The UK Border Agency cut too many staff too quickly and so is now having to hire extra people and increase overtime to cover its workload, the government’s spending watchdog said today.
More than 1,000 employees, who handle immigration at key entry points to the UK such as Heathrow
airport, were axed last year over and above planned reductions.
In some areas such as London and the south east of England, resultant staff shortages led to a drop in performance, a situation that was also not helped by an apparent lack of strong leadership, the National Audit Office
But rather than slow down the cuts when it emerged that a computer system that was intended to save money and boost efficiency was both a year late and tens of millions of pounds over budget, the Agency increased them instead.
While some 22,580 people were employed by the body in April last year, the figure had dropped to 20,469 by April this year. One of the issues was that more people than expected agreed to take redundancy, which led to early exit costs of about £60 million between 2010 and 2012.
The NAO’s report said: “In 2011-12, the agency’s workforce reduced by over 1,000 more than planned, despite the fact that progress was slower than expected in the ICW [immigration case work] programme and workforce modernisation at the border, and no agency-wide skills strategy was yet in place.”
At Heathrow, which has come under fire for making people wait in long immigration queues, the situation was also not helped by poor uptake of a voluntary shift system, however.
The scheme, which was introduced across the entire workforce, enabled personnel to work for a set number of hours each year rather than each week so that they could work for longer during busy periods such as the Olympics or during summer or Christmas holidays.
The system was taken up by about 62% of staff during the first six months of 2011/12, saving £613,000 or about a fifth of the usual total of premium and overtime payments. But the adoption figure fell to only a third at Heathrow, which meant that payments there rose by 8% instead.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The UK Border Agency and Border Force deserve credit for taking on an ambitious programme of change, but both organisations face a steep climb to ensure this work delivers both value for money and a good service.”
The “real leadership test” would be whether the Agency could transform its casework processing activities without relying solely on new IT systems, and whether the Border Force could “improve its workforce practices and raise productivity”, he added.