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CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 550-i
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE
TRANSFORMING THE UK BORDER AGENCY AND BORDER FORCE
WEDNESDAY 5 SEPTEMBER 2012
DAME HELEN GHOSH, BRIAN MOORE and ROB WHITEMAN
Evidence heard in Public
Questions 1 - 153
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.
Taken before the Public Accounts Committee
on Wednesday 5 September 2012
Margaret Hodge (Chair)
Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General, National Audit Office, Gabrielle Cohen, Assistant Auditor General, NAO, Aileen Murphie, Director, NAO, and Marius Gallaher, Alternate Treasury Officer of Accounts, HM Treasury, were in attendance.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dame Helen Ghosh, Permanent Secretary, Home Office (until 12 September 2012), Rob Whiteman, Chief Executive, UK Border Agency (from September 2011) and Brian Moore, Head of Border Force (until 31 August 2012), gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Welcome, everybody. Dame Helen, someone told me this is your last appearance. I said I don’t know about that!
Dame Helen Ghosh: I have not made any assumptions about that, Chair.
Chair: I will write to you. I am afraid recess meant that I did not write to you, but you have got a lovely job, so congratulations.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Thank you.
Chair: We never know-this may be your last appearance.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Or not. Exactly. I am not counting any chickens.
Q2 Chair: Brian Moore, it is your first and last appearance, I gather.
Brian Moore: It is, Chair, yes.
Q3 Chair: And Rob Whiteman, I think we will probably see you quite regularly.
Rob Whiteman: For several years, I hope, Chair.
Q4 Chair: We have a vote at four, so we will try to get through some stuff first, and then we will have to return after the vote, if that is all right with you all.
I don’t know where to start on this. In a way, this is a positive Report in that it says that you are planning and thinking ahead. Dame Helen, we are now getting the UKBA and the Border Force separated. I accept that that transition is not completed, but are there costs involved in that? Has it changed how you control them? Has it improved effectiveness? What is the difference in having the Border Force reporting to you directly?
Dame Helen Ghosh: The rationale for splitting UKBA from Border Force was predominantly that we could devote more management and ministerial time to the issues in both parts of the previous old organisation. Essentially, it was recognising that the complexity of UKBA, including Border Force, was such that it required enormous management bandwidth, and that if we were to split the two things up, we could-in fact, without additional cost, because we will do this as part of a process of restructuring-make sure that both ministerially and officially in terms of the senior management of the organisation, and in terms of leaders of the two organisations, we could devote more time to the transformation that we needed to take place.
What we have done in terms of the budget-there will probably be a bit more adjustment to be done at the mid-year point this year-is, broadly speaking, just split the budget that was previously all in UKBA and assign it to functions in Border Force. We have a transition programme that Mike Anderson is leading. Clearly, there are some overlaps-I think some of them were mentioned at the time of the announcement-that we need to sort out. There are some issues, for example, about how casework is handled at the border that we still need to divide out.
So, we have done a broad split of the existing budget. When we get to the mid-year review point when we know what the total budget position across the Department is, if there is any further adjustment to be made-for example, in terms of recruitment or investment in any kind of automation-then we would adjust, but the total amount of budget will remain exactly the same, so there is not a cost. One of the things that was very noticeable-
Q5 Chair: But if there are shared services-
Dame Helen Ghosh: Oh, there are shared services.
Q6 Chair: If you split those up, there will be a cost.
Dame Helen Ghosh: No, because the model that the Home Office operates on is effectively that we all have a shared service, so that we are not replicating in Border Force, let’s say, a HR function and a whole finance function and all of that back office stuff, or a press office, for example. The Home Office model means that those things are on the whole provided centrally. Each bit of the Department-for example, OSCT or crime and policing-has a person or one or two people who look after the finances of that bit of the organisation, but they work within Helen Kilpatrick’s overall finance function. That is, broadly speaking, the same whether it is UKBA or Border Force.
Q7 Chair: Let me ask the question another way, then. Clearly, you have to stay within budget.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes.
Chair: But it may be that part of your budget is being spent-extra costs are being spent-on creating the division. I would like to know whether that is the case and what the benefits are. How has it changed your relationship with Mr Moore?
Dame Helen Ghosh: There are no additional costs that arise from the split.
Q8 Chair: None at all?
Dame Helen Ghosh: From the fact of the split, there are no additional costs that arise. In thinking about the transformation going forward-I imagine this is something we will be talking about in terms of current recruitment or plans for automation where they fall-it may well be that we need to adjust the plans for Border Force, but that is part of transformation. That is something we would have wanted to do anyway. It is not inherent in the idea that we split the two organisations, because we have not built a mini-UKBA in Border Force; they are just using the services that everybody else had.
How has it changed the relationship? It is quite hard to say at this stage what business as usual looks like, because of the Olympics and because of the strong public and political focus on the queues issue in the spring. Of course, a lot of my time and a lot of ministerial time has been spent focusing on Border Force and its operations and working with Brian and the top team. Equally, Rob has been taking forward his transformation, working very closely with the Immigration Minister. So collectively we have been putting a great deal of our time and effort into these two bits of the Department. How that will pan out once the transformation programmes are reaping rewards and well under way, I do not know.
Q9 Chair: But the difference between an executive agency and none?
Dame Helen Ghosh: Not for the purposes of everyday management of the Department. Rob can comment, but I do not think it makes really much difference to the amount of managerial senior ministerial time or my time that goes in. Of course, there are very specific operational responsibilities that Rob has, which he exercises.
Q10 Chair: Has it changed the world for either of you two?
Rob Whiteman: No. I think the test of it is: in a year’s time or two years’ time, have we exploited the opportunity of being two organisations? As Dame Helen said, our view was that the bandwidth of UKBA being both the country’s immigration service and responsible for border security and screening goods and people was too great, and that therefore we would have two distinct organisations with management capacity that work well with each other but can both transform and improve, as is expected of them. Although the transition is at nil cost-as Dame Helen said, on the whole we are still using the same shared services and so on-the test of it will be: has it supported UKBA to really improve, and has it supported Border Force to really improve? Both these organisations can have more management focus on part of the business that used to be in a combined operation.
Q11 Chair: Before Brian Moore comes in, as I understand it you have not been able to recruit a head of service.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Ah, yes. We had one competition over the summer. We set the bar very high; we needed someone with a wide range of skills. We had some very good candidates but we did not have someone whom we thought was absolutely perfect for the job.
Q12 Chair: Why do you think that is? Maybe you want to come in, Brian Moore, because you have been doing it for the interim and you are about to leave and we are about to get another interim. It just strikes me: in a sense, was this just a statement-a gimmick-or was it real, and is it making a difference? If it is supposed to make a difference, why are we in a position where we are not able to recruit to the top post?
Dame Helen Ghosh: I think the reason why our first recruitment campaign was not successful-or rather, because we set the bar high, we decided on balance that we would not appoint but we would move to another competition-was that it is a very, very demanding role. It is a role that involves operations, and it involves complex relationships with stakeholders such as BAA and the airlines. Clearly, at the moment it has a very high media and political profile, and involves very close working with Ministers. That is a challenging package. Therefore, we decided we wanted absolutely the right person for such an important job. That is the explanation.
Brian Moore: With regard to your first point, Chair, I was not a part of the UKBA before so I don’t know how the Border Force had oversight from Dame Helen. However, since I have been here, I am accountable and responsible and my performance report is to Dame Helen who keeps a close eye on us. Of course, I have direct access to my Ministers to hear their views on the world. I feel very accountable, very held to account, and I have adequate and direct contact with senior colleagues who know what we’re doing when we are doing it. Any problems that I encounter are immediately surfaced, so nothing is allowed to fester away-not that it was-in a much bigger organisation. I have that sense of accountability and being managed and led directly by my senior colleagues.
In terms of my position, I am a seconded chief constable. I came here from Wiltshire police to help lay some foundation stones about the Border Force being a world-class law-enforcement organisation. Of course, it was then straight into the Olympics and my secondment finished about a week ago. I am here to support this Committee and HASC in due course, and then I will be moving on. I hope I have put some of the cornerstones in place, but there is much more to do for someone else to deliver after I’ve gone.
Q13 Chair: This is a slight aside. I was interested whether this whole thing improved effectiveness and value for money. We will come back to that I think.
Dame Helen Ghosh: As Rob says, the test is in the outcome of the transformation and the pace at which we do it.
Q14 Nick Smith: I want to pick up on the report, in particular page 9, paragraph 15, and the emphasis on leadership but the need to improve work force practices that the NAO has identified. Mr Moore, will you tell us something about the work force practices or difficulties that you have encountered in your interim?
Brian Moore: I would say there are some inflexibilities in the way the work force is employed and deployed. Many of those are historical in nature. The Border Force came from the UK Border Agency, but about four plus years ago it was in fact two legacy organisations: the immigration service and the customs service. They each had different terms and conditions of employment. Over the past four years, while some work has been done to rationalise that, it is not yet complete. There is more work to do to get one set of terms and conditions for the Border Force to give us much more flexibility.
These are management of government changes that went on before and they will have to be carefully worked through to give us these flexibilities, so that we can deploy people at the time and place where passenger demand or other law-enforcement demand requires. I am not satisfied we are there yet and there is quite a bit more to be done to achieve that. That has been an operational difficulty that we are working through.
Q15 Nick Smith: Why do you think it has taken four years to iron out some of these creases?
Brian Moore: As I said, they were management of government changes. These were rights that people were able to bring with them. There has been some very good progress towards getting people to work annualised hours, for example. As we see in there, we went pretty much from having 20% of the customs legacy staff bringing that kind of approach with them now to-by the time we finished, with a modicum of recruitment later this year-having between 80% and 90% of the Border Force working on annualised hours. That gives us great flexibility to be able to deploy them when and where we think fit. People have not been sat on their hands. It has just been very difficult when you have such government changes to work your way through.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Essentially, as Brian says, the issue is that large numbers of the staff, particularly on the immigration side, had a contractual right to a particular working pattern. To move those people to annualised hours working could only be done with agreement. Lin Homer and her team had already made good progress in using incentives to get people to move, but not everybody has moved yet. In particular, there is a relatively low take-up of annualised hours working at Heathrow, which is obviously one of our real pressure points. It is progress against that background that Brian is describing.
Q16 Nick Smith: You talked about the numbers of staff on annualised hours going towards 80% or 90%, but, as you say, the Report says on page 31 that it is only 32% at Heathrow. How are you going to get that from 32% to 80% or 90% in the period that you have identified?
Brian Moore: It will be a combination of things, including incentivising, where that is appropriate, and acquiring new recruits-the Minister said that 70 new people would be brought in immediately, because terminal 2 is going to open in 2014, so 70 staff are being brought forward. We are also recruiting quite a large number-up to 400 extra people-into Border Force and that process has started now. Probably some 300 of those will go into Heathrow, and they will be brought in on annualised hours, so we will begin to make some changes through a combination of approaches. However, this will be difficult where it remains people’s contractual right that they can stay there. This will be hard work, but progress has been made and will continue to be made.
Q17 Nick Smith: So what is your educated guess as to when you will have 90% of staff at Heathrow on annualised hours?
Brian Moore: When do I think?
Nick Smith: Yes.
Brian Moore: We have given ourselves the comprehensive spending review period to achieve that, but more will be done. We have brought in a director of HR with a lot of skills and experience in this world who started on Monday-now that the Olympics are over-and will begin to engage directly. As you know, union activity is quite considerable in the Border Force, so we have to work in a way that is challenging to the status quo but also co-operative and collaborative moving forward to get to this goal. Can I say 100% that we will have everybody on annualised hours next year? No, I don’t think that is feasible, but I do think we will continue to make a lot of progress, as we have done elsewhere in the Border Force, but Heathrow, for example, needs some specific and targeted support to make it happen, which we will deliver.
Q18 Nick Smith: Can I ask another question about Heathrow? You seem to spend a lot of money on overtime at Heathrow. What is going to be happening on that in particular?
Brian Moore: Use of overtime, of course, is an effective management tool where it is utilised appropriately. While we can look at passenger demand and predict quite a lot from airline information, things do not always work that neatly. It is a very busy airport, that works nearly at capacity. If several complicated flights arrive with lots of detections, seizures and challenging immigration cases, that is an appropriate time to use overtime to give us flexibility. A short-term uplift is useful. Over time, however, we will see the amount of overtime drop away, at Heathrow and everywhere else, as annualised hours kicks in and, crucially, as we get better as an organisation at aligning our available resource to the demand that we can predict is coming in through the good use of airline data.
Q19 Nick Smith: Just one more question, Chair, then we can move on. What is your estimate of overtime at Heathrow for this year?
Brian Moore: I can’t answer that specifically, because all the receipts from the Olympics period aren’t in.
Q20 Nick Smith: Can you give us a note on it later this week?
Brian Moore: Yes, but what I can say is that, right across the Border Force, our overtime spend between April and July this year was considerably lower than for the same period last year, so we are making improvements.
Q21 Chair: I will bring Meg in, but two questions arise out of that. One is that you presumably recruited extra people for the Olympics.
Dame Helen Ghosh: No.
Brian Moore: Not for the Olympics.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Not as permanent or-
Q22 Chair: No, but you had extra people on.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes. We had a variety of additional people, as we had long planned to have.
Q23 Chair: Who you paid for?
Dame Helen Ghosh: We paid for some. It was a mixture, and Brian can say more. Some were from our existing volunteer contingency pool across the department, so we are not paying extra for those people. We re-employed some retired Border Force people. Again, we had long planned that, and they were paid. People such as Ministry of Defence police also played a very important part. There is a variety of additional staff for whom we paid. I think our total estimate of the kind of additional cost of all that contingency was about £6 million for the Olympic period.
Q24 Chair: And did that go into the £9.4 billion or did you pay for that?
Dame Helen Ghosh: It is a drop in that ocean, but it may well be-
Chair: It is, but it would be quite interesting to track it. If you could let us know, it would be nice to know. The only other thing that arises out of your answer is that, clearly in the Report, you let 1,000 people go and then you suddenly found you had to recruit 400, which seems a bit daft.
Brian Moore: Well, as I understand the figures, between 2010 and 2011, 644 people left. Sorry-is it by way of voluntary exit or the figure overall?
Q25 Chair: Well, the figure in the report-Aileen may help-is about 1,000 with a cost to the Treasury of £60 million.
Aileen Murphie: It was an extra 1,000 people ahead of what was planned for staff reductions. Part of the figures on page 20 would have been in the Border Force.
Dame Helen Ghosh: One of the points made in the Report was about whether we lost people too quickly. I think we would say had we known-sorry, in one sense the Border Force did the right thing. Lin Homer did the right thing in saying that if we have got to make the changes, we have got automation coming along, and we have e-Borders coming along, it is better to make the savings in people early on rather than later on. In retrospect, of course, if you look at the issues about increasing passenger numbers, concerns about customer service, perhaps we would not have moved quite as fast as we did. However, by the end of this financial year we will already have effectively broken even on the people who left-I think it was about 640-on voluntary departure, i.e. paid for by the Treasury over those two years.
Q26 Chair: What do you mean, broken even?
Dame Helen Ghosh: It has paid for itself. I think this relates to the previous Report.
Q27 Stephen Barclay: Dame Helen, the bit that does not make sense, and paragraph 7 on page 7 alludes to it, is that it is not just that 1,000 more left than planned, but that it happened at the same time as you knew that the ICW programme was behind schedule, that the work force modernisation programme was not on track and you did not have any agency-wide skill strategy in place. It is the two happening at the same time that seems very odd. Were no warning bells ringing when these areas were off track to say perhaps you should be slowing down the work force reduction?
Dame Helen Ghosh: I’ll ask Rob to talk about the performance issues. The issue of warning bells is an interesting one. As the Report acknowledges, it is not the case that while this was happening performance in the Agency and in Border Force was, apparently, being significantly affected. So you are quite right to say that the basis of our plan for losing people-indeed, we get credit for this in the Report-was proper structural change. It was not just slash and burn. It was proper structural change, whether ICW or changes in the way the Border operated. The Border was continuing and continued to hit its performance-its SLA-targets. So that would not have rung a warning bell. Many areas in UKBA continued to perform well. Again, the Report emphasises that. So there were not wide-scale warning bells because performance was holding up. On the Border Force side, again, the new policy focus on 100% checks, post January and the increasing focus on the service we were giving to customers-as I said, in retrospect, had we known both of those things, I think in Border Force we might not have let so many people go. But they might not have been people in the right place.
Q28 Stephen Barclay: Just a second; you are saying that performance did not fall. But it may be that it depends on which bit of performance we are talking about. Mr Smith was alluding to Heathrow. The number of absconders at terminal 3 increased by 62% between 2009 and 2011. The number of absconders recovered reduced from 40% in 2009 to just 16% in 2011. That does not sound to me as if performance was holding up.
Dame Helen Ghosh: That is obviously one slice of performance.
Q29 Stephen Barclay: Indeed.
Dame Helen Ghosh: But if you look at casework in the Agency, if you look at the speed with which asylum cases are being dealt with, if you look at the performance of Border Force against its SLAs, those held up pretty well.
Q30 Stephen Barclay: So you accept, in other words, that it depends on which bit of performance one picks?
Dame Helen Ghosh: Indeed it does.
Q31 Stephen Barclay: The Independent Chief Inspector’s report on Heathrow terminal 3 for this year showed that the 45-minute target for terminals 3, 4 and 5 was being exceeded four, five and four days respectively in the month of June. The point I am driving at is that it is very unclear which bit of performance it is. You are cherry-picking some performance and saying, "There wasn’t a warning bell because performance held up, and that is why we were content to let the 1,000 leave, more than we expected, even though there were other warning bells going on. But we could ignore those warning bells because performance was holding up." In fact, the reality was that the performance, as is always the case, was fine in some areas but struggling in others. That is just normal management, I am sure.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Indeed. One of the challenges of managing any big, complex organisation is to weigh up those two things. We had very clear targets in terms of the budgets that we had and the orders of magnitude of staff we wanted to lose. A significant proportion of the reduction in staff across the old UKBA and in the two separate organisations was natural attrition, as much as paid departures. That, of course, is much more difficult to predict.
I was admitting that if we knew then what we know now, particularly on the Border Force side, we would not necessarily have let so many people go, particularly in the first year, in 2010-11, before the SR period. That is when the largest number of people left.
Q32 Stephen Barclay: Sure, but again, with respect, there is a degree of cherry-picking. I was talking about Heathrow, and we just heard in the exchange there about how low the figure was for annualised contracts. If there had been a high rate of natural leavers at Heathrow, I would have thought that you would have expected that number to have gone up more quickly than it has. I would have thought that perhaps at Heathrow, there has not been as many people leaving.
Can I come to another consequence? If you let more people go than you find you then need, not only does it impact on overtime, but it impacts on training. You are going to have to train the new staff that you bring in. Yet the training spend, looking at your annual account, has gone down by 42% between 2011 and 2012. Could you talk me through what impact such a big reduction in training subsistence and travel spend has had, at a time when you have had to take more people back on?
Rob Whiteman: I am happy to deal with that. Can I just say, more broadly about work force planning, what we are trying to achieve? The Agency and the Border Force have a target reduction for the comprehensive spending review. That will be met by many measures: efficiency measures, savings in overheads and a reduction in headcount. There is a target over the four years of the spending review about what that headcount reduction should look like: approximately 5,200 posts. At the beginning of the CSR period, the Agency was about 700 below its permitted number. Over the lifetime of the CSR, we are looking at a reduction of 4,500.
The NAO Report says that the UKBA had the intention of trying to plan that in a good way, to have business planning and to use exits as one of the tools. Of course, in work force planning terms, there is natural wastage. We employ some people on temporary or fixed-term contracts. There is an attrition rate of about 3.5% per annum. For UKBA as it now is, without the Border Force, that is, say, around 500 posts a year.
Q33 Stephen Barclay: What is the attrition rate at Heathrow?
Rob Whiteman: I do not have that.
Dame Helen Ghosh: I don’t know, but I did look into this. Let’s take the group of people whom you regard as immigration officers; obviously, we are trying to multi-skill people. At Heathrow, if you take just the people who are on the desks-the work force at Heathrow is about 1,600-about 55 immigration officers, at all levels of immigration officer, left in those two years. It was not actually a very high number. It may be that with the overall attrition rate at Heathrow-back to the, "Surely, the turnover at Heathrow would mean that you would move to annualised hours working"-you would move there quite quickly. Back to your earlier question, that figure is interesting in terms of performance at Heathrow and in terms of the turnover rate. But we can certainly let you know what the turnover rate is.
Q34 Stephen Barclay: You cannot argue it both ways, if annualised has not gone up because of low turnover. Coming back to the training point, assuming that in 2010-11 the £4.5 million was not being wasted, bringing that down by 42% is a big reduction at a time when you have let people go who you subsequently need, so you will have to train people. I am trying to understand what impact that has had, and how you are managing that.
Q35 Chair: Do you want to come back on that?
Rob Whiteman: Yes, I do. In the year in question, a great deal of our effort in training went into training the contingency pool to cover for the Olympics. As Dame Helen said earlier, remember that over the last period a number of UKBA staff and other staff from the Home Office have been supporting the primary checkpoint. It is the case, Mr Barclay, that while that has offered value for money in terms of reducing the costs of covering the Olympics-that has been quite successful in queue management at Heathrow during the period of the Olympics-it does mean that other training that would normally have taken place in the year did not. One of the issues that both Brian for the Border Force and myself for UKBA are dealing with is having a skills audit of what we need for the future and what we need to reinvest in training, because we recognise that we carried out less training activity as so much focus was on covering the Olympics.
Q36 Chair: Okay. I will move on to Austin. The point that Stephen Barclay is making is valid: you had to take on more people because too many left, for whatever reason.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Well, the Border Force had to. There are two issues, and we never actually got the answer on Border Force. I think Mr Barclay was asking specifically about that. We are recruiting for Border Force on annualised hours contracts. Yes, those people will need training.
Q37 Chair: And there is no money for that.
Dame Helen Ghosh: No, we have the money for that. There is money within the Border Force budget this year to train those people. They do not need any extra money for that. We will follow forward training on that basis. Of course, across Government, as the Committee will be aware, the spend on learning and development universally has gone down at a very fast rate. That is reflected in staff engagement scores, and we need to do something about it for the future.
Rob Whiteman: Can I make one other point, Chair? When we look at headcount, it is a net figure. We need to make changes within the headcount. We employ people in a very large number of geographic locations, in very different teams, doing very different jobs. It is the case that we have let people go and, added together with attrition, that means that we have fewer staff than intended, and we are therefore recruiting. We are a bit ahead of the reduction plan, as the NAO says.
One cannot jump from one to the other and think that because people were let go, we are now having to re-employ, because very often in my organisation, when we are re-employing people, it will be in different locations doing different jobs, as we will discuss later when we talk about the agency’s transformation. Over the next couple of years, I would like to see relatively more staff in enforcement. I would like to see relatively more staff in the disruption of organised immigration crime. The skill sets to do that will be different from those of our existing work force. We will try to retrain and redeploy people, but it is not the case, in work force planning terms, that if we have got ahead of the curve on savings, that means that we should not have let people go. We are trying to have an organisation that is fit for purpose, with people in the right locations with the right skills in the jobs that are needed, which may be different from jobs in the past.
Q38 Austin Mitchell: On that point, I just do not get these elaborate explanations, because, at the end of the day, paragraph 7 makes it look as though it was panic measures, or premature Osborne-ism. You got rid of 1,000 more people than planned in 2011-12. The result was that you had to rehire some of them-at what expense it would be nice to know; perhaps you could give us a note on that-and there were performance dips. This looks like a premature dash and folly.
Rob Whiteman: The reduction in headcount is not only because people have been released. It is also because people have left for other reasons. That is what we call attrition.
Q39 Austin Mitchell: Yes, but you were firing too many.
Rob Whiteman: Looking at UKBA, for example, during that period, our headcount reduced by 1,700 posts. Some two thirds of that was release, and one third of that was people who chose to leave to go to other organisations.
Q40 Austin Mitchell: You spent £60 million on early exit.
Rob Whiteman: Two points, Mr Mitchell. The fact that we are recruiting people does not mean that we are recruiting them for the posts where we have let them go.
Q41 Chair: Not always.
Rob Whiteman: Not always. Secondly, for the period that we have not had those people, and looking at the average cost of the release, it pays for itself in about 12 to 15 months. We have saved money by letting people go, 18 months later. Where we are now re-employing people, it is not because we let too many people go; it is because we are changing what the work force do, and the mix of jobs that we have within it. [Interruption.]
Chair: Austin, there is a Division.
Q42 Austin Mitchell: Yes, I know. Let me get this last question in. You have had performance dips. Is it a fact that because of these performance dips and inadequate staffing, you took this crazy decision to drop a nuclear bomb on the London Metropolitan University and effectively eliminate its finance? Had you been properly staffed, could you not have helped it through?
Chair: I am going to rule that we take that question later.
Rob Whiteman: I will formulate my answer during the Division.
Chair: I think that you will get a number of questions on London Metropolitan University.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Q43 Chair: There is one final issue that Nick wanted to raise: can you give us an assurance that among those people you are recruiting, you are not recruiting any to whom you gave early redundancy?
Dame Helen Ghosh: We would need to know the detail of who we were recruiting. I can assure you that were we to recruit anybody to whom we had given voluntary early severance or retirement historically-we have not done so this year-all the normal rules would apply. It might be that somebody took early retirement, went off for a new career, discovered that it did not suit them and wanted to re-apply. As we have discussed with Mr Barclay at previous sessions, there are rules about that, in terms of a six-month period and having to repay. I would not put my hand on my heart and say, "There will be nobody in that set of people who had previously worked for us," but the rules would apply were they to come back and work for us. I think that is fair.
Brian Moore: That is correct. We have sent out offer letters to about 100 new staff so far, and we are double-checking to make sure that we have complied with all the rules.
Q44 Chair: So you are checking, and you can write to us. And you are checking, Mr Whiteman?
Rob Whiteman: Yes. As Dame Helen has said, the rules are that we will not re-employ within six months.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Or rather, if we re-employ within six months, they have to repay.
Rob Whiteman: If there were cases where we have re-employed people who have been gone for more than six months, we will give you a note on that.
Chair: You will give us a note.
Dame Helen Ghosh: What we have done, following up on our previous hearing, is look at the historical evidence and see whether we have re-employed on a permanent basis any of the people who left. There are a number whom we have employed after the six-month period on casual contracts and temporary contracts-some of the people I described who were retirees and have come back during the Olympics. There are a group of people like that, but it is always after the six months. I think there are two people who have come back on permanent contracts, but, again, they have been re-employed after the six-month period, so the rules about repayment of their-
Chair: It is still not good value, though, because they will have picked up a redundancy.
Q45 Stephen Barclay: Does the amount of money you take when you leave not extend beyond six months, in some instances?
Dame Helen Ghosh: No, as I think we have discussed with the Committee before, it is a statutory rule.
Q46 Stephen Barclay: But someone’s pay-off could equate to more than six months’ salary, could it not?
Dame Helen Ghosh: Oh, yes. It could do. Under the new civil service compensation rules, effectively the most anybody can get is a lump sum equivalent to 21 months, and possibly three months, so it is really two years. The rules about repayment at the moment-those are the ones we have to abide by-are that if you leave and come back within six months, there is a sliding scale of repayment.
Chair: I understand that. It is just that something sticks in the gullet.
Q47 Stephen Barclay: But my point is that you could take 21 months’ salary as a pay-off and come back after six months, and you are 15 months up.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Indeed you can, because that is the policy under which we work at the moment.
Q48 Chair: Let us have the information. You can come back to us and tell us whether there are people whom you are now employing on either a temporary or a permanent basis who did take redundancy, even within the rules. Just let us see that.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes, and we have those data, because we checked this out before the hearing. We will also tell you how we are monitoring future recruitment, following Mr Smith’s point.
Q49 Nick Smith: I did not pick up exactly how many have been re-employed, whom you have the data for.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Looking forward, we do not have the data.
Q50 Nick Smith: But up until now?
Chair: That is what they are going to give to us, Nick.
Nick Smith: I thought you said that you had done it already.
Brian Moore: No, we have offered letters of employment to 102 people-
Q51 Nick Smith: No, no, I got that, but I thought you had already done a calculation.
Dame Helen Ghosh: We have looked back, historically, and I am very happy to write to the Committee. Broadly speaking, we think that, in terms of what I describe as the temporary-people such as retirees who have come back for the Olympics, or whom we have used for pressure points overseas, or for mentoring-there are 84 people who have been in our employ in some way, but not on permanent contracts or as full-time employees. We have got 20 people whom we have employed via agencies, and we have checked that all those people came back after the six-month break. There are two people who are permanent employees, and, again, we have checked that the six-month break had happened, and therefore there was no requirement to claim money back.
Q52 Nick Smith: So, just to be clear, just over 100 people have come back, having taken early redundancy.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes, after the six-month period, but the vast majority of those-only two of those are permanent employees.
Q53 Chair: I take what Nick is saying. It does slightly stick in the gullet that you go off, take early retirement or a redundancy payment and come back-okay, on a temporary contract, or come out of retirement for a bit-and get a double take.
Rob Whiteman: Could I just add, Chair-
Q54 Nick Smith: What was the average payout to those 100 people?
Dame Helen Ghosh: I cannot say what it is to those 100 people, but in terms of the average payout, I have got that somewhere.
Rob Whiteman: The average is £34,000 for UKBA and £54,000 for Border Force.
Dame Helen Ghosh: That is the average package on departure.
Rob Whiteman: And what I was going to add, Mr Smith, is remember this is an unusual year, as Dame Helen said, where some people have been hired back within the rules after six months, on a temporary contract. Very often that has been for the Border Force during the Olympics or, in previous years, we have had the practice of some people from the Border Force going overseas to help with the surge in visa applications and, because Border Force needed all hands to the deck, we had some retirees taken on temporary contracts to provide short-term cover overseas. As Dame Helen said, we aware of two people who, after six months, have been taken on permanent contracts on lower grades, but that is allowable after the break of six months.
Q55 Chair: I think you will find that we will comment on this in our Report, but I will just make the point here that we knew about the Olympics. It is not a big surprise to anybody, so a bit of better work force planning might-
Dame Helen Ghosh: Well, to go back to the discussion we had about, "Did you let too many people go?", one of the things we have learned is that what we need in Border Force all the time is a more flexible work force. We need seasonal people. We need people for the summer. We need people for the student surges in the autumn. The kind of work force that Brian has laid the foundations for will look much more like that, and effectively for the Olympics you would not say, "Have we got people who are trained?" They may have retired, they may have taken our VES, but it would be wilfully throwing away a group of people with skills to say, "The one group of people we will not re-employ, even on a temporary basis, are the people who have left under those circumstances," even if legally we were entitled to do that. We have got to think quite differently about how we run our work force.
Q56 Nick Smith: That is fair. Of course you need a flexible work force, but the issue for the public is, "Are they paying double for it?"
Dame Helen Ghosh: Well, as Rob said, we will, certainly by the end of this financial year, have got all our money back. We will have saved, in terms of pay and overheads, all the money on everybody we let go in those two years. I know that that has been the subject of a previous PAC Report. We are not in that sense paying twice for them. At the moment that is the policy and obviously the Committee questions it, but we are just adhering to what employment law and civil service rules tell us.
Q57 Fiona Mactaggart: One of the things that is predictable is that when you change the immigration rules to make them more severe there is always, and always has been in all the times I have been involved in immigration policy, a spike beforehand. If you look at the figures given to the Home Affairs Committee, that happened in March. I do not have the figures between March and the implementation, but in March family applications doubled, in effect. I am wondering what you did to plan for that.
Rob Whiteman: Two things, I would say. One is, we modelled for the likely increase. I think a lesson from what happened is we wish to get better at modelling. I am happy to talk about what we are doing at greater length, but essentially we are increasing our analytical capability, increasing our performance management information and making sure that we have productivity data so that we can model better how we would deal with a spike in work. Secondly, though, I would say that it was a greater spike than we anticipated. We will try to improve our modelling, but it was greater than we modelled for. We will have that work up to date by the end of the year, but it was larger than we expected.
Q58 Fiona Mactaggart: The problem, Mr Whiteman, is that I have actually had decades of people doing your kind of job and who say, "We will have done it by the end of the year". Let us take one thing that this Report implies that you have done-the asylum legacy casework. I wrote letters to my constituents saying, "It’ll be done by this year", and it has not been. Under paragraph 3.2, your Report says that it is one of the modernising and efficiency things, yet there are still 80,000 asylum cases in the control archive; 21,000 in the asylum cohort as of March and 21,500 immigration cases in the control archive. What are we supposed to say to our constituents about the reliability of your predictions? You have just said that you underestimated this spike. There have always been big spikes. The figures are not to be depended upon.
Rob Whiteman: I should like to make a general point about the way that we are reorganising our work, after which I shall make a specific point about the controlled archive. We recognise the criticism of UKBA made in the NAO Report. It says that-I am paraphrasing this-although work happens on individual pieces of work, there is not a coherence or a controlling brain to the way that all work is taken forward together so that, if we deal with one issue, something else does not become a problem elsewhere.
Fiona Mactaggart: Backlogs, middle-logs, front-logs.
Rob Whiteman: Fundamentally, I believe the reason for that-we are addressing it and are midway through our change programme at the moment-is that we were a regionally based organisation where each region would have its own asylum team and its own appeals team. We were a completely regionally based organisation. In the case of asylum, those asylum teams would be part of a regional management structure and have a dotted line to a national director of asylum, who did not manage all asylum staff throughout the organisation. The hard management line was to manage everything regionally, with a national co-ordinator. I have changed that.
At the moment, we are going through a process whereby we have changed the board director positions. We have six new director positions. We are out to recruitment on three of them, but we have created national commands. All asylum staff up and down the country are now managed by one person, rather than there being six or seven different asylum teams. I believe that that will make a considerable difference because it will ensure that we have better management information on each of the products. We will have better consistent management information because each of the products, wherever they are located, will be managed nationally. We will have the flexibility within those specialisms whereby work can be passed to different parts of the country within that product-for example, asylum.
I cannot answer for what has been said in the past, but I can tell you that I am confident. We are making very, very systematic changes. We are changing senior management structure. At the moment, I am reorganising the next 50 positions. We are setting up a new command structure based around national commands. We have created central teams in order that the procedures people work to, the way that they need to use IT and the way in which that they share information are all controlled in a consistent way, where again each region had its own team that would write procedures.
Although we are making very widespread changes to the way in which the agency is organised, that will allow us during the next two years to become much better at planning our work loads and delivering what we want to deliver but, most importantly, having a sense of what is happening in each work area and looking at the sum total of the agency’s work in one go.
Q59 Chair: Let us hear about the archive.
Rob Whiteman: The case resolution directorate was closed last year. You will remember, Chair, from your Reports that it had dealt with half a million legacy asylum claims. At the time, there were 98,000 cases when the agency was not in contact with the applicant. Although it would be in the position to close the case, it could not close it because it was not in touch with the applicant. You will remember from your Reports that we believe that many of these people have gone home, but we do not have the e-Borders system until 2015. As we have covered in reports for the Home Affairs Committee, the 98,000 is now 80,000. We are running all of those cases through up to 17 databases. We are checking them against the police national computer and the warnings index. We are looking for a financial footprint through credit agencies. We will establish which of those people still have a footprint in the country, and I imagine, therefore, that the live cohort that you referred to-the approximately 20,000 live cases that were left at the end of the legacy-will go up a bit, but the 80,000 cases will be closed by December of this year, because we will have carried out a sequence of checks.
We have discussed our approach with the National Audit Office. We have said that at different intervals of time we will carry out a wide range of checks against databases in order to give assurance and confidence that we can close these cases. Remember these are applications that predate 2006. They are at least six years old. The majority of people will have left, but we cannot just close the case; we need to be assured of that by carrying out a series of checks that will be completed by December of this year.
Chair: I have to tell you, from your old patch to my patch, they haven’t left.
Fiona Mactaggart: In which case, everyone around this table, including people with fewer immigration and asylum cases than in Slough, can name one.
Rob Whiteman: I remember my old patch very well, Chair. There are cases-I have been very transparent about this with the Home Affairs Committee-where we will find a footprint, and it is right therefore that we deal with them. I have been transparent with the Committee, but there were also cases that I do not think should have been put in the archive. We have found some cases where we were in contact. In fact, many MPs have written to me with cases where we were in contact, and there have been a small number of cases where we will take them out of the archive and conclude them.
Q60 Fiona Mactaggart: How many cases are you concluding each month?
Rob Whiteman: There is a profile of work where the 80,000 gets closed between now and December through bulk checks. I’m sorry; I don’t have the profile of each month in front of me.
Q61 Fiona Mactaggart: Could you give a figure for recent months? I am rather against profiles, because I wrote letters to people saying it would all be sorted out by July, so I do not believe forward-casting any more. So what I would like to know is how many cases have been concluded in the last three months, say, in each month? If that is not a possible period, if you could give us a note about those cases.
Chair: It would be lumpy,
Rob Whiteman: It is lumpy.
Chair: Because you do a bulk check.
Rob Whiteman: This will form part of my letter to the Home Affairs Committee in a couple of weeks’ time.
Q62 Fiona Mactaggart: Well, send us a copy of that letter. How about that?
Rob Whiteman: Yes. Thank you.
Q63 Fiona Mactaggart: That would be helpful. But I was actually trying to respond to your point about how wonderful it is that everything is now centralised. The really sad thing about being involved in immigration for 30 years is that I remember when I was told how wonderful it was that things were going to be regionalised, because we would be closer to people and engage with them, and that would solve all the problems of front-logs, backlogs and middle-logs. While I think that centralisation has merit, it seems to me, looking at this Report and looking at your plans, that the only way to make caseworking work is to have the integrated casework programme up and running and e-Borders working. It is not clear to me when either of those things is absolutely going to land.
Rob Whiteman: I completely agree with the point about ICW-the immigration casework system. It is the major tool by which we will improve the efficiency and consistency of decision making. I will make the point I made a couple of minutes ago, which is, because we were doing any one of our products-say, asylum-in six or seven different ways, it is quite hard to build an ICW system. You remember the old adage that there is no such thing as a successful IT programme; there are only successful change programmes that have a strong IT element. The reason that I commissioned the review from MPA on ICW-which has scored the programme amber-red; we have a new programme manager, a new steering group and we are re-scoping ICW-is that, although it is the system that will ensure one way of doing casework, the way that the organisation was structured did not align with that. We were still making decisions in different ways in different places. Although that is fine in itself, you can’t transform a process through the ICW programme doing it that way.
We are taking the right approach in terms of putting ICW back on track, by rescoping it in order to allow for a new operating model that ensures more consistent and streamlined decision making. I accept your point about ensuring that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater through creating national commands. We are an organisation that works with local authorities, the voluntary sector, the police, health, throughout the country. While I have flipped the reporting line and said, "You are now part of the national command", people are still in those locations. We still have local enforcement teams.
What we will do is ensure that we are clear about how we want the agency to engage only through one voice and that we don’t become disparate to those organisations and that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We could move from one set of silos to a different set of silos. In my experience of managing large organisations, we mustn’t now just change the structure.
We have to put in place leadership development and work around how you get people to have better processes on end-to-end work and for teams to share information and collaborate. I do agree with your point that restructuring in itself does not put things right. What it does do is give us the opportunity to deliver the efficiencies in casework and we have a lot more to do besides in terms of transforming the culture of the organisation.
Q64 Ian Swales: That is exactly where I wanted to come in. We have all got stories like this. A constituent of mine lost a place at Oxford University last year because their case hadn’t been cleared, even though they came from Kosovo when they were eight. Ten years later they could not go to Oxford because their case wasn’t sorted. This whole casework thing is so important.
Sadly, we have another story of a system that is already a year late, it is overrunning on costs, and it has had to have a new owner described as turnaround management. Once again, we have got system at the back of it here. I do not get the warm feeling that the sort of customer service standards that ought to apply to a system like this, are anywhere near the culture yet. More transparency, as Ms Mactaggart said, needs to happen very quickly to build confidence that the casework system is working. We will know what success looks like when you don’t need an MP helpline, because the system is working well.
Rob Whiteman: The only way of putting ICW right is now to do it properly. I think that the changes that I have put in place in terms of new governance, new programme manager, rescoping the programme for a business case by the end of December, will mean that we get ICW back on track. That is the major means-
Q65 Chair: When will it end?
Rob Whiteman: I can cover that.
Q66 Ian Swales: What’s gone wrong? This is a £250 million programme.
Chair: More than that.
Rob Whiteman: It is a £350 million programme. So far we have spent £295 million. On the plus side, the NAO Report confirms some of the benefits, such as the i-Search engine, i-Decide and the document management centre. We have deliverables from the ICW programme that are good. The acid test of the ICW programme is that it should generate savings in the organisation of £106 million a year. At the moment we expect it to have a net present value of saving £650 million.
Dame Helen Ghosh: The NPV.
Rob Whiteman: The NPV. Savings of £106 million per annum, Chair. We will only yield those savings if we address the issues that I mentioned earlier in answer to Ms Mactaggart. We need to organise the organisation in a much more consistent way where we make decisions in a consistent way, have better management information through the national commands, control the work and then make benefit of the ICW programme when we bring it on stream. It is a year late, and I acknowledge that, but I believe that we should not rush into trying to fix it overnight. We have to fix it properly.
Q67 Ian Swales: Against the original business case, what was the original expected cost and what is it now on the system side?
Rob Whiteman: The envelope of £350 million remains the same. As the NAO Report covers, the profile of that has been quicker. There was £17 million-if I remember your report-that was spent a year early in order to deal with some technical issues. At the moment, the envelope is the same, but the expenditure is quicker than was expected.
Q68 Chair: According to the Report, you’ve knocked out 540 requirements. I cannot believe that they all come from dropping the regional structure.
Dame Helen Ghosh: The key issue, as Rob said earlier, is the i-Decide element and ensuring that i-Decide support is consistent.
Q69 Chair: Hang on a minute, because it just seems that you have cut the specs and that you have cut the specs beyond your reorganisation. One of the things that I read somewhere, perhaps in the Report, is that a client or an MP will not be able to interrogate the system to see where they are, for example. You may be within the envelope, but you are getting an inferior product.
Q70 Ian Swales: If we categorise the big IT systems that come across the table in here on a regular basis, it is absolutely typical. They cost more. They take longer. Expected savings are down, which is stated in the Report at the top of page 28. The hidden cost is that you don’t actually get what you originally specified, because the way that you hit the cost and the timetable is that you keep taking requirements away.
Dame Helen Ghosh: The only other variable is the scope.
Q71 Ian Swales: I pay tribute to the National Audit Office for picking this up, but are we actually looking at another minor IT fiasco? It sounds like spending more money to get less.
Rob Whiteman: The majority of the de-scoping-de-speccing-taking place is right, because a lot of the speccing is each of these different teams asking it to be done their way and for the spec to be more complex than it needs to be.
Q72 Stephen Barclay: Why?
Rob Whiteman: It was over-specced. I want asylum done one way through ICW. I don’t want it done six or seven different ways. We are right to de-spec it. I acknowledge the point that it is disappointing that we cannot afford the case tracker for the public and for MPs within the envelope, but that is more because of the costs of allowing access to the Government’s secure internet for an online tracker. The costs are very heavy because of security.
Q73 Ian Swales: This problem of specification also seems very common. It also seems very common that we de-specify, but we don’t seem to be able to go back to the IT suppliers and say, "Right, we’re asking you to do something simpler or less, so how much less is it going to cost us?" We always seem to be paying at least as much, if not more. How does that work? Commercially, what is happening here? As a matter of interest, who is the IT supplier?
Rob Whiteman: It is IBM on the ICW programme.
Q74 Ian Swales: So what sort of discussions have taken place? We’ve taken 540 requirements out of here. What is the saving and how much of that can we benefit from?
Rob Whiteman: The saving, though, would be redirected within the programme spend in order to deliver the rest of the programme, as I answered earlier. We have spent £295 million of a programme budget of £350 million.
Q75 Ian Swales: So that means that we have got something else wrong. If we are saving by de-speccing and then that money has to be spent somewhere else, that means that you got that piece wrong.
Rob Whiteman: Well, no, because the system is not entirely delivered yet. We have implemented seven releases and we have more releases to go. Before we design those final three or four releases over the next couple of years we are rescoping the programme, because the Major Projects Authority amber/red rating says, "Although you have delivered things like i-Search, the document management centre and the decision-making support tool, you run the risk of not building a system that will yield savings of £106 million a year because the organisation is not coherent enough in what it is asking for." That is the bit that we are putting right.
Q76 Ian Swales: And in these later stages, where you are negotiating and speccing the later stages, I am presuming that you have to use IBM because of the stages that you already used. So the conversation that you then have about what needs to be done and the cost of it is only, effectively, with one supplier because, owing to the nature of these things, they are not designed in a modular way, but you did not agree up front what limits there might be on the cost.
Rob Whiteman: It is designed in a modular way but we would use the same supplier for the modules. But yes, you are right.
Q77 Ian Swales: By its nature, that puts us in a relatively weak commercial position if IBM say, "Oh well, of course now if you want to specify this, the cost is x." In summary, it sounds as though we are going to get less for more money.
Rob Whiteman: I think, if it gives you any comfort, that because ICW was planned on a modular basis, this is not a big-bang programme. The six releases that are already implemented stay-they do not need to be rewritten-but before we write the other releases we want to rescope them before they are implemented. Technology has changed over that period, too. That can be done within the contract and I do not believe that we will be in a weak position because the contract works on the basis of a modular approach. We are not asking them to rewrite previously implemented modules.
Q78 Ian Swales: But as it rolls forward, if it takes longer, hardware and software writing gets cheaper, but we are in a position where we have to use IBM. We have not agreed the cost of those later modules up front so we have to negotiate.
Rob Whiteman: We have agreed the total. The contract covers that other modules will be delivered within the programme sum. The issue is what those modules will be.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Your question is whether we would be able to save money against the £385 million.
Ian Swales: If we have de-specced it, yes. Your answer was that we will use that money on other parts of the programme.
Q79 Chair: When was this first specified?
Rob Whiteman: The programme began in 2007.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Can I just say that I think Rob has done exactly the right thing? You are, of course, absolutely right to ask, "Why was the specification in 2000-and-x one that allowed anybody who was doing casework in one way to carry on doing casework in that way?" Again, the Report makes a very strong case, which I strongly support, for the fact that you need a single target operator model and you need to build your systems around that. What Rob has done, with my strong support, is to come in and say, "Actually, this seems to be a system where we have specs-you can have any way of doing an asylum case or any way of doing a visa check-but we need a single way. We need a target operating model, and we get the Major Projects Authority to come in, have a look at that and make the future different." What Rob has done is absolutely the right thing to do, even though we cannot unwind history.
Chair: What is a bit depressing to me is that Lin Homer, who was presumably around when you did it, is now God knows where. One of the recurring themes of this Committee is that a new senior official comes on board, changes the specifications and says, "This is going to be brilliantly right," and the previous system is always wrong. That is deeply depressing. You will see that from our point of view, Dame Helen. It is particularly depressing because Lin Homer is now running a load of IT systems elsewhere.
Q80 Fiona Mactaggart: The same lesson was drawn with the computer programme that started being introduced in the Home Office to deal with immigration cases in 1996, and one thing that worries me is that in the Department there is a failure. I wanted to ask Mr Whiteman what percentage of the cost of an immigration case arises from people asking about the progress of their case or challenging lateness of decisions. For example, when EU decisions take longer than six months they can take you to court. What percentage of the average costs of cases comes from those things?
Rob Whiteman: Dealing with representations, and dealing with the documents around them-the applications and the representations that are made, so case handling-is about 40% of the cost of our organisation. That is why ICW is absolutely key.
Q81 Fiona Mactaggart: ICW is key if it tells people where their case is, so they do not send you documents again and they do not ask again, "Am I allowed to work?" I have three constituents who absolutely had the right to work, but your officials were not able to tell them they had the right to work while their application for indefinite leave to remain or recognition of asylum status, or whatever, was sitting within your system. It could not be found for weeks. Two of them were suspended from work. Now, that cost is on them as individuals. It is also a cost on our economy in general. But there is also a cost on you of them phoning up all the time, of me phoning up, of my staff getting in touch with the MPs’ hotline and so on. It seems to me that I was sold the new computer programmes as a way that you could track and that this cost would be driven out by them. But what you seem to be telling me is that this cost is not going to be driven out.
Rob Whiteman: I would say that we are making progress. Decisions made within 30 days have increased by 55% over the last three months. At the same time a number of our performance management figures are going in the right way. But the job is to stabilise performance and improve it using better leadership, better management, better processes and then to use ICW to really improve it when we get the product right. That will not be done overnight. We are going in the right direction. I am sorry but I cannot help but be a new chief executive-I think that the path that we are on will see administration improved over the next three years.
Q82 Chair: Let me just give you a Barking example of a new habit that appears to have emerged in UKBA, in that we rang up last week on behalf of a man who wanted an update on his wife’s case. He had submitted it two months earlier. We rang the MPs’ hotline and we were told that the application fee had not been processed and therefore it was not a live case. So on your stats it will show up as not having started. For my individual and for us, he put in the application two months ago.
Rob Whiteman: Yes, our standard is that we should have cases loaded so that the application is live on the system within two weeks. In answer to the earlier question about the spike in work that was created around settlement, it means that in some of our product lines we have operated on two months. We will have that put right by the end of the year, as I said earlier. It is absolutely our intention, Chair, that we will be an organisation that looks at the total amount of our work through performance management and we improve in all areas together.
The example that you have just given where a spike in work around settlement has meant that we have taken staff in order to start to bring down that spike and have not met standards with regard to putting application fees on the system-we want to move away from that. We have to move forward with all our work being processed to a satisfactory standard and understanding the trade-offs that we making around prioritisation.
The changes that we are putting in place in order to have better performance management, because we will manage the organisation through those things being all under one chain of command, are the right changes to make. But the operating model will not be implemented until next April. We will finish designing the operating model in September. We will implement it in the remainder of the year. At the moment we are reorganising senior management around those commands. I am as eager as anyone to see these things implemented but we have to do it properly.
Q83 Fiona Mactaggart: Absolutely, but this is happening at a time when the biggest cuts, if you look at figure 4 in the NAO Report, are in your case-working spending. So I don’t see how you can fulfil your big ambitions while the computer system is not working with fewer people and far fewer people than the rest of the system. I am not saying that you are badly intended, I am just saying that I do not believe it is going to happen like that. I think this will be another, "The Home Office said it would" and I will be writing to my constituents saying that it will all be fixed by July and then have to write to them again to say, "Sorry, but it was not my fault, Guv."
Rob Whiteman: As I answered before the break, in terms of work force planning, we are now looking at the key areas where we need some selective recruitment to the front line and setting standards in order to move forward on those areas together.
I think you are seeing progress. We are seeing conclusions of asylum cases in 30 days. We are seeing more enforcement activity. Operation Mayapple has just successfully deported 2,000 overstayers. You are seeing progress, but to truly transform the agency will take a couple of years.
Q84 Stephen Barclay: I want to focus on performance measures, which you have been touching on. One of your key performance measures is how long people queue at the border.
Dame Helen Ghosh: You are looking at Mr Moore.
Q85 Stephen Barclay: Yes. Do you always measure that when it is at its worst?
Brian Moore: When the end of the queue can be seen-if it is in the arrivals hall or any point out there-yes, but occasionally there have been a small number of cases where the queues have been very long and it has simply not been possible for either BAA, the port operator, or ourselves. But generally the end of the queue is apparent, and it is measured.
Q86 Stephen Barclay: You seem to have given me an answer that says both yes and no. The Report gives comfort. Figure 2 says very comfortingly that on one of the seven key performance measures, the percentage of passengers cleared at the border was 98% in 2010-11 and 97% in 2011-12, but then paragraph 3.24 on page 34 says: "The methodology is to take one queue measurement per hour, where practical", in some ports. It then goes on to conclude, based on what the independent chief inspector highlighted, that "queue measuring techniques did not provide an accurate reflection of performance."
Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes, and that is something which we have radically changed in collaboration with BAA since the Report that you refer to came in. One of the key things that Ministers were very keen to do in light of the concerns in the spring was make sure that we and BAA were measuring queues in the same way, which Brian will be able to describe. We also got some operational analysts down to Heathrow and other key ports to make sure that it was happening. Part of the media debate going on is that BAA was saying one thing and we were saying another. Would you like to describe how we now measure queues?
Brian Moore: Yes. The way we measured queues was that a Border Force officer, having identified the back of the queue-which I thought was the question initially-would hand that person a card with a time on it and invite that passenger to present it when they got to the front of the queue to the Border Force officer at the front of the queue. The officer would then write the time.
Q87 Stephen Barclay: They did that each hour?
Brian Moore: They do it each hour. Our colleagues in BAA use a similar approach, but they do that process every 15 minutes, so they had four times the readings. Therefore, if there was a particularly bad queue, their data was more granular and more accurate in describing a worse situation than the Border Force equivalent using a similar methodology. Theirs was more frequent.
Q88 Stephen Barclay: So it was done as a minimum, in all cases, every hour?
Brian Moore: Yes.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes. And now it is done four times an hour. The thing that was potentially happening was that there was a long queue within that period of time that never got picked up.
Q89 Stephen Barclay: That was not being captured.
Dame Helen Ghosh: It was not captured. The 15 minutes-I think we are now all agreed, and our people who understand flow measurement say so-is about right. The figures we now produce are on the basis of the 15 minutes.
Q90 Stephen Barclay: It does allow you to game the system, doesn’t it? You see a big queue, you leave it an hour and then you take the card to the back.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Which is why we have moved and changed.
Q91 Stephen Barclay: But what I am driving at is that this is one of your seven key measures. From the Government’s point of view, it is quite remarkable that the system could be so flawed on something so material.
Can I come to changing targets mid-year? Paragraph 3.22 says that in respect of the revenue protected for alcohol detection, the targets were altered mid-year and were reduced twice without explanation. Can you provide that explanation?
Brian Moore: Yes. The position that we have adopted historically is to take last year’s figures and approximate what they will look like this year. Where that is radically out of kilter-where we are seizing far more or far less-it is sensibly reappraised, as any performance position should be, at about the mid-point of the year, to make sure that what one is trying to achieve is challengeable, achievable, demanding and realistic. So that, as I understand it, is the general Home Office approach to making sure that one’s performance, which, when it is in the hands of criminals who change their methodologies quite a lot in terms of smuggled alcohol, is properly captured.
I can’t comment specifically on whether it was hidden from anyone. I don’t believe that was anyone’s intention. But as I understand it, that is the process to review at a mid-year point, based upon intelligence and performance, whether what you are trying to achieve is actually practical, achievable, challenging and-overall-realistic.
Dame Helen Ghosh: I hasten to add that it is not something that applies generally to Home Office objectives or performance measures, but because this is such a peculiar kind of issue and I assume that we have to agree it with the Treasury-but we can happily send you a note about it.
Q92 Stephen Barclay: It is more to the NAO. I absolutely understand that-you make your own luck, but you may get lucky with a big find, or a small find, and the work involved in detecting that could be pretty much the same in both cases. But the issue is-and it would be helpful for the NAO to have visibility on this-how that decision to change the targets is being arrived at.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes.
Q93 Stephen Barclay: Could we come on to a third performance measure that the report touches on? Performance has deteriorated on appeals and removals. Could you tell us from what to what the performance has deteriorated?
Aileen Murphie: It is at the end of paragraph 3.23.
Rob Whiteman: The number of removals last year was 37,000, compared to 40,000 the year before. There was a deterioration in the number of successful appeals that we won in court.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Or rather unsuccessful.
Rob Whiteman: Unsuccessful-thank you, Dame Helen.
With regard to appeals, the key to that has been pushing up representation rates. We had a variable representation rate at hearings, ranging from 100% in some parts of the country to 40% in London and-
Dame Helen Ghosh: Sorry-meaning whether a UKBA person turns up to present the case. That is what "representation" means.
Rob Whiteman: Thank you.
Q94 Stephen Barclay: In that 40%, someone didn’t turn up or did turn up?
Dame Helen Ghosh: In some parts of the country, at only 40% of hearings did somebody turn up.
Rob Whiteman: In London and the South-East, it fell as low, at some periods, as 40%. We are now operating on 100% representation at all hearings. We have done that, of course, because-referring to the earlier answer-all appeals staff up and down the country are now in one command, and we are creating a specialism around appeals. We have also taken action with regard to bringing in some junior barristers and recruiting some law graduates. I am pleased to say that in the last couple of months we have seen a very considerable improvement. We are now 100% represented at all hearings, and over a period of time that will push up, in our view, the win rate.
Q95 Stephen Barclay: I am very pleased that progress has been made-that is good to hear-but could you just explain why your staff were not turning up in six out of 10 cases?
Rob Whiteman: A couple of years ago-this is before my time-
Q96 Stephen Barclay: Who was the accounting official at the time, if it was not you?
Rob Whiteman: This will be either in Lin Homer’s period as accounting officer or in Jonathan Sedgwick’s.
At the time, there was some management information to say that being represented or not being represented at the hearing did not materially affect the win rate on appeal, and therefore it was decided to take a selective approach and not attend all hearings. However, I think this is one of those cases where there can be a lag in the effect of what happens. What we saw over a period of time, either because of that or for other reasons, was that the win rate deteriorated.
Q97 Stephen Barclay: That would be plausible if it was consistent across the piece. If you took a decision as an organisation and said, "We don’t think, on legal advice, that it makes a material difference whether our staff turn up", and therefore across the piece, you did not have representation, that would be plausible. The point that I am trying to drive at is about the governance structure and accountability. If in some areas people felt that it was worth turning up 100% of the time, and in other areas, operating under the same legal system, six out of 10 people did not turn up-
Dame Helen Ghosh: That is precisely the point that Rob had been making about consistency.
Rob Whiteman: I would agree with you. We now have 100% representation at all hearings in every part of the country. Regarding the points that I made earlier about the need for a controlling brain, we have the strategy and intelligence directorate, which is now responsible for tasking to all risks across the agency, having management information and looking at performance and at compliance across the agency. These things used to be done in pockets. We now have much better governance means.
We have also improved the governance of the agency. We have a non-executive chairman. I was both chief executive and chair of the agency board, which I did not think was right. We have a non-executive chairman, so we have strengthened the governance of the agency. We have created the strategy and intelligence directorate. We have seen the effect that it has had on appeal, and therefore we have put that right through a national command. I would use that as an example of how we are going in the right direction.
Q98 Nick Smith: What is the win rate now, then?
Rob Whiteman: The win rate remains the same. Remember that we have been 100% represented at hearings only for a couple of months. I expect the win rate to improve over the next 12 months.
Dame Helen Ghosh: We know what it is now, but we will let you know.
Chair: It is 30-something per cent.
Amyas Morse: Am I am right in thinking, Rob, that you are bringing out your strategy quite soon?
Rob Whiteman: Yes.
Amyas Morse: I must admit, as I am sure that members of the Committee do, that a lot of things you say make a lot of sense, but as we move forward, just thinking about how we are going to interact with you on this, it would be really helpful, wouldn’t it, for the Committee to have sight of the strategy and how you are going to measure it?
Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes. KPIs.
Amyas Morse: That would be really great, if I may suggest that to the Committee.
Rob Whiteman: We would gladly do that.
Amyas Morse: Perhaps you could give some thought as to what would be a good time to come back to the Committee for us to see how progress is going. I am sorry, it is a bit housekeeping-y, but it seems to me, given that we are having this discussion now on so much looking-forward stuff, which is all great, it would be really good if we could use the benefit of this one. This year just happens to be just before your new strategy, so it would be a pity to lose that.
Q99 Chair: I think we should come back in a year. Does that seem sensible to you?
Rob Whiteman: Absolutely, Chair. I would welcome this.
Q100 Stephen Barclay: When is the strategy due out?
Rob Whiteman: October.
Q101 Fiona Mactaggart: Will e-borders be worked out?
Dame Helen Ghosh: I think you asked that question, but we never answered it-about coverage of e-Borders, and when it will be 100%.
Brian Moore: For e-Borders, we have 100% of non-EU traffic now. We are currently just beneath 60% of EU traffic. As you know, there are some legal impediments.
The strategy to grow that is a coalition of the willing, quite frankly-approaching those countries in Europe, of which there are a number, that voluntarily want to share their advance passenger information with us, and have ours shared with them. The data elves in Europe and elsewhere are keeping a close eye on that to make sure that it is all lawful. Our Ministers are supporting that process, so that number will rise over time.
Dame Helen Ghosh: We are aiming at 100% by 2015.
Chair: One last quick one.
Rob Whiteman: In answer to Mr Barclay, our transformation programme will be launched next month. We are holding 22 events in nine cities over four weeks with every member of staff, in order to go through the new priorities of security, control, cost and quality. We are involving staff in workshops on designing the new operating model, in order to overcome the problems highlighted in the NAO Report regarding engagement, and so that they start feeling that they are involved in the change taking place. We will have the new operating model up and running for next April.
Q102 Stephen Barclay: Just coming back to the figure on removals, you said that you had removed 3,000 fewer than last year.
Rob Whiteman: Last year, compared to the year before. For this year, we are setting a higher target.
Q103 Stephen Barclay: So removals had dropped by 3,000.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Between those two years.
Q104 Stephen Barclay: Between two years ago and last year-
Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes.
Q105 Stephen Barclay: Removals had dropped, on the last available figures. So the trend is going down.
Rob Whiteman: On the latest available figures using performance so far this year, we are pushing up removals and I am particularly pleased to see that enforced removals-which are where, sadly, we have to make an enforced removal because other means of trying to persuade people to go through voluntary removal-for this year we will be on target to increase the number of enforced removals, as well as remove more than the 37,000 that were removed last year.
Q106 Chair: Steve, I am going to take a bit of Chair’s prerogative on this one.
One of the issues is that you are spending just under £200 million on detention and removals. You said you wanted to get performance up. Are you going to be spending more? The Report is pretty scathing about your performance on removals, and we did the student visa thing this week, which is clearly there. You are getting information from universities and not acting on it.
Rob Whiteman: A couple of things. If I can start with the university one first. You remember the last time I appeared at this Committee there had been some criticism in the NAO Report that when PBS was introduced it was thought that illegal working took place in the UK because the control system of sponsorship had not been implemented. We have responded to this. It is important to say we make every effort to work with universities in order that they comply with their sponsorship requirements.
Q107 Chair: Did you change the goalposts 14 times in the last three years?
Rob Whiteman: Although the rules changed-
Q108 Chair: Did you change the goalposts?
Rob Whiteman: The fundamentals of the rules, Chair, in any variation of the guidelines, is that universities have a special position within our immigration controls. We do not cap the number of students as, for example, skilled workers can be capped. Universities have a special place, in that we do not cap them.
Q109 Chair: Did you change the goalposts 14 times?
Rob Whiteman: In all of those rules, universities need to do three things. They need to make sure they monitor that people attend their courses, they need to make sure that people have the right progression, and English and academic routes, and they need to make sure that people have leave to remain in the country-that people have permission to be here.
Q110 Chair: Did you change the rules 14 times in three years?
Rob Whiteman: Yes, but in each of those rule changes, the point I am making is that the fundamentals of the rules, which are that universities make sure that people have permission to be in the country, ensure that-
Q111 Chair: Well, that is, of course, the case, but it makes it very difficult if you change your rules and processes 14 times in three years. Keeping up is difficult.
Can I ask two other questions?
Rob Whiteman: I would just like to say, Chair, I disagree with this. The vast majority of universities understand the rules and meet them very well.
Q112 Chair: So is this a one-off with Metropolitan, or are you going to-
Rob Whiteman: We have been in the position before-
Q113 Chair: Is it a one-off?
Rob Whiteman: We have been in the position before of suspending universities and reinstating them. This is the first time we have needed to revoke, and that is because over a period of the last five months, on inspection and re-inspection, we found systematic failure to abide by the requirements to make sure that people have permission to be in the country, that monitoring is taking place, that people are attending their lessons and that people have the right English and other academic progression.
To answer your question, this is the only case at the moment where a university has been suspended. We have no other cases like this at the moment. I cannot guarantee that that will not happen in future. The vast majority of universities understand the system, they implement it, they work well with it. This is a case where, sadly, there has been a failure to do so.
Q114 Chair: Just out of interest, were Ministers in BIS consulted?
Rob Whiteman: It’s an operational decision that was made by UKBA, but of course Ministers were made aware that the decision was being made-
Q115 Chair: In both Home Office and in BIS.
Rob Whiteman: In all relevant Departments.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes.
Fiona Mactaggart: Did you get legal advice on the prospects of a case of a student who did speak good English and who has complied with their course requirements but who is being pushed off their course and is not able to find, without paying a lot more money, a course that will give them the equivalent qualification? What was your legal advice?
Dame Helen Ghosh: I am sorry, Chairman, but I am slightly concerned here and I want to wave a flag. I am not sure whether the university has lodged judicial review proceedings, but we would not want to say anything that prejudiced our defence. Precisely what Ministers took into account is indeed part of the concern London Metropolitan University have.
Q116 Fiona Mactaggart: I understand that. I am not worried about the university; I am worried about the students.
Dame Helen Ghosh: We are concerned about the genuine students, which is why we have set up the joint task force with HEFCE, BIS and Universities UK, precisely to make sure that the kind of student that you describe is not disadvantaged. One of the issues that we have, because of the poor record keeping and so on is that, from our perspective, at the moment it is difficult to define who are the genuine students who meet all the requirements and who are not; but we are so committed to finding new courses for those people that we have gone into this joint working group.
Q117 Nick Smith: I am still trying to bend my head around this business about staff attending appeals. I was not sure whether it was at one point-I am not sure where, but I think someone said London-that either 40% or 60% of appeals were not attended.
Dame Helen Ghosh: I think Rob said that 40% were attended. Mr Barclay said that means 60% were not, which is correct.
Q118 Nick Smith: Okay. Can you tell us more about the management decision not to send people to that percentage of appeals?
Rob Whiteman: Not really, I am afraid. It is long before my time. What I can tell you is what I said earlier: my understanding of the matter is that it was thought that value for money would be achieved by taking a selective approach to attending hearings, rather than all hearings. However, over a period of time the win rate at appeals was not as we would wish and I agreed with Mr Barclay’s point that because it varied by geography, that would perhaps undermine the decision that was made about selectivity, because one would expect to see representation rates varying across the country. In my view, we are right. I understand why the decision was made originally. People thought that it would afford better value for money; however, the evidence went the other way and we have tried to act quickly to take a different course of action.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Could it be anything to do with the kinds of cases that we have in London and the south-east?
Aileen Murphie: No, I think it was to do with the fact that case workers were particularly short in London and the south-east. It went back to a time when there was an enormous asylum backlog, and the reason why appeals were not represented was because it was felt that a caseworker would be much better off doing a case than sitting around waiting for an appeal that was more than likely to go against the agency anyway, because the win rates are not very high.
Q119 Chair: Do you have stats from when you reversed the decision that show that representation made a difference? Did you have evidence? Did you take your decision on an evidence base?
Rob Whiteman: Yes. My decision was based on the commensurate period. It is very difficult sometimes to prove causality, and although the win rate fluctuates between different areas, different products and different times, my view is that over a period of time we could achieve a better win rate if we were represented in more hearings.
Q120 Chair: And the evidence suggested that, did it?
Rob Whiteman: Yes. I would also say that there is an issue here about respect for the judicial process. I would like the agency to attend all hearings, because I think that the judge, and the tribunal process, deserve to be able to ask a question and not just read the bundle of papers. I understand that there may be straightforward cases where representation through the bundle is adequate, but I think that we need to treat the tribunal process with respect, and appear in all cases.
Dame Helen Ghosh: I think the point that Aileen made that people thought that the asylum issues were more important comes back to the issue of making sure that in managing the agency’s performance, somebody is keeping an eye on everything. What is clear-I think Lin Homer would say the same thing herself-is that the history of the agency in its lifetime is one when, because of political profile given to a particular thing because of particular international events, one moment everybody is focusing on foreign national offenders and the next moment everybody is focusing on asylum legacy. No one is looking at the totality, which is why the set of KPIs is slightly curious and could produce slightly strange behaviour. That is why Mr Barclay’s point about what the whole set of targets and performance measures looks like is so important, which is exactly what we are trying to focus on. The Home Secretary always uses the analogy of a balloon: "You squeeze in one place, and the other end of the balloon expands." That is what managing UKBA has been like.
Q121 Nick Smith: I want to go to the subject of modelling and cost reductions. On page 18 of the Report at figure 4, the table says that on immigration asylum, costs are presently £76 million. You think that, by 14-15, it will go down to £2.2 million. That is a big drop. Given that we live in an uncertain world, how confident are you that you really will squeeze that cost down by more than 90%?
Rob Whiteman: I am confident that ultimately we can squeeze down the cost, but the profile may move to the right because of the points that I made earlier about ICW. Saving money through document handling, because 40% of our cost and staff deal with manual processes of document handling, will reduce the unit cost and the amount of money that we spend, but remember that the field work for this Report began last autumn. It was a six-month Report. Since then, we have had the MPA review of ICW-and all the points that I made earlier-and some reductions may move to the right.
Dame Helen Ghosh: But is your point that more people will apply for asylum-therefore the demand side?
Q122 Nick Smith: I am talking about efficiency.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Quite. All those things that you describe will help. I am trying to remember the passage of events, but at the beginning of each year, we have to work on the basis of how much asylum we expect to be claimed-for example, the Arab Spring and its impact on nationals living in this country. We go through a process of trying to assess international events and how many people might come. Inevitably, given that you cannot predict some of those events, it can be a tricky process. Rob might like to say something about that.
The key issue, we have realised, is that whatever the demand side, moving people swiftly through the system undoubtedly has an effect both on asylum support costs, which have gone down significantly in recent years, and on the cost of processing them. You are asking how we predict demand.
Rob Whiteman: Asylum support costs have reduced by £120 million in the past year and the agency deserves credit for reducing those support costs, which is through concerted action in order to review cases.
Q123 Chair: No, it is just that applications are down. Let us be clear.
Dame Helen Ghosh: No.
Rob Whiteman: But people have been taken off support as well.
Q124 Chair: Yes, but what are applications down by?
Rob Whiteman: Over the last couple of years, intake was around 18,000 two years ago and about 20,000 last year. That is much less than historically; it was a much higher figure a decade ago.
Dame Helen Ghosh: But asylum costs have gone down on those two years, although the numbers went up.
Rob Whiteman: The important thing for me around modelling is that we take a whole-system approach to where best we deploy resources to risk. We have staff overseas, as you may know, Mr Smith, who disrupt people getting to the UK as irregular migrants. People are denied boarding at airports around the world, because we work with carriers to make sure that people who are not properly documented do not get on the flight and come to the UK. Of course, the ability of inadequately documented people coming here who do not have permission to come here to claim asylum is thereby greatly reduced.
What we want to do through modelling is not only look at the cost of any particular process, but ask, "Where do we invest in upstream activity-in disruption and other things?" That will reduce the problem in the first place. Taking that whole-system approach and building on what the NAO has said, we have some better modelling and some better unit-cost information around some areas of our business. Now the new strategy and intelligence directorate has the analytical capability to look at the whole suite of what we do, to try to decide where best we deploy to risk; that is an important part of our transformation.
Q125 Jackie Doyle-Price: I want to come back to some of the points Fiona raised regarding the legacy cases. I got a feeling of some complacency from you about the impact that will have on ultimately delivering the policy objective of getting immigration down. You said that many among those 80,000 are people who are no longer here. My reaction, and that of my colleagues, indicated that that is not our experience.
It seems that if we are to deliver this step change in how we manage migration and immigration-and the public expect us to deliver-central to that is ensuring that people who should not still be here are no longer here. Is there not a case for saying that tackling those legacy cases should become more important? It would then lead to more removals. That by itself will send a message overseas that you cannot just work your way into Britain and stay there for as long as you like, which frankly has been the case for the past 10 or 15 years. We have to tackle that. The message I got from you was contrary to that. Would you like to share some observations on that?
Rob Whiteman: Some of this may be language for different types of work. The point I made about the controlled archive is that those are asylum cases that all predate 2006. I acknowledge that there are live cases in there. We are going to identify those live cases and deal with them. Genuinely, a large number of those cases in that particular piece of work called the controlled archive have left the country. However, to answer your point, there are what I would refer to not as the controlled archive, but overstayers, where we can see that we have made refusals for people to remain and they may not have left.
Just as important as investing in upstream activity to stop the problem at source, as I described to Mr Smith, is the other end of the business, where people have remained in the UK without permission to do so. It is important that we put relatively more of our resource into enforcement activity. We are training more arrest staff; we want to divert more staff into enforcement teams; we want to see the number of removals increased. We focus our staff activity on perhaps some of the higher risk or higher harm cases, but we want to make contact with all overstayers.
There are cases where we phone people up and say, "It is time to go home," and they do. If we make contact with people and say, "Your permission to remain in the country has gone," people do go. On that continuum of activity from making contact to encouraging voluntary removals through to enforced removal where necessary, we are determined that, through a new enforcement strategy, it is clear that the UK expects compliance with its immigration rules. The sort of confidence that we want UKBA to build for the public is that we will tackle overstaying. Please be assured that is an important part of our transformation programme.
Q126 Jackie Doyle-Price: Amen to that, but again that sounds institutionally naive, to be honest. You are dealing with people who will do whatever they can to come to this country and stay here. Who can blame them? It is a fantastic country. However, they are not going to take, "We expect you to comply with our rules," and deal with that. They break many laws to ensure that they stay here. The narrative is right, but we are not really seeing the action to deliver that.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Ministers are very conscious of all the issues that you describe and are obviously pursuing the policy aim of the Government. Things like the operation in Ealing had a lot of good publicity.
Rob Whiteman: The "beds in sheds" operation.
Dame Helen Ghosh: The "beds in sheds" operation. Operation Mayapple, which you described, is another example. We are trying all the time to balance high-profile things-"Look, here are UKBA officers going in, supported by police, dealing with the Ealing issues" and longer-term things, which are policy, rather than operations. That, again, is very interesting; it is about the so-called hostile environment argument: how easy and how uncomfortable is it for overstayers staying in this country to access services, and how we extend the use of biometrics in terms of the ability of people to access services in this country.
To answer the Member’s particular question, when you said, "We will analyse how many of the 80,000 are still here", we are pretty confident that it would be hard for somebody to avoid being picked up-the Chairman said, "Oh, I know lots of people"- by the range of credit agencies, and DWP, presumably.
Q127 Jackie Doyle-Price: They show a lot of imagination, they really do. They have multiple identities.
Dame Helen Ghosh: It is very hard to think that you could evade it altogether.
Rob Whiteman: We are talking about different things. Legacy asylum claimants from pre-2006 are different from the group of people you are talking about.
Q128 Jackie Doyle-Price: There are some in there.
Dame Helen Ghosh: You were also talking about overstayers in that group.
Q129 Jackie Doyle-Price: Yes, indeed.
Rob Whiteman: When I am invited back, Chair, in a year’s time or whenever it is, we will have put relatively more resource into enforcement. We will have more staff in enforcement. We shall have more arrest teams. Over the next two years, we are setting ambitious targets to increase the number of removals. Of course I agree with you that many people put up obstacles to removal, which is why enforced removal is an important part of our operations. It is not always easy. I recently attended a removal operation one evening of a mother and four children. I can only praise the professionalism of my staff in making that removal. It was a failed asylum case, and the professionalism of our teams when going into people’s homes and respectfully making a removal to deport somebody, I can only praise.
UKBA is giving out a message that we intend to take more enforcement action. When it is necessary to take an enforced removal, we will. However, it is also the case that, if we contact more people early on and say, "It is time for you to go home. You have overstayed your stay in the UK", it will lead to some-not all-people leaving, too. It is therefore part of the continuum of enforcement action that we will push up activity across that whole range of outcomes.
Q130 Jackie Doyle-Price: I just find it very frustrating that overstayers can come to my surgery, spin the yarn and expect me to lobby for them-get their papers, get their visas, and so on. You then go back and see a file of correspondence showing that UKBA has told them to go home. You see a file of correspondence that tells you how often they have broken the laws, and they are still sitting there.
As for the points about a hostile environment, probably the most important thing to do is to make sure that they cannot earn any money. The reality is that they are all working in the black economy. I say this as someone who has a port of entry in her constituency. I suggest, if you are to have more enforcement activity, that the Border Force mans the crossings going into Tilbury. You will see quite a lot of overstayers who really should not be here, driving second-hand cars to be shipped over to West Africa. The Port of Tilbury police in my constituency stop every low-loader, and each time it is someone who really should not be here any more. That is my tip. If people physically see you doing that, it sends a message of public confidence here and a message overseas.
Dame Helen Ghosh: It does indeed. The effect can be much larger than you can ever imagine.
Q131 Fiona Mactaggart: In your answers to Jackie’s questions, you said that you thought a number of things would be improved when you return in a year’s time. In what proportion of cases will decisions be made within the time target, compared with now? That really ties in with prompt decision making, and people knowing. They do not believe you.
Dame Helen Ghosh: That is precisely the set of objectives we are setting.
Rob Whiteman: We have a range of measures at 30 days, at six months and at 12 months. Recently, we have made 30-day conclusions. We are presently performing at 55%, 50% being made within 30 days. I would like to see that go to 60% and 65%. At the same time, I want conclusions at six months and at 12 months improved. I want to look at the range of measures and move forward on them all, rather than just focusing on one. I want a balanced approach to our work. As I said earlier to Mr Smith, I want decisions made in a sensible and planned way about how we will deploy resources. I acknowledge that the NAO Report is right in saying that the agency needs more coherence, and I believe that we are building the systems to do that.
Q132 Chair: Can I move on to another area, the use of external private companies to carry out services? Figure 3 on page 17 shows that more services are being delivered through commercial partners. What are you choosing to outsource, and where are you extending it?
Rob Whiteman: At the moment, for the UKBA without Border Force, about 35% to 40% of our budget is spent on contracts, principally on the detention estate, transport, asylum accommodation and support. As for our visa application centres, taking biometrics, and verifying documents, that is provided by contractors. Some of those contracts are coming up for renewal. Again, part of the transformation plan that we will gladly brief the Committee on is about having a good commercial team to make sure that we re-let those contracts in the way that affords value for money to the taxpayer.
For some areas of activity that are in-house, or perhaps not done at the moment though we think they should be done, we shall look at using contractors. For example, I gave an answer earlier about contact, and how our staff focus on the more serious cases in which there is high potential harm or risk, rather than dealing with first contact. We are letting a pilot contract for making contact with people and dealing with the initial pieces of work, which are then handed over to us. We think that there is the ability to use the market a bit more, but we shall pilot that work and handle it carefully.
Q133 Chair: We may have to come back to this when we come back to G4S and the Olympics, but we are interested in how the Government manage the contracting process and how good they are at ensuring we get value for money. Let me take two examples: I do not know whether it comes under Brian Moore or Rob, but there was an instance of Serco being contracted to check vehicles coming into the UK. Is that yours?
Dame Helen Ghosh: You are talking about the Cyclamen programme.
Brian Moore: Cyclamen.
Rob Whiteman: Cyclamen, yes.
Q134 Chair: At Dover.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes, that is in Cyclamen.
Q135 Chair: According to newspaper reports, they were allowing people in, not doing the checks properly and allowing vehicles to enter unchecked for radiation. Some 300 Serco staff left areas unmanned. This was just before the games, of course, despite the heightened security. It was said that it was a threat facing the country weeks before the 2012 games. Clearly, that is wrong-if it were true.
Dame Helen Ghosh: If it were accurate.
Q136 Chair: Was it accurate?
Brian Moore: To the extent that it was reported in the press, no. As you said, in the run-up to the Olympics it was made sure that all Border Force highly trained, highly skilled staff were going into those functions. As for the lower-level screening process of looking for passengers, freight and cars that were giving off radiological or chemical signals, slightly more of that work was placed with Serco, which was contracted to us to do some of that stuff. I do not believe that those press reports are accurate.
Q137 Chair: At all accurate?
Brian Moore: I would not say at all accurate. As ever, Serco raised its capacity. To meet our needs, we had times and occasions when it did not deploy everyone that we would have liked to have seen deployed. It was a finite moment in time, but now that the Olympics are over, that is tapering away and it is back to business as usual for Border Force. The security of our country was not compromised through the deployment of Serco.
Q138 Chair: The Observer, on the whole, isn’t sensational.
Dame Helen Ghosh: No, but I was just about to make the point that the ability to get private contractors to do things that otherwise the fully trained Border Force people would be doing is an example of how you can have flexibility to respond to some kind of surge. It is a good example of how we need a more flexible package of ways of delivering.
Q139 Chair: I am not against that. When the Report emerged, what were your mechanisms to enable you to ensure that the national interest and the Government’s contract were adhered to? What were you able to do?
Brian Moore: Because this was something of a first and we were extending the range of its activities, one of our most senior and experienced directors was monitoring it pretty much every day throughout the period. He was able to respond very quickly and to give us a reasonable assurance that any glitches were minor and not likely to be ongoing and that, where necessary, we could rapidly backfill with Border Force officers. Things have got better. The systems are more improved, but we are planning to take them back down again to normal levels.
Q140 Chair: Have you fined Serco? Where are the incentives?
Dame Helen Ghosh: Can we just be clear? We don’t know that it happened. I would like to come back to that. It is slightly "when did you stop beating your wife?" Was it fined as a result? Shall we volunteer to send the Committee a note?
Q141 Chair: A similar example happened in Rod’s area. G4S, one of our favourite companies, was awarded a load of contracts. It runs immigration detention centres for you. It does some of the e-monitoring. It also won one of the contracts, as did Serco, for asylum housing. My understanding is that it signed the contract but it has not been able to secure accommodation. What action did you take then, if that allegation were true?
Rob Whiteman: To answer your question about support, we have a commercial team, which has experienced contract officers who help to draw up tenders. On some of the larger contracts that we shall be letting over the next year or so, we can also draw on support from the Home Office as well as specialist support from the Cabinet Office. Services have a lot of commercial support for putting in place the arrangements for the contractor and the clienting of them.
In the case of the Compass contracts that you referred to, normal escalation procedures have applied. In the couple of regions, both with Serco and G4S, meetings took place initially between the managers there and the contractors in that area.
Q142 Chair: Yorkshire and Humber.
Rob Whiteman: That has been supported by the commercial team. Because of some concerns about the speed of properties being acquired, that was escalated to involve both the director, Jeremy Oppenheim, who appeared here last time as well as myself. I have met one of the providers in order to make sure that we get delivery in time for the contract, as expected.
Dame Helen Ghosh: There are weekly reports to Ministers and to me. I see them.
Rob Whiteman: There are, yes.
Q143 Chair: At the moment, you have not decided.
Rob Whiteman: At the moment, we expect them to fulfil the terms of the contract.
Q144 Chair: My understanding is that G4S has only housed one family out of 260.
Rob Whiteman: Mobilisation, so secure properties has taken longer.
Q145 Chair: If this report is truer than The Observer one, where is the detriment?
Dame Helen Ghosh: We can tell you what it is, but we do not have the contract in front of us.
Rob Whiteman: But also-
Q146 Chair: So do they lose money?
Rob Whiteman: The handover involves the old providers. As well as working with the new provider-G4S or Serco-we have to work with the outgoing contractors. It involves TUPE and some staff who provide specialist housing knowledge. The issues here around mobilisation are transferring from the old arrangements to the new. We are making sure that we will mobilise for contract, Chair. It is not at this stage anywhere near penalties on this, because they are acting within the contract in terms of how the work is handed over to them by previous contractors. We do have some concerns about mobilisation. We are escalating that. I myself have been involved in meetings on that, but it is at that relatively early stage, and I hope that will rectify it. If it does not, we will take other remedies in the contract, but we are not at that stage.
Q147 Chair: And is the contract tough enough?
Rob Whiteman: Yes. My understanding of the contract, having looked at it, is that the commercial and legal advice that was given in framing the contract means that if there is default-if there is poor performance on the contract-we will be able to exercise remedies on it. We are not near that. We are raising concerns with the contractors about mobilisation, which I hope will succeed.
Q148 Stephen Barclay: Can I come back to enforcement? On the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, we have a big issue with illegal gangmasters in the Fens, which is where my constituency is, with illegal migrants working in farming and related industries. Its staffing is such that it equates to one investigator for a region the size of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Gangmasters?
Q149 Stephen Barclay: The Gangmasters Licensing Authority. As a result, it is not in a position to mount investigations effectively. I think you have around 2,200 staff in your crime and enforcement directorate. Could you let us have a breakdown, if you are able to do that, that breaks down into the different types of activity they are involved in, and broken down geographically by county?
Rob Whiteman: Yes, although at the moment we are designing how we want this to work, because it is one of the areas we think we need to change. When I answered you earlier about the new operating model that we will have implemented by April, I am conscious that we want to see more staff beyond the 2,200. We want to make savings across the agency in order to divert relatively more staff into enforcement. On the activities-roughly-we have arrest teams. We have people who work on what is often referred to as barrier casework-finding documents and work from high commissions and so on-in order that we can make a removal.
Also in the enforcement and crime group we have the crime teams of seconded police officers who investigate traffickers and people who are making organised activity. When we make an arrest and we deport-say, in the case of illegal working-we want to see whether there are patterns for how people got into the country, and therefore we bring prosecutions against people who we believe are the traffickers of illegal migrants into the country.
Roughly speaking, in my view-we are working on this at the moment; we will give you more detail when we have finished the design work-we need more arrest-trained staff. Some of our enforcement staff, particularly in London and the south-east, who work in enforcement teams, are not arrest-trained, so we have a capability-building piece of work in order that more people are arrest-trained. At the same time, on some of the work that is investigated by our police teams-for example, sham marriage-I would like to see the enforcement teams investigate that work by training them to level 1 investigation, because I would like our police teams to focus on the bigger guys and to take out organised traffickers, so we are redesigning the model and we will very gladly share that when we have done it.
Q150 Stephen Barclay: That sounds fantastic, and I look forward to you sharing it with us. What I am also interested in, however, is the picture now-today-and the Committee having a note about that. As Fiona alluded to, the Committee frequently hears that improvements are in place, and you acknowledge that. What I want to address-Jackie also touched on this-is that there is concern on the ground, which is often reflected in correspondence and visits to MPs’ surgeries, and people often say that they have intelligence but it is not acted on. I would like to see, parochially, how many enforcement staff there are in Cambridgeshire and what they are doing. I would have thought other colleagues, whether it is on-
Rob Whiteman: As things stand at the moment?
Stephen Barclay: On arranged marriage, or whatever, so we can assess the improvement you have put in place, the scale of the change that is required and what staffing implications there may be. What I would like is a note-which is the starting point that you are using when you are setting new strategy-that breaks it down by geography and by classification of activity so that I, as a local MP, can make an assessment as to whether you have got the resource for multi-agency working with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and whether you are targeting what, to me, are local issues, or I can have a discussion with you as to what the priorities are, given that you are the experts. At the moment there is no visibility on that. I just see a headline figure of 2,200 enforcement crime staff, and I see a problem, which Jackie refers to, on the ground where people say, "But we don’t see any activity," notwithstanding one or two pilots. If you could give a note to the Committee with that sort of detail, we can perhaps come back in the future to assess the new approach.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Can we do that by county?
Rob Whiteman: We can give you it as we organise it, by region.
Dame Helen Ghosh: It is probably by region, isn’t it? It might not work to Cambridgeshire-
Rob Whiteman: It might not align with every constituency, but we will tell you what we have.
Q151 Stephen Barclay: To be frank, in an organisation you ought to be able to work your data out by county. It does not work by region; the eastern region is an enormous area, and the issues are so different. If you target in on the reports in Jackie’s area, there are totally different issues from the Fens.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes, I agree.
Q152 Stephen Barclay: It cannot be beyond some bright fast-track civil servant to calibrate some data to give Parliament. I would have thought that you would need this for your strategy anyway.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Sorry, I was not saying that we could not; I was just-
Rob Whiteman: Mr Barclay, we can tell you the granularity of, "What is the size of the team that deals with Cambridgeshire?" We can do that.
Chair: Okay. One final question from Jackie.
Q153 Jackie Doyle-Price: This is just a very quick question to put on public record the fact that I have been trying for a year to visit the operation in Tilbury in my constituency, but I have had no co-operation on that at all. I would like to see at first hand exactly what Steve was alluding to and exactly what operations happen so I can do my bit to raise confidence with people locally, who are very concerned about this.
Chair: I am sure you can arrange that.
Rob Whiteman: I will gladly do that. I will give you my card now and make contact.
Chair: It has been quite a long session, but thank you for your very full and direct answers. Both to Dame Helen and Brian Moore-good luck.
Dame Helen Ghosh: Thank you very much.
Rob Whiteman: Thank you, Chair, and thank you, Members.