Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 60 of Session 2005-06, dated 21 July 2006


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today:

"The Home Office has a substantial back catalogue of examples of poor management and stumbling projects, but it has crowned it with two astonishing failures. It has failed in its obligation to present to Parliament properly audited financial accounts. And, secondly, it has failed in its duty to protect the public - by releasing from prison a large number of foreign nationals, many imprisoned for ghastly offences, without giving any consideration to whether they should be deported.

"The significance of these failures can hardly be overstated. Together they constitute a severe indictment of the way in which the Home Office has been run and demonstrate the inability of its leadership to act in a unified and coordinated way on its fundamental responsibilities - and perhaps even to understand them properly.

"The manager of even the smallest corner shop knows how crucial it is to reconcile cash records with bank statements. And there can be few people in the country who would contemplate allowing convicted foreign criminals to disappear back on to the streets of the UK, without thought being given to what this might mean for public safety.

"The public's confidence in the Home Office has been badly damaged. The new Accounting Officer and his team have a long road to travel to restore that confidence. I will be watching closely to see whether the reform programme announced this week by the Home Secretary does succeed in taking his department any way along that road."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 60th Report of this Session.

The C&AG reported to Parliament on 31 January 2006 that he had disclaimed his opinion on the Home Office's Resource Accounts for 2004-05 because the Department was unable to submit its accounts in time for the audit to be completed to the statutory timetable. Furthermore, his examination was severely limited because the Home Office had not maintained proper books and records which would have enabled it to disclose with reasonable accuracy at any time the financial position of the Department.

The Home Office encountered considerable problems during the implementation of its new financial accounting system, which significantly impacted on the ability of the Department to produce timely financial statements. A lack of senior management oversight, which would have enabled problems to be addressed as they arose, then compounded matters.

On the day before our hearing, the Home Office issued a letter of apology to the Committee in respect of incorrect information they had previously given to the Committee on the number of foreign national prisoners released from custody without consideration for deportation.

The Home Office does not have a grip on the issue of foreign nationals released from prison and not deported, and was unable to provide full information to the Committee about the numbers or locations of such offenders. It could not provide any assurance that foreign nationals are no longer being released from custody without consideration of deportation, or that definitive action is being taken to improve the situation. The Home Secretary's statement on 23 May set out the practical steps to improve the handling of foreign national prisoners, but his statement was also indicative of wider systemic failings affecting the whole Department which need to be addressed urgently.

The Home Office has consistently underestimated the problems that impact on its ability to meet its aims and objectives. The disclaimed opinion on the accounts, and the confusion and failure to consider deportation on release from custody of foreign national prisoners are symptoms of a deeper lack of leadership and co-ordination. Restoring public confidence in the Home Office's capacity to deliver the complex range of services for which it is responsible remains a major challenge for the new Accounting Officer and his senior management team.

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