Britain’s border security agency may have been “counterproductive” in handling the Channel small boat crisis, an independent study has found.
Former Australian Immigration Minister Alexander Downer’s review was commissioned by Home Secretary Priti Patel to see how well the Border Force could respond to future challenges.
He found that the organization was operating at a “sub-optimal level” and using its resources “unsustainably and highly inefficiently”.
Regarding the threat of small-boat migration, the study states: “The comprehensive approach to this problem in recent years has been ineffective and possibly counterproductive in preventing these voyages.
“The Border Force Maritime Command has been dragged into a challenge it is ill-equipped to meet and yet all-consuming.”
He adds that the current resources needed are “unsustainable” and that his boats were not designed to carry out search and rescue operations.
The review says ‘the problem of illegal entry of small boats cannot be solved in the Channel by border forces’ and ‘a comprehensive approach is needed’.
The review suggests the new plan for immigration could help tackle the problem “although some challenges and risks remain”.
Long queues at Heathrow, which saw passengers waiting at passport control for three hours, have been identified as a “significant” problem.
The review says these queues “undermine all customer service efforts” and are “the visible manifestation of more systemic issues, many of which apply to Border Force as a whole.”
Mr. Downer’s review states, “Overall, I feel that Border Force is an organization that operates at a suboptimal level.
“He seems to struggle to break out of a crisis management cycle, react to the latest challenge and prepare for the next, no matter how predictable the next challenge is.
“While Border Force largely provides what is asked of it on a day-to-day basis, it does so by stretching its resources in an unsustainable and highly inefficient way.”
The review comes as Border Force faces ‘exceptional challenges’ including people entering the UK illegally in small boats, immigration abuse, illegal drugs, guns and crime organized, as well as the need to protect national security.
He added: “There is little capacity for strategic planning or workforce development.
“The Border Force’s inability to plan effectively is further affected by failures to deliver enabling functions such as recruiting and supply.
“Steps must be taken to resolve the administrative issues that continue to distract the organization so that it can focus on its core mission.”
Improvements are needed to make it an attractive employer, according to the study, including a clear identity so that it is a single unified workforce reinforced by a training academy and a career path for professionalize the role of a border force officer.
There is also a call for better leadership of the system from the Home Office and other parts of government for which the agency provides, to give the organization a clear mandate, priorities and goals. , and there should be a stronger voice for the Border Force within the Home Office. , as well as increased accountability.
Other recommendations include better manpower planning and a good understanding of the organization’s needs, including consistent operating standards and procedures across different ports.
This would allow for better planning of purchases so that the right number of people are in the right places with the equipment they need.
A stronger sense of purpose, professionalism, team skills and planning is needed to enable Border Force to face challenges head-on, such as passenger queues at Heathrow and small boats, according to the recommendations.
Forging higher levels of trust within the sector could enable joint work on border policy development and technology implementation at a strategic level. It could also mean better sharing of information, according to the review.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper described the review as ‘incredibly damning’ as it shows the organization is ‘stuck in a cycle of crisis management and failing to deliver the basics’ .
She said: ‘It shows how utterly unsuccessful Priti Patel has been in getting UK borders under control or ensuring proper systems are in place.
The Home Office has also announced plans to revolutionize the way immigration checks are carried out with a “contactless” digital border pilot project within two years.
Testing is to begin on technology that would allow some passengers to enter the UK and undergo automated border control without going through an eGate or speaking to a Border Force officer.
Passengers would be pre-screened and identified at the border in an effort the department hopes will speed up legitimate travel to the UK.
Ms Patel says the aim is to ensure the border is “fit for the 21st century” and allows travelers to obtain a visa and cross easily while safeguarding national security.
She said: “I am also committed to ensuring that our fantastic Border Force has access to the latest in automation technology so that it can use its specialist skills to protect our border from those who seek to harm the Kingdom. -United.”