Serious concerns over borders programme 'vital to national security'

04 March 2016

The Public Accounts Committee report calls for clarity over the management of the UK's borders—warning that the Home Office's e-Borders programme and its successors are set to cost over a billion pounds, be delivered eight years late, and not provide the expected benefits.

The Committee highlights that since 2010 the Major Projects Authority has issued seven warnings about these programmes, but "former and current officials were worryingly dismissive that these warnings and concerns suggested fundamental problems".

The Committee concludes: "It is difficult to understand where this confidence comes from, given the lengthy delays and continual warnings of ongoing management issues, which gives us cause for concern about the future prospects for this programme which is vital to national security."

The Home Office's Border Force directorate has been responsible for operating border controls since 2012. Responsibility had previously rested with the former UK Border Agency and the Home Office.

Programmes to identify persons of interest

In the early 2000s the UK authorities received virtually no data on people travelling to the UK before they arrived at the border. The Home Office recognised that collecting passenger information in advance of travel would help them identify persons of interest and prevent travel where deemed necessary.

Since 2003, the Home Office has run several programmes to collect and analyse this data. In 2007, it entered a contract with Raytheon to deliver an "e-Borders" solution but the Home Office cancelled this contract in 2010.

Successor programmes, including the Border Systems Programme and Digital Services at the Border, took over where Raytheon left off. By March 2015 the Home Office has spent at least £830 million on all these programmes.

Commercial approach "could not cope"

In this Report, the Committee is concerned the Home Office "does not have a clear picture of the management information it has or needs to manage the UK border" and finds that this, together with continual changes in senior management, has hindered the successful delivery of border programmes.

The Committee concludes the commercial approach for the e-Borders contract "could not cope" with the challenges faced and that, throughout the programme, the Home Office "has underestimated the importance of securing the co-operation of other government agencies and transport carriers".

It calls on the Home Office to set out as a matter of urgency what it expects to deliver in 2016 and who will be responsible for delivering it; to clarify what data it needs to manage the UK border effectively and when it will be available, and to report back to the Committee in January 2017 on what has been achieved.

Chair's comment

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, said:

"This is an important Report, revealing a history of poor management and a worrying complacency about its impact on taxpayers.

It is accepted that successful completion of this project is essential to the security of our international borders. Yet the original target date has long passed and we are still at least three years away from delivery. The stop, start approach has cost the taxpayer dear.

I am careful to say 'at least' three years from delivery because we are not convinced warnings about the progress of this project have been treated with sufficient gravity, nor that sufficient action has been taken to prevent a repeat of past problems.

Some of these are depressingly familiar to this Committee, not least the damaging effects of disjointed leadership and weaknesses in the handling of data. We have also seen another poorly-conceived commercial partnership end in expensive failure.

If the Home Office is to complete this project before the decade is out then it must get its house in order now—starting by setting out exactly what it expects to achieve this year, and who will be held to account for it."

Report summary

On current projections the Home Office's (the Department's) e-Borders programme and its successors will cost over a billion pounds, be delivered 8 years late and not provide the benefits expected for transport carriers and passengers.

A major reason for this delay was the termination by the Department in 2010 of its e-Borders contract with Raytheon. This had required Raytheon to deliver its own solution to meet the Department's objectives to a fixed price and timescale which turned out to be unrealistic as government had detailed and evolving requirements, and wanted high assurance that the proposed solution would work.

The Department was emphatic that our borders are secure. However, the Department needs to accept that its assertion that it checks 100% of passports is both imprecise and unrealistic due to the complexity of our border.

Capabilities "still fall short"

It is now five years since the e-Borders contract was cancelled yet the capabilities delivered so far still fall short of what was originally envisaged. Since 2010 the Major Projects Authority has issued seven warnings about these programmes.

The Department's complacency about progress to date increases our concerns about whether the programme will be completed by 2019 as the Department now promises, and whether tangible benefits for border security, transport carriers and passengers will result.

Further information

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