E-borders scheme not value for money, NAO concludes

3 Dec 15

The electronic system intended to improve the management of the UK’s borders has not delivered value for money following spending of more than £830m over 12 years, the auditor general has concluded.

The electronic system intended to improve the management of the UK’s borders has not delivered value for money following spending of more than £830m over 12 years, the auditor general has concluded.

Photo: PA

In a report looking at the implementation of the e-borders programme since 2003, Amyas Morse said the ambitions had remained largely unchanged in the intervening years. The scheme was intended to allow the UK to conduct more checks on people arriving in Britain before they arrived at the border and ideally before they had even left their point of origin.

However, the National Audit Office has said the initiative had been hampered by disputes with contractors, a lack of direction and leadership and insufficient stakeholder management. As a result border staff have to rely on both of legacy and newer systems that do not complement each other, fail regularly and require high manual effort.

Overambitious and unachievable plans and bad decision making due to a high turnover of both high-level and junior staff were highlighted as among the reasons for the failure.

“I cannot view e-borders as having delivered value for money,” Morse concluded.

After four years of planning, piloting and procurement, which the government does not have financial data on due to a change in accounting systems, the Home Office signed a contract with US-based technology and defence company Raytheon and between 2006-7 and 2010-11 spent £340m on the e-borders programme.

In 2011, the department terminated the contract with Raytheon citing failures, which lead to a legal dispute resulting in a settlement that cost the department £150m and a further £35m in legal costs.

The contract with Raytheon was intended to replace two border management systems with one integrated system by 2011, but at the termination of the contract this had not occurred, and has still not.

Between 2011/12 and 2014/15 the department spent £303bn on successor programmes and £89bn on improving the resilience and reliability of the systems in use, one of which was developed in 1995 and expected to last until 2002.

The NAO found these systems, known as the warnings index, has improved but remains “not fit for purpose” and fails significantly twice a week on average.

The report also said that the failure to introduce an integrated system, that the Home Office currently estimates could save £12m a year, has resulted in inefficient and highly manual border operations.

Staff often have to manually compare passport details to lists, re-check information and carry this all out on arrival at the border, one of the key things the e-border initiative was designed to prevent.

In addition the various systems currently in use are not linked, resulting in multiple databases across separate computer systems, duplicating efforts and restricting the ability to use the systems effectively.

The auditors said that changes since late 2014, including the recruitment of able staff, adopting a slower approach to system development and more effective stakeholder management, give cause for optimism.

Responding to the report, immigration minister James Brokenshire said every passenger arriving in the UK was checked against a range of watch lists.

"The e-borders programme was set up under the Labour government and when that contract ended in 2010, our immediate priority was to invest in stabilising the crucial but old-fashioned systems, to tackle the fast-evolving terrorist, criminal and illegal immigration threats faced by the UK,” he stated.

"The Border Systems Portfolio, in conjunction with a range of programmes across security and law enforcement, is working effectively to keep our citizens safe and our country secure."

Did you enjoy this article?