place for the remainder of the year. You will remember that, with the National Audit Office, we have established some criteria where we will check against a number of databases on a number of different occasions. That work is all in train and has taken place, so I am confident that these figures will be met because we have already done much of the work. We will now conclude it by the final checks that have to be made, and the cases will be closed by the end of December.
Q9 Chair: You are closing 74,000 cases between now and 31 December, and you are doing that with how many members of staff?
Rob Whiteman: We have over 100 members of staff, Chairman, in the CAAU. We carry out manual checks on some of the work, and my staff do that, and we also do bulk checking. What happens, if it helps the Committee-and this is the work we have already been doing and will carry on-we carry out bulk checks against databases, for example HMRC or DWP. If that gives rise to something, the staff in the controlled archive-and we have 100 in that environment-then check the case to see whether it gives rise to finding a footprint or whether it was a match that occurred on the computer but actually we do not have a case there.
Q10 Chair: What puzzles me is it has taken you two months to reduce your total by 2,000 cases. I can’t see how you can reduce this by 63,000 in the period that you have envisaged, unless you have some really super-duper people coming in to clear this backlog.
Rob Whiteman: During the Olympics, Chairman, many of the staff who carry out checks, computer matches and checks, were deployed on Olympic duties for people coming into the country. You will remember that UKBA had an Olympic clearing house, for example, for people who were working or visiting the Olympic sites. We have more people to deploy now that the Olympics are over. Again, I would just reassure you the reason that these figures can be met is not because this is fresh work. We have done the majority of the work on these cases. They will close before December because we will carry out the final check or two of the series. We are up to date with where we should be to reach that deadline.
Q11 Chair: Mr Whiteman, this Committee is very happy to accept your word. One final question on this in respect of this particular archive is will it result in an increase in the number of ongoing immigration cases. There is no doubt about that?
Rob Whiteman: Yes.
Q12 Chair: You promised to send us the last time you appeared, and in your Government response, a copy of one of these files with the names taken out, so we could understand why it has taken so many years to go through them. This never arrived.
Rob Whiteman: I am sorry, Chair. I do not remember making that commitment, if I gave it at-
Q13 Chair: It is page 5 of your Government response in which you said, "We will be providing case studies to the Committee in a separate letter".
Rob Whiteman: I apologise for that, Chair, and we will furnish that.
Chair: That is all right-happily accepted.
Q14 Mr Clappison: Can I ask about the migration refusal pool? When did you begin to implement the count of the migration refusal pool?
Rob Whiteman: The first thing I would say about the migration refusals pool, if I may, Mr Clappison, is this is very different to the controlled archive.
Mr Clappison: I appreciate that.
Rob Whiteman: It is important to stress this because, where the controlled archive were cases where we had applications, we wanted to make a decision and then we lost contact with the person making the application, the migration refusals pool is not cases; they are records. People made application for in-country extensions; we processed that; we made a refusal; we notified them because we were in touch with them. To some extent, the work was done and was zero. However, although we had given a refusal to somebody and we have a record of it, we are, of course, conscious that until e-borders comes into play in 2015 we do not formally have a way of counting everybody in and counting everybody out. What we do with the migration refusals pool is to take records and then to start to say, "Should we turn any of these into cases?"
Q15 Mr Clappison: It is a record of people who may have stayed in the country when they should not have done so, when they do not have permission to be here?
Rob Whiteman: Exactly, it is a record, and we use that record. That said, I think there is a great deal of work to do on this.
Q16 Mr Clappison: Can you come back to the original question? When did you start to count the migration refusal pool?
Rob Whiteman: The migration refusals pool has been there for some time. It has been there for several years. These are cases-
Q17 Mr Clappison: Can you be a bit more specific about that? When did you actually start the migration refusal pool?
Rob Whiteman: These are cases that have been counted since 2008. Where in the letter to you we say it was 156,000; it is now over 170,000; that includes records going back to 2008. Then we add to it, so, for example-
Chair: Mr Clappison is making a very important point. The fact is that since 2008 we have been writing to Lin Homer and previous Ministers under the previous Government and nobody has mentioned the migration refusal pool until the Minister appeared before us. That is the point Mr Clappison is trying to make.
Q18 Mr Clappison: One of the things one does find on this Committee, particularly on this subject, is that new things keep springing out of the woodwork without anybody being told anything at all about them.
Chair: We know what it is. We do not need an explanation. He just wants to know if it was 2008 that you started counting these figures?
Rob Whiteman: Yes.
Q19 Mr Clappison: So we do not have a record of anybody who would have qualified for the migration refusal pool before 2008?
Rob Whiteman: We will have. We do have some records, and then perhaps I can talk about what we are doing, because-
Q20 Mr Clappison: I would like to come to what you are doing, but I would like to establish first the extent of the problem that there is. We know there is a figure of people who may be here. We do not know for sure whether they are or not, but they may be here. What we do know is that the number of people in this category has been increasing, and it has increased between quarter 1 and quarter 2 of this year quite substantially, by about 12,000 or 13,000 people. It went up from 161,000 to 174,000 and so many hundred. We have the equivalent of a small town being added to the migration refusal pool in just one quarter. Is that an accurate reflection of the problem?
Rob Whiteman: It is important to talk about what we are doing because it is the work we are doing that will give rise to the creation of the migration refusals pool. If you can just indulge me for one second, you will remember that UKBA has been a very regionalised organisation where every region kept their own statistics. What we have been doing over the last six months is creating a number of national commands where everybody who works in the regions on a particular product is now under one management line. We can talk about that later on in the context of asylum. In relation to the migration refusals pool, therefore, each region was keeping a pool of the refusals that had been made in their particular area, but over the last few months or six months, as we create a new operating model for the agency, so we are pulling these figures together in order to create a national picture. To answer your question, Mr Clappison, at this stage I do not have reliable data to give you in relation to pre-2008, because we are constructing that data at the moment, but post-2008 is more reliable.
Q21 Mr Clappison: Can I stick to what has happened between quarter 1 2012 and quarter 2 2012? Are you saying that the increase that has taken place is as a result of changes in statistic gathering and counting, or is this an increase on the same basis as the same count that there has always been?
Rob Whiteman: No, I am saying that the reason it has gone up is because every year we receive nearly a million in-country applications for extensions and we make refusals on them. You will be aware, for example-I briefed the Committee last time-that we got up to date with curtailment of students. The reason that the figure went up between those quarters, Mr Clappison, is where we have curtailed students and got up to date with that work, it has therefore added to the pool of migration refusals. What happens is that now that pool of records is created, it will go up and down. There will be cases going into it as we make new decisions and new refusals, and we will take cases out of it.
Q22 Mr Clappison: Can I be fairly specific about this, because I only have the figures for the first two quarters of this year. Taking it back to 2008, when you began counting it, has it increased since 2008? Has it been increasing every quarter, or have there been some quarters when it has not increased?
Rob Whiteman: I do not have quarterly information from 2008 onwards. We have quarterly information now that we are counting it on a quarterly basis.
Q23 Mr Clappison: How big was the migration pool when you started to count from 2008?
Rob Whiteman: It will have gone up over that period. I am sorry, Mr Clappison, I do not have the figures from 2008.
Q24 Chair: Mr Whiteman, you may not have quarterly figures since 2008, but it would be helpful to have the annual figures. The concern of the Committee is that nobody in your position, including yourself when you last appeared before us, mentioned the migration refusal pool. This was found by John Vine. We then put it to Ministers. Mr Green, when he was the Minister, said that this was going to be cleared quite quickly. Can you tell me why Serco has been given the responsibility for doing this? Why are they working on a free basis helping the UKBA? Why has this not been done by a proper competitive tender?
Rob Whiteman: It has, and the work has now been awarded to Capita.
Chair: To Capita?
Rob Whiteman: Yes.
Q25 Chair: How many people bid for this contract? When I put down parliamentary questions I was told by the Minister that this was commercially confidential. I only asked for the numbers of people who bid. How many bid for this?
Rob Whiteman: From memory, Chair, we shortlisted four bidders.
Q26 Chair: Do you remember who they were?
Rob Whiteman: I remember Capita and Serco. I do not remember the other two.
Q27 Chair: So Serco were helping you free of charge?
Rob Whiteman: Yes.
Q28 Chair: You then gave the contract to Capita?
Rob Whiteman: Yes.
Q29 Chair: What is the benchmark? What do they have to do for this money? How much is it worth? How much is the contract worth?
Rob Whiteman: It depends how they perform, because the contract is a payment by results where they will make contact with potential overstayers from our records.
Q30 Chair: From the migration refusals?
Rob Whiteman: From the migration refusals pool. The pilot work with Serco suggested that 20% of people that we make contact with left within six months of being made contact with.
Rob Whiteman: Therefore, the potential value of the contract, if they performed very well over a four-year period, would be around £40 million.
Q31 Chair: When do you expect the migration refusal pool to be down to zero? You have given us some excellent figures on the control archive, and we are all waiting for 31 December to celebrate the zero backlog. When is this pool going to be empty?
Rob Whiteman: It can’t be zero, Chairman; otherwise it would mean we are doing no work.
Q32 Chair: What is an acceptable figure, then?
Rob Whiteman: That is the question.
Q33 Chair: If you have given them a benchmark and you are going to give them £40 million, what is their benchmark?
Rob Whiteman: That is right. What is the frictional amount of work? In other words, bearing in mind all the work that we do, what is a reasonable frictional amount of work that you would expect to have in the system at any one stage?
Q34 Chair: And?
Rob Whiteman: I am sorry to not give you a definite answer. What I would like to say is that at the moment we are-
Q35 Chair: Mr Whiteman, it is very odd. You have given a contract worth £40 million to Capita. You said they are under strict requirements to get things cleared, but you do not have a figure of what you can accept as being a figure that is your frictional work. Capita must be laughing all the way to the bank.
Rob Whiteman: No, Chairman, I am sorry, that is not what I am saying. Capita will be paid for the number of people that they make contact with and who leave, and that is purely on a payment-by-results basis.
Chair: I understand that.
Rob Whiteman: If nobody leaves because they make contact with them, nobody will get paid. The reason that I did not answer your question is reducing the migration refusals pool will not only be dealt with by the Capita contract. What we have to do is a continuum from making contact and asking people to go home through to enforced removal and-
Chair: I think what would be helpful, because it is going to take some time, is if you could tell us the benchmarks. We will write to you. Tell me the benchmarks for Capita. I still think it is not acceptable that you do not have a figure that you want the pool reduced to, bearing in mind you will know how quickly you can refuse admissions, and Capita ought to have been given that figure.
Q36 Mr Clappison: I know it is very difficult, but do you have a broad-brush figure of how many of these people in the migration refusals pool are people who have left without you knowing and how many of them, what proportion, are people who are simply staying here without leave?
Rob Whiteman: Thank you, Mr Clappison. At this stage, no. I think we have to do the work. I hope I have been transparent with the Committee. We think we can get better at enforcement, so if I can just set it out for a second. You will know that we encourage about 40,000 removals a year, either through voluntary removal or up to between 10,000 and 15,000 on enforced removal. With the migration refusals pool and the work that we are now doing to put that together to review it and see what sort of cases that may lead to, over the next year, through the transformation programme of the agency, I would like to redirect up to 1,000 extra staff into enforcement. We think from the operations that we already carry out there is scope to make more removals, both from the migration refusals pool and other work.
Chair: Thank you. Mr Clappison?
Mr Clappison: No, I think the answer is-
Chair: Yes. Mr Whiteman, since you are on removals, I am going to bring in Mr Winnick who has a number of questions on immigration removals. Let’s move topics to immigration removals.
Q37 Mr Winnick: Only one or two, Mr Whiteman. Regarding those with health difficulties who are being held at Harmondsworth, it appears that the majority of those were not released under the rules. I think it is rule 35 on this. They should have been. What is your response?
Rob Whiteman: Within 24 hours of going into detention people are assessed for their medical conditions. If people are deemed not fit for detention then we will release people from detention. Roughly speaking, approximately 1% of cases released from detention are due to that reason. In particular, of course, we screen for mental health issues, and if the detention screening believes that there are mental health issues, we will refer those to the local mental health services, who can take appropriate action to take people into NHS care or otherwise. There have been some cases where the agency has been criticised for the mental health screening process not working as well as we would wish. In those cases we are reviewing our processes for how health screening works in order that we can improve the quality of it. I would say that in our view the majority of people get appropriately screened. We do not want any cases where that does not happen properly. Therefore, in the light of cases that sometimes come to light, we review those processes with the detention providers.
Q38 Mr Winnick: Mr Whiteman, the High Court found in two cases last year that the continued detention of mentally ill detainees at Harmondsworth had subjected them to inhumane or degrading treatment. That is rather a sharp criticism, to say the least, of the organisation, isn’t it?
Rob Whiteman: It is.
Q39 Mr Winnick: Have you apologised for that?
Rob Whiteman: I do apologise, Mr Winnick.
Q40 Mr Winnick: No, previously, not to me. There is no need to apologise to me.
Rob Whiteman: We have, yes, sir. If I could make the point that mental health screening works on a large number of occasions. In terms of people released from detention, around 1% to 2% can be because the screening process and the referral to mental health services at the local NHS by the detention services will deem that people are not fit for detention. I am afraid that there have been some cases where that screening has not worked as well as we would wish. We have been criticised by the court in those cases, and we will learn from them by-
Q41 Mr Winnick: When is the last time you went to Harmondsworth to see the situation for yourself?
Rob Whiteman: I was there last week, Mr Winnick.
Q42 Mr Winnick: To see this particular aspect?
Rob Whiteman: I was at Harmondsworth last week.
Mr Winnick: I expect you to be at Harmondsworth pretty regularly. Rob Whiteman: That included asking questions about the health screening process.
Q43 Mr Winnick: No. Sorry, I did not get that. The last time you were at Harmondsworth-you say last week-did you actually look at this aspect? That is what I am asking you.
Rob Whiteman: I did. I met the providers there, as well as our client teams. We went through a number of issues, and this included asking about mental health and health screening.
Q44 Mr Winnick: Are you satisfied that the situation is very different from when the High Court criticised you, as I have just said?
Rob Whiteman: Yes, I am. We will continue to monitor the position and we will continue to look at the procedures that are in place. It is clearly very important that the health screening process that is carried out in detention picks up mental-health issues, and we will endeavour to make that as robust as possible.
Q45 Chair: Thank you. Before we move on to Mr Ellis, can I ask you, in the nine months of this year, there have already been 26 chartered flights deporting failed asylum seekers with more staff than deportees on those flights, and 19 of those flights had over twice as many staff as deportees. Do you think that that provides the taxpayer with value for money, when we are chartering these flights and sending so many officials over with those that they are removing?
Rob Whiteman: The important thing is that we need to make sure that the removal happens as safely as possible.
Chair: Of course, yes.
Rob Whiteman: At times, it does mean that we need to have a large number of escorts.
Q46 Chair: Do you know the cost of all this?
Rob Whiteman: Yes. I just wanted to answer the first part of your question first, if I may, Mr Vaz.
Rob Whiteman: Over the last four years the ratio, where there may be twice or three times as many escorts as returnees, has reduced considerably from about 40, four years ago, down to about a third of that now.
Q47 Chair: So it is fewer staff?
Rob Whiteman: We are working on having fewer staff, but of course people can be very, very disruptive and there are occasions where failed returns occur because people are highly disruptive.
Q48 Chair: We know about this. We have inquired into this. Very quickly, because we want to move on to Mr Ellis, what is the cost of these removals, these chartered flights?
Rob Whiteman: I do not have those figures to hand, Chair, and I will send a note to the Committee.
Chair: Very helpful.
Q49 Michael Ellis: Disruptive and dangerous prisoners often need more than one guard each, don’t they? If there are several disruptive or difficult people, each one will need more than one guard, so that will explain the discrepancy in numbers. Is that what you are saying?
Rob Whiteman: That is what I am saying. I would say behind these figures, Mr Ellis, are individual cases that have to be assessed. In the last couple of weeks-
Q50 Michael Ellis: Yes, but you are happy that those assessments are taking place?
Rob Whiteman: I am. In the last couple of weeks, for example, we returned a Zimbabwean national who had been here since 2006. Three previous attempts at removal had failed because of disruptive behaviour, including a dirty protest on the third attempt for removal.
Michael Ellis: By him?
Rob Whiteman: On the fourth attempt at removal, the removal took place.
Chair: You can write to us with all these details; foreign national prisoners, Mr Ellis.
Q51 Michael Ellis: One moment, if I may, Mr Chairman. I will have the same latitude, if I may, as other questions. As far as that is concerned, I want more details about it, because this is quite important. If there is a suggestion that these prisoners ought to be transported with fewer guards, you would refute that and you would say that the right number of guards are being used to transport these prisoners, bearing in mind how disruptive and dangerous they can be?
Rob Whiteman: Yes. I think cost is obviously important. It is absolutely reasonable for the Committee to want us to bring down the cost and provide value for money of charter flights. It is absolutely right and reasonable to query how many flights. Do we need two or three times the number of escorts to returnees? But, yes, I would say, Mr Ellis, it would be highly foolish to simply reduce the number of escorts without very careful consideration.
Q52 Michael Ellis: If you reduce the number of escorts you would have more failed flights?
Rob Whiteman: We would have more failed removals, and if disruptive behaviour is not controlled on the flight then the captain will not fly. It is also very disturbing for other people who are being returned. Very often, what my staff do is discuss individual cases with the transport providers. For example, again, just because it is in the last few weeks, a Jamaican, where the removal had failed on a number of occasions, thwarted a return by a last minute judicial review. My member of staff made contact with the High Court quickly, got that considered there to be no grounds and therefore we could go ahead with the removal. But because previous removals have been highly disruptive, we made sure that he had extra staff, and on the third attempt for removal he was removed, on 18 July, because we made sure that we had the appropriate number of escorts to remove him.
Q53 Michael Ellis: How many of these types of cases are there, would you say, as a percentage of your removals? How many of these are being disruptive to anything like that extent?
Rob Whiteman: People are disruptive at different stages, Mr Ellis. I have been through the detention process from the morning through to the flight later on.
Q54 Michael Ellis: Just roughly, how often does it happen?
Rob Whiteman: The question is, "What is the potential disruption?"
Chair: Just give Mr Ellis a figure. I think he is looking for a figure.
Rob Whiteman: We would say that where we need to have two or three times the number of escorts, that is because in our judgement over a quarter to over a third of those flights are potentially very disruptive unless we have the appropriate number of escorts.
Q55 Michael Ellis: Right. I want to ask you about foreign national offenders, because my constituents in Northampton North-and for that matter constituents around the country-simply do not want them here, if they are to be deported; they have committed offences and they are to be sent to their country of origin. That is right, isn’t it?
Rob Whiteman: Yes.
Q56 Michael Ellis: Efforts are being made to do that, are they not?
Rob Whiteman: That is absolutely right.
Q57 Michael Ellis: Why is it, in that case, that in the second quarter of this year no progress has been made in removing those ex-foreign national offenders, according to the statistics that I have seen, and that over 2,500 have remained here for more than two years?
Rob Whiteman: The barriers to a removal can be that there are legal barriers where a court may determine that we should not make the removal, because that may create article 3 or article 8 risks for the individual. I have briefed the Committee before, Mr Ellis, that where people are not being held in detention prior to their removal, between 75% and 90%-it varies at different times-of those are decisions by the court to grant bail and hold returnees in the community.
Q58 Michael Ellis: You are saying a large chunk is due to courts, the judges making those decisions?
Rob Whiteman: Yes, that is the largest element. The other element is at different times some countries can be difficult to remove to. We have to have a travel document in order to return somebody to that country if they do not have a functioning Government.
Q59 Michael Ellis: So it is all down to either the judges blocking deportation for some reason best known to themselves, or it is down to countries that you are trying to send people back to who are saying, "We don’t want them back."?
Rob Whiteman: They are the two absolutely most material reasons, yes.
Q60 Michael Ellis: So it is nothing to do with you at the Border Agency?
Rob Whiteman: It is to do with us. Our job, of course, is to-
Q61 Michael Ellis: It is not because of anything you are not doing?
Rob Whiteman: Our job, though, is to try to overcome those barriers, Mr Ellis, and so where we find it difficult to get documents from other Governments then, through our country planning process, we do work in order to improve the document process. I would say there are some countries to whom we are now making returns and getting documents; there are some countries to which we are now sending charters where we weren’t before. Progress does not happen overnight, but we can see returns taking place to those countries.
Q62 Michael Ellis: Finally from me, I know the Home Secretary changed some rules to do with the Human Rights Act, the rights or the grounds of having a private and family life. I presume that that has helped in the deportation process?
Rob Whiteman: Yes.
Q63 Michael Ellis: People were previously able to claim they ought not to be deported because they had a right to family life and the like. Those rules were changed by the Home Secretary, so that they could no longer say that.
Rob Whiteman: That is right. In fact, when I was in Harmondsworth only last week, a case owner who deals with these cases commented to myself and the new Minister that the way that the article 8 rules have been established greatly helps their job to be clear. What the Home Secretary has said is, where people are committing serious offences, it is reasonable to say that the right to a family life does not overrule the country’s right to deport them. Therefore, the change to the article 8 rules will help. As those cases work through the system, we hope that because of the clarity in the way we are making decisions through those rules, courts will be able to have more confidence and assurance that they are being made properly and that our-
Mr Ellis: Thank you. Thank you, Mr Chairman.
Chair: Thank you, Mr Ellis.
Q64 Mark Reckless: I am delighted that you are going to be interviewing at least a proportion of applicants for student visas. The pilot showed that I think it was up to a third of people who were admitted under the old system were judged by the officers interviewing them not to be credible, and 85% of those were on the basis that the officer did not consider the applicant intended to leave the UK at the end of their studies. Given that, why isn’t the UKBA using that as a criterion in these interviews you are now going to be conducting?
Rob Whiteman: On the criteria of, "Do we think the visa application is credible?" and that people can speak English and will leave at the end of the visa, which is a requirement of the visa, are taken into consideration for the credibility interview, I remember in the pilot we were asking entry clearance officers in several thousand cases in some 40 different countries, "Had you had the ability for a credibility test on interview, would you have made a different decision to the one that you have made under a points-based paper exercise?" The answer to that was in many cases they would. Therefore, over the coming two quarters, we will roll out more interviewing in those countries. We expect to interview between 10,000 to 15,000 additional cases where we would not have interviewed. We will monitor those results, see what happens to the applications and then make a consideration about whether that is the right amount of interviewing. This would roughly be about 5% of our applications. For some places, for example student applications in particular countries where we know there has been abuse of overstaying, the ratio of interviewing will be higher. But we will now conduct some 10,000 to 14,000 interviews over the next year under the new test that has been given to us.
Q65 Mark Reckless: Speaking now, do you think that 5% or so of applicants is enough, or could it be argued that is a drop in the ocean?
Rob Whiteman: That is 5% of all applications. I think what it will mean is 50%, 60%, 70% of interviewing for some particular products in some particular places. We think that is right, Mr Reckless, based on the intelligence and assessment of targeting interviews, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We will now use this interview roll-out and see what happens.
Q66 Mark Reckless: Depending on that, you could raise that?
Rob Whiteman: Then we will raise it if necessary.
Q67 Mark Reckless: Can I just try to clarify something you said just now, not referring to the pilot but referring to the interviews you are now conducting; these 10,000 to 15,000. Can you confirm whether the applicant intends to leave the country at the end of their studies one of the criteria to assess credibility?
Rob Whiteman: Yes. If we believe that there would be visa abuse and that somebody would not leave at the end of their visa, as said, or some other abuse of the immigration system, then we can take that into consideration for the credibility test.
Q68 Chair: The NAO reported that between 40,000 to 50,000 illegal students entered the country between 2011 and 2012, largely from India, Bangladesh and China. You have 100% face-to-face interviews in Pakistan. It is a no-brainer-isn’t it?-Mr Whiteman, that anyone who comes here as a student ought to be interviewed face-to-face, either in the post abroad by entry clearance officers or via Skype. So long as you can confirm identity, that is the best way-is it not?-to check on the bona fides of the student before they even enter the country.
Rob Whiteman: Which is why we are now rolling out interviewing.
Q69 Chair: No, we support that. This is the recommendation of the Committee, but it is only for Pakistan. What we are saying is it is bread and butter for every entry clearance officer to be able to see people on a face-to-face basis. Do you not think that will remove much of the problem around the whole issue of bogus students-that if they are interviewed before they get here, we do not have to get the bogus students out?
Rob Whiteman: With some nationalities we have higher degrees of overstaying than others. Looking at the end-to-end process, from interviewing through to removal-to allude to something Mr Clappison was asking me earlier-we know when we carry out illegal working operations that some 30% to 40% of the people that we arrest, working illegally, are students. Taking that to the other end, when we give visas to people, it is to come here and study, not to work illegally. Therefore, what we are aiming to do is to strengthen the visa decision-making process by interviewing. We are aiming to make sure that sponsors comply with their licence.
Chair: Yes, we will come on to that in a moment.
Rob Whiteman: At the other end, as I said to Mr Clappison earlier, we are aiming to redirect more staff into enforcement in order that where people have got through and we do have the problems of overstaying or illegal work-but we do find some nationalities more than others.
Chair: But the issue is-
Rob Whiteman: To answer your question, Chair, at this stage, I do not think it would afford value for money for the taxpayer to interview every single student in every single country as part of their application to come here. I do think it affords value for money for the taxpayer to try to disrupt people that may overstay coming here-
Chair: Yes, but that is after they have arrived.
Rob Whiteman: And therefore we will target the interview.
Chair: The point is it is more expensive once they get here and you have all the problems, as you had with London Met; genuine students who then have a problem. The issue is to make sure that the border is secure. You can do this through Skype, can’t you? I have been down to Croydon, and they are looking at Skype as a method of interviewing people. If the issue is English, which it is on many occasions-following London Met, the Minister was very clear that there were lots of people who could not speak even basic English-this is something that is very easily discernible in the post abroad. We are glad you are moving in this direction. We support you, but we need more of it.
Q70 Mr Clappison: I am very keen that we get an accurate picture on this of what is actually happening. You just mentioned that 30% to 40% of the people you detect for illegal working are students. Are you able to put a figure on that, a number?
Rob Whiteman: Yes. During Operation Mayapple, which was our summer enforcement campaign on overstayers, we made some 800 visits that involved an arrest. We removed some 2,300 people on the back of that, and about 30% of those removals from the enforcement campaign-
Q71 Mr Clappison: 2,000 removals, you said?
Rob Whiteman: 2,300 removals during Mayapple, and about 30% of those were students, over 500.
Q72 Mr Clappison: Do you have a record of which institutions they were attending?
Rob Whiteman: I will just check my records, if I may, Mr Clappison. I do not have a breakdown of which institutions they have attended, but in terms of institutions, you will know that we have a compliance system of compliance visits and at the same time we-
Q73 Mr Clappison: I understand all that. I am trying to find out from the figures, so we have an accurate picture, as I said, of those who are detected as involved in illegal working, how many of those are actually students and which institutions they came from?
Rob Whiteman: About a third of the people that we encountered were students, and the institutions that they were found from are notified to the sponsor management compliance team in order that they can build that into deciding which institutions to visit.
Q74 Mr Clappison: What about putting it in the public domain, so that we can all know which institutions these people are attending? Is there a problem with that?
Rob Whiteman: The issue is that obviously-
Chair: You think about it and come back and tell us, because we are going to a university that was in the public domain, the London Met.
Q75 Mr Clappison: How many students were university students?
Rob Whiteman: I do not-
Chair: Could you let us have those figures? If you do not know, could you let us have the figures that Mr Clappison has requested?
Q76 Mr Clappison: Also, you have told us the basis of that 500 figure was just one operation that you have carried out. Is that right?
Rob Whiteman: Yes. The operation was all the work that we did over the summer, from May to July. Every year, we have an enforcement campaign where all the teams of the agency come to focus on a particular risk. This year, we wanted to deal with overstayers, and previous years it has been a different risk. That was our enforcement campaign, and during that-
Q77 Mr Clappison: Was that a campaign of visiting premises and seeing if people were illegally working there?
Rob Whiteman: Yes. In the past, the Committee has asked me about the use of intelligence. We get intelligence from a range of sources. There will be allegations from the public and from the police. We put those intelligence packages together, made some 800 visits for the period and that led to some 2,200 removals.
Q78 Mr Clappison: Two points if I may, Mr Chairman. First of all, that sounds like that is just dependent upon you having visited somewhere, so we are only getting a part of the picture, the tip of the iceberg as far as this illegal working is concerned.
Rob Whiteman: What I would say, Mr Clappison, is what I said earlier. The job of the agency in the next couple of years is to demonstrate-
Chair: Yes. Mr Whiteman, we do not-
Q79 Mr Clappison: Put it another way. The full extent of illegal working is going to be much more substantial than just that part that you uncover through targeted operations. That must be right.
Rob Whiteman: The fact that we encounter illegal working on our operations means that we want to divert more resources into it and deal with more illegal working, yes.
Mr Clappison: So the answer is yes?
Rob Whiteman: Yes.
Chair: Good. Thank you.
Q80 Mr Clappison: The other point I want to make is, could you give us an annual figure therefore, not just one operation or over one period? Is there an annual figure of all those who are detected illegally working as to how many of them are students?
Rob Whiteman: The figure overall-
Mr Clappison: For a year, to give us the full picture.
Rob Whiteman: is the same, Mr Clappison, on both that sample of a couple of months but also for the period of a year. Where we encounter people on illegal working operations, between 30% and 40%-it varies by region-are students. So we would say there is-
Mr Clappison: I am looking for the number you detect in a year.
Chair: If you do not have a number that is fine. It is all right to say you do not know, Mr Whiteman, but you can write to us and give us the figures. We will write and remind you.
Mr Clappison: The breakdown of institutions as well, if that is possible, please.
Chair: Yes, sure. We will write all that.
Q81 Alun Michael: Can I be clear on the terminology there before I go on to the question I wanted to ask, and that is when you say that that proportion are students, do you mean students or purporting to be students?
Rob Whiteman: Students, and probably, Mr Michael, the number will be higher than those purporting to be students because not everyone will say they are a student when we pick them up. We will then carry out some matching against our student records of those names and those dates of birth, so we have a fair degree of certainty about the figure that I am giving you. I am sorry not to give the absolute number, but around 30% to 40% of what we find-a couple of thousand over the summer enforcement campaign-are students. Beyond just purporting to be students, we will determine that they are students.
Q82 Alun Michael: Okay. You will appreciate this is enormously important because of the importance of overseas students to the economy, to the universities and to the long-term influence. It is very important that we are absolutely clear about where we are dealing with people who are falsely claiming to be students, or purporting to be students, and those who are here but should not be.
Rob Whiteman: Yes. The points that you make about growth are, of course, recognised by us, Mr Michael. British universities are among the best in the world. The Government wants the brightest and the best from around the world to come and study at our universities. Students have a special place in our immigration controls in that we do not have a cap on the number of students in the way that, for example, there is a cap on skilled workers under elements of Tier 2.
The Government wishes to welcome students from around the world to good institutions, but there are two things. Over the last couple of years clearly there were institutions bringing people to the UK that were bogus. We have dealt with those, and there are now some 400 fewer institutions who are able to bring students here. But now the issue is students who are attending institutions as students. The requirement is to come here to study. Therefore, we do expect institutions to check that people have permission to be in the country, that people are attending their courses and have monitoring arrangements to do so, and to notify us of changes that take place. The system relies on those institutions making sure that people are studying and not working, and notifying us if they find otherwise.
Q83 Alun Michael: I find that description very helpful, because I think it puts the situation into balance. We are trying to deal with the abuse in that context. Turning to the non-EU international students attending London Metropolitan University-and I want to look at the aspects that are not sub judice-how many of those students have now been identified as having no leave to remain in the UK, and what is being done to ensure that they leave?
Rob Whiteman: I will be guided by you, Chair. I would not wish to answer questions about London Met today. There is a hearing on Friday and-
Chair: We understand the sub judice rules. Some of us have been around for a while, so we are not going to ask you about the merits of your case.
Alun Michael: That is all I am interested in questioning about, Chairman.
Chair: As Mr Michael said, he just wants the facts. We do not want the merits. We want to talk about process, not the individual case, because we know you are up in court about this.
Alun Michael: As I said, asking about the non-sub judice elements of this, how many of the non-EU international students attending London Metropolitan University have now been identified as having no leave to remain in the UK and what is being done to ensure that they leave?
Rob Whiteman: We carried out sampling, which gave rise to the decision to revoke the licence. In those-
Alun Michael: I understand that, but I am asking: how many students have now been identified as not having leave to remain?
Chair: This is not a question about the licence. It is a question of the number of students. Do you know the answer? Do you know how many students had stayed beyond their leave?
Rob Whiteman: It is the job of a highly trusted sponsor-
Chair: No, we know all that, but do you know the answer? It is either a yes or no. We know all about that. Do you know the answer to Mr Michael’s question?
Rob Whiteman: The answer is it is not the job of UKBA to know how many people at a college conform to those rules.
Chair: No, we understand that.
Rob Whiteman: It is we rely on the-
Alun Michael: Mr Chairman, can I ask the question, please?
Rob Whiteman: We rely on the college to do that.
Chair: Mr Whiteman, we do understand these things and some of us do know about these things, as does Mr Michael. He is asking a specific question. Can you put it again, please, Mr Michael?
Rob Whiteman: I will answer the question, Mr Michael. At this stage, while the clearing house has been set up to find students alternative courses, we haven’t-
Chair: Mr Whiteman, Mr Whiteman, Mr Whiteman-
Rob Whiteman: I am answering the question, Chair.
Chair: It is a simple question.
Alun Michael: Could I ask it, please, Mr Chairman?
Chair: Indeed. Yes.
Q84 Alun Michael: Irrespective of whose responsibility it is, Mr Whiteman, are you clear about the number of students in that category who have been identified as not having leave to remain in the UK, or are you not sure of the numbers?
Rob Whiteman: At this stage, Mr Michael, we have not curtailed leave for students because it has been agreed that students at London Met have the opportunity to look for other courses. Without curtailing leave, we are not in the position to deal with who does not have leave to remain in the country of those remaining students. The position is that we sampled, found error and therefore revoked the licence, but dealing with the remainder of the students at London Met will not now take place until all of those students have had the opportunity to find a course. We have said that we will not curtail, and until we curtail, we would not start to look at who should or should not be in the country, so it is too early to answer.
Q85 Alun Michael: Thank you. That is clear. Obviously, there is the issue of how the system works more generally. Can you tell me how many non-compliance reports you have received responses to in the period, let’s say, from April to June this year, and how many of those non-compliance reports have you followed up?
Rob Whiteman: In my letter to the Committee, I give-
Chair: Can you give us a page, because it will greatly assist the Committee?
Rob Whiteman: Yes, I am just looking for it; sorry, Chairman.
Chair: That is okay.
Rob Whiteman: I am afraid I made the fatal error of mixing up my papers.
Alun Michael: I know the feeling.
Rob Whiteman: So we are on to the section that deals with sponsors and licensing. This is paragraph 36 beginning on page 9. The first table gives the number of people who are registered. The next table deals with the number of applications.
Chair: Is that the document, Mr Whiteman?
Rob Whiteman: I am just getting there. Bear with me, Chair. Paragraph 40, the table, deals with the number of follow-up visits. The follow-up visits, Mr Michael, would be in response either to a report from the institution or from our other compliance work deeming that we wanted to visit.
Q86 Alun Michael: I am sorry; perhaps I have misinterpreted this, because I did not think that this point was covered in the report. If you are visiting an institution, that is not the same-is it?-as the institution, the sponsor, having notified you of non-compliance. You would not require a visit in order for them to notify you of non-compliance?
Rob Whiteman: That is the case, Mr Michael. The point I make is that those visits that would take place could be because we have received a report from the institution or could be for another reason. In relation to the number of notifications that we receive from institutions, the last time I was at the Committee, I set out that we had received details of 125,000 students at that stage where we needed to look at their status. That led to some 30,000 cases where we decided to have follow-up action and consider the leave to remain of the student.
Q87 Alun Michael: I think what is happening is that we are asking a question in a different way from the way you have been explaining what happens. What I would find helpful, if you could look at this and perhaps write to the Committee, is the extent to which specific notifications by institutions-because that would not necessarily be related to a visit-are followed up, and the system by which you make sure that there is monitoring of the follow-up of those reports.
Rob Whiteman: I have given you just now, for example, the number of notifications that we have received about individual systems. I think what you were asking for, Mr Michael, is how are they batched by institutions? How many reports did they give us? I do not think I can give you a figure on that, although I will write to you if we can. What I can tell you is how many notifications we have received in relation to students from the reports we have, which are the figures I have just given.
Alun Michael: If you are able to do that and also indicate how you track those within the system, that would be helpful.
Chair: Yes, and could we also see an increase in the number of unannounced visits. You have written to me to tell me that only 88 out of the 244 visits you made to Tier 4 institutions were unannounced. The Committee believes it is very important that you do not give people notice. If you are trying to catch out bogus colleges, you just turn up and see if anyone is there. That is always the best way to catch out dodginess.
Q88 Mark Reckless: Over the last year, there has been a 36% increase in the number of asylum claims that have not received a decision within six months. Is there a risk of this developing into a new asylum backlog?
Rob Whiteman: No. We have seen the figures on 30 days go in the right direction. You are right in relation to the 60-day figure, I think, was it that you quoted, or the six months?
Mark Reckless: The six months is the one where there has been a 36% year-on-year increase.
Rob Whiteman: The six-month figure, which in 2011-12 was 53%, is the same as 2010-11, so I think we have seen a steady performance at the six-month stage. As I said earlier in answer to the Committee, I believe that the changes we are putting in place now to the organisation of asylum will lead to better results. All asylum staff up and down the country in different locations are now under one management line. That means that we can take work from one area to another if we are getting a particular backlog. I am fairly confident, Mr Reckless, that when we look at all the figures-because the thing here is to have a balanced workload-we will take the 30-day, the six-month in the right direction over a course of time, because we are now pooling staff around the country under one management line to be able to work on those cases.
Q89 Dr Huppert: I apologise for missing your earlier comments, Mr Whiteman. I was in the Chamber for Justice questions.
UKBA claims to decide most in-country applications for settlement of various kinds, if they are made in person, within 24 hours. If the application is made by post, it takes six months. Why is the post so slow?
Rob Whiteman: We carry out the applications we receive by post in date order from when we receive them. You are right, Dr Huppert, that people can pay a premium charge in order to make those representations in person rather than by post, and as part of the premium service, we aim to process them on the day. The ones that we receive by post we process in date order.
Q90 Dr Huppert: With respect, Mr Whiteman, processing them in date order does not explain why it takes six months.
Rob Whiteman: Earlier on I was saying to the Committee that one of the issues that we now have to deal with is what is a frictional amount of work-that is, a reasonable amount of work to be normal work-in-progress at any one stage-and what constitutes more work that we should put more staff to. In relation-
Q91 Chair: What is it, in answer to Mr Huppert’s question?
Rob Whiteman: In relation to Mr Huppert’s question, in relation to temporary and permanent migration applications, as at the end of June, we receive about 1 million applications a year, and the work that we have is about 150,000. Is the 150,000 out of 1 million applications a year frictional, the amount that you would expect to be in the in-tray at any one stage? I think the answer to that is we want to bring that down. So I would want to see the postal applications that you referred to processed more quickly. What has happened is earlier in the year-I think I have briefed the Committee on this before-we had a particular spike in applications for one particular product. We put staff on that in order to deal with it, but, overall, we have seen some other areas decline.
Q92 Dr Huppert: I think six months is very poor service indeed for something that can be done in 24 hours. I have, for example, constituents who came to see me recently who applied for a spousal visa, having previously got a fiancé visa. They applied in March. They were told not to contact UKBA for six months. They waited patiently for the six months. UKBA then got in touch and said, "Yes, sorry, there is a delay. We will try to let you know at some point," which seems somewhat unreasonable, particularly given they had presumably already been through the checks. I have had other stories when I have taken up cases that suggest that what is happening is that the envelopes with the applications in are not even being opened for the first month or two months. Nobody is even having a look or starting to look at the biometric processes. Why is it sitting there? I was told there was a private contractor who was just massively behind. Why is it taking months and months to even start the process?
Rob Whiteman: I would say for a postal application the fee of, say, £990 compared to the premium service of nearly £1,400-£1,377-means that if there are cases where people feel that they need the application much more quickly than the postal service and the service standard that we state of doing them in six months, they have the opportunity to achieve a premium service. The service standard that we state is six months. The reason that it is difficult to bring down a service standard for all cases is that in some cases we will have to carry out extensive investigations. We will have to carry out checks. We will need information from post and other parts of the business. Therefore, we say a settlement application takes six months if delivered by post.
Q93 Dr Huppert: Mr Whiteman, I think we all understand there will be some cases that are more complicated. You do not manage to do all of the in-person ones within 24 hours. You do not manage to do all the postal ones within six months. I have had a written question answered that confirms that just now. But why are the bulk of them taking so long? The bulk of them do not require such detailed investigation. The bulk of them could be processed very quickly. I think people reasonably expect that there is what is seen as an emergency 24-hour-type service, but I think people would not expect the alternative to be a six-month delay.
Rob Whiteman: Yes. The point I hope I have made consistently to the Committee is that in my first year here I think the job has been to stabilise performance. There are parts of the agency where we have had particular backlogs-for example, the questions that I was asked earlier about the controlled archive. I think what we now see across all our products-the visa service, settlement applications, the controlled archive, enforcement activity-is that we have stabilised performance on each, so that we are holding the line and/or improving. To answer your point, I do not think we will make big, serious inroads into reducing the time taken to do work without some other actions as well. Some of the issues that I have set out to the Committee about the need to improve our organisation, our processes, improve our IT, improve the quality of leadership, change the nature of the organisation in order that we break down silos, these are things that we are doing a lot of work on at the moment that I believe will yield results in the years ahead but not immediately. The job has been to stabilise performance.
Q94 Dr Huppert: We would welcome all of those changes and improvements, and I hope they happen quickly. If you have now finished the stabilisation process over that year, do you think the next time you come and see us there will be a marked improvement? Will it take a year? What is your estimation of when we should expect to see significant improvements you have delivered?
Rob Whiteman: I would like to see the stabilisation process at an end by the end of this calendar year. It is not there yet. In answer to questions earlier, we have yet to close the controlled archive. We have created a new board. I sent a copy to the Committee of the new organogram. We have created some new commands for areas of activity where we think we need more resource for them, and we have not had specialist commands looking at those.
Q95 Chair: That is very helpful. Can I ask you finally, because we have come to the end of this now, given that the transformation is not complete, and the Home Secretary told us only a few weeks ago that the transformation will take a number of years, you-correctly in our view-did not take a bonus last year? You have a salary of between £175,000 and £180,000 a year. You took no bonus. But David Wood, who is on a salary of £105,000, took a bonus of between £5,000 and £10,000; Jonathan Sedgwick, who is on £110,000, took a bonus of between £5,000 and £10,000; and Jeremy Oppenheim took benefits in kind of £4,800. By my reckoning, if you add that all together, it is about £25,000 in bonuses. You know what the Committee feels about bonuses being given to the UKBA, especially bearing in mind what you have just said. Why do senior members of staff-apart from yourself, and we commend you for not taking a bonus-keep taking bonuses when this organisation has still not reached the standard of efficiency that we expect and that the Home Secretary expects?
Rob Whiteman: The civil service scheme, Chairman, is that 25% of the senior civil service can be identified for a bonus. This is not a UKBA scheme. This is a civil service scheme.
Chair: We understand how it works.
Rob Whiteman: I think that any organisation that needs to improve will have high performers in it.
Q96 Chair: Did you authorise these bonuses?
Rob Whiteman: I did authorise the bonuses, Mr Vaz, and I think it is right that-
Q97 Chair: Even after what you have just told the Committee-that there is so much work in progress that is necessary, the backlogs have not been cleared-you still authorised these bonuses? You did not take one yourself, but you still authorised them?
Rob Whiteman: Because, Mr Vaz, many staff in UKBA are performing well. Many of my managers are performing well. I completely agree that we need more people performing better, but it would be counterproductive to say to an organisation, "Until you reach really good performance in all areas the civil service scheme, which gives 26% of top performers a bonus, will not be applied to the agency". I think I would not attract high performers. It is an agency that needs to attract good performers and give bonuses where they are fairly given.
Q98 Chair: Mr Whiteman, you came before this Committee, and as a direct result of what the Permanent Secretary and you did concerning Brodie Clark, the taxpayer is £100,000 worse off. That is a matter of fact, and the Permanent Secretary agreed to this when I put it to her. As someone who leads this organisation, everyone would understand you saying to people like Jonathan Sedgwick, David Wood and Jeremy Oppenheim, "We lead from the front. We are not taking our bonuses. We will take our bonuses when this organisation is fit for purpose". You clearly did not take your bonus. Why are you authorising these bonuses?
Rob Whiteman: Because UKBA does not have its own bonus scheme. We are part of the civil service bonus scheme. I think it would be wrong not to award bonuses to exceptional performers in an organisation where we wish to see improvement. I wish to attract top performers from across the civil service, and I think it is right that up to 25% of our civil servants can be identified for a bonus.
Chair: In concluding on this before I ask Mr Winnick to say something, can I say we do not think it is acceptable, and we have made this very clear in all our reports, that people should be given bonuses at the UKBA, at the highest levels, until this organisation is fit for purpose, and it is not at the moment? It is moving in the right direction, but it has not got there.
Q99 Mr Winnick: Mr Whiteman, you are not responsible for the civil service bonus scheme-I accept that-but would you understand that my constituents who are on an average salary of £23,000 would find it very difficult to understand how those on over £100,000 need a bonus of any kind? Do you recognise, especially in these times, how difficult it is to try to justify this bonus business?
Rob Whiteman: Yes, of course, Mr Winnick. I recognise that during a recession, of course, whether or not bonuses are being paid comes under the spotlight, including with your constituents. For those of us who have higher salaries, I can understand an argument that at a time of austerity when we are making savings, cuts and efficiencies-over the last year UKBA has successfully delivered £270 million in savings, which I think is commendable in terms of meeting our CSR requirements-senior executives should not receive a bonus because the taxpayer may think that unwarranted. But the point I would make is that has been considered by the Government, and the Government has decided that-
Q100 Chair: But, Mr Whiteman, you authorised this.
Rob Whiteman: No, but the Government-
Chair: You authorised these bonuses. I know there is a Government scheme, but it has to cross your desk and you have to sign this off. All we are saying is, we commend you for not taking your bonus, but we think it is wrong that you have authorised bonuses to people who sit on your board because we do not believe the organisation is fit for purpose at the moment. That is all we want to say to you.
Rob Whiteman: I think that is my answer, Mr Vaz and Mr Winnick. If the Government had no bonus scheme, then, of course, I would not award bonuses. The Government has looked at this matter, determined that it thinks that, in the round, up to a quarter of top earners should receive a bonus. It would be wrong of me not to reflect that UKBA has some high performing managers.
Chair: Yes. We need to conclude this. Mr Whiteman, thank you very much. It is usually the Opposition MPs that blame the Government, but it is unusual to have the head of UKBA doing it. Thank you very much for coming in. We are most grateful.