The UK Border Agency is to be split in two following an official inquiry by John Vine, the Independent Chief Inspector. In a report published at the end of last month, Vine concludes that ‘poor communication, poor managerial oversight and a lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities’ lay behind the public spat late last year between Home Secretary Theresa May and the head of the UKBA border force, Brodie Clark, that culminated in the suspension and then resignation of Clark, who has since launched a claim for constructive dismissal against the Home Office.
The UKBA has been with us for less than four years. It came into existence on 1 April 2008 following the merger of the Border & Immigration Agency (BIA), UK visas and the port of entry functions of HM Revenue & Customs. The BIA itself had been around for only 12 months, having been known to fans everywhere as the Home Office Immigration & Nationality Department (IND) until 1 April 2007. At the time of the BIA’s launch, its then chief executive, Lin Homer, now head of HMRC, proclaimed that the BIA’s agency status would ‘redefine the way we work with ministers, the wider Home Office and our key partners and stakeholders’.
Five years on, however, John Vine has concluded … that the UKBA is a bit of a shambles and no one really knows what is going on. ‘Communications between the agency and ministers and between senior managers and operational staff was poor. There was a lack of clarity in the language used with consequent ambiguity when decisions were converted to operational practice. This was compounded by instructions to staff that did not always accurately reflect what Ministers had agreed.’ Moreover, ‘there is nothing I have discovered which could not have been identified and addressed by senior managers exercising proper oversight’. Ouch!
However, in keeping with tradition, Vine manages not to say who was actually responsible for this mess. So ministers and officials – both past and present – can go on blaming each other. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Richard Dunstan is a policy wonk who has worked for Citizens Advice, the National Audit Office, the Law Society, and Amnesty International UK.