Saturday 7 January 2012

Theresa May, Damian Green, Helen Ghosh, John Vine, Jonathan Sedgwick, Brodie Clark and Jackie Keane

In their Annual Report and Accounts for the year ending 31 March 2011, signed by Jonathan Sedgwick, Acting Chief Executive at the time, UKBA say (p.12):
The average number of full-time equivalent (FTE) active staff we paid for either directly or indirectly during 2010-11 was 23,426 (compared with 24,474 in 2009-10) The size of the agency’s workforce reduced by around 1,900 (8 per cent) during 2010-11. We plan to achieve further efficiencies, resulting in further workforce reductions, in the period between April 2011 and March 2015.
UKBA plan to reduce the headcount by a further 4,500 by 31 March 2015 (p.13).


Answer, by replacing people with technology. 900 of those 4,500 were dealt with by Dame Helen Ghosh DCB, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, who told the Home Affairs Committee when she gave evidence on 22 November 2011 (Q358) that:
... there are plans, over the SR10 period*, to reduce the staff of the Border Force by around 900 people, from almost 8,000 people at the start of the period. But that is driven as much by technological introductions like e-gates, as well as a risk-based approach. Border Force will be getting smaller ...
"e-gates"? Electronic gates, or smart gates, use biometrics based on facial geometry to verify a traveller's identity. That's the theory. Do they work in practice? They never have in the past. Do UKBA have any reason to believe that they work now? According to John Vine CBE QPM, the Independent Chief Inspector of UKBA, no. In his May 2010 inspection report on Manchester Airport, he said:
5.29 We could find no overall plan to evaluate the success or otherwise of the facial recognition gates at Manchester Airport and would urge the Agency to do so [as] soon as possible.
"risk-based approach"? "risk-based" seems to be used interchangeably with "intelligence-led", "eBorders" and "Warnings Index". Rt Hon Theresa May MP, Home Secretary, dealt with the matter when she gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on 8 November 2011:
Q33 Michael Ellis: ... can you elaborate on what is meant by intelligence-led security measures? ...

Theresa May: Indeed. The basis on which the pilot was to operate was that it was to enable a greater focus on those who were at higher risk. Intelligence-led, led also at the discretion of the officers at the border so that they would be assessing within the two categories of EEA nationals and the biometric chips, and EEA national children ...
Damian Green MP, Immigration Minister, returned to the question when he gave evidence on 22 November 2011:
Q423 Dr Huppert: I would certainly provide a steer towards risk-based, intelligence-led controls. What options are there for taking this further? How can we become sharper at using that?

Damian Green: The root of it is early intelligence and information. That is why this Government, even through the difficulties of getting rid of the previous e-Borders main contractor, because it was running behind so badly, are determined to carry on with e-Borders. We already have 90% of flights from outside Europe covered by that. It is that kind of early intelligence-intelligence before people get on a plane-that will help us make our borders secure. The old idea that the border starts at Dover or Heathrow will become increasingly old-fashioned. I want to export our borders, so that they start at airports around the world, and so that, as is the case now, if people come through France, the borders start at Calais or Gare du Nord, or at Brussels rather than Dover. We have already stopped 68,000 people who would otherwise have got on planes flying in the past year, because of intelligence that we have collected. It seems to me that that is the route that we need to go down.
The "main contractor" Mr Green refers to, the organisation in charge of delivering eBorders – the seat of intelligence-led, risk-based border control – is Raytheon Systems Ltd, manufacturers of the Cruise missile. One of the coalition government's first acts was to fire Raytheon. Raytheon are now suing us for £500 million.

In the meantime, IBM have taken over the eBorders contract. Sheikh Raed Salah flew into the UK despite being on the eBorders Warnings Index, the problem being, according to the BBC, that IBM's system relies on little slips of paper being distributed to Immigration Officers and the slips don't always get to the right IO and another problem being, also according to the BBC, that a lot of the information on the Warnings Index is false, put there by malicious people denouncing someone they don't like.

Along with Dame Helen's "e-gates" and the "risk-based approach", of course, we also have Jackie Keane's IABS to secure the border and to control immigration and to make the Olympics safe. Except that Brodie Clark considers the technology of IABS to provide the least reliable of any identity/security check at the border.

Is this an optimal allocation of resources?
  • 900 officers of the Border Force will be lost to all this dubious technology.
  • Since the coalition government came to office, between 12 May 2010 and 31 October 2011, the Home Office has spent £491,304,533.51 with the contractors involved in the smart gates, ePassports, eBorders and IABS initiatives. Using the figures in Jonathan Sedgwick's accounts, that is enough money to pay all 900 officers for 12 years.
Is all that public money – your money and mine – being wisely invested?

* SR10 is the four-year period 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2015 covered by the 2010 Spending Review
It should be made clear that the Wikipedia article linked to here is two-thirds written by DMossEsq

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