Almost half the recommendations made by the independent immigration inspector over the last three years have not been followed by the Home Office, the inspector’s annual report shows. David Bolt’s survey of the 2017/18 financial year says that while only a small minority (4%) of his recommendations since May 2015 have been rejected outright, the department’s own records show that “over 40%” of the suggestions that were formally accepted had yet to be completed.
Writing in the foreword to the annual report, published yesterday, Mr Bolt notes that he has “repeatedly” talked to the Home Office about the need for concrete action in response to his inspections, but that “too often the response has left it unclear exactly what action will be taken and by when”.
Mr Bolt, a former MI5 officer, did point out that some of his criticisms were taken on board even if the exact “remedy” prescribed by inspectors was formally rejected. “In general”, he wrote, “I have no objection if the Home Office finds an alternative way of achieving the required improvements, provided it works”. A Home Office spokesperson said that “we have accepted or partially accepted, 93 per cent of his recommendations made in 2017-18”.
The figures, which Mr Bolt said were backed by his own data, will nonetheless raise questions about how seriously the Home Office takes the inspector’s recommendations. The inspector has “no powers to direct” but is intended to function as a kind of critical friend to the department. Critics pointed out that an independent monitoring body is planned to oversee EU citizens’ rights after Brexit. A lax approach to formalised external feedback in another context does not boost confidence that it will be effective in another.
And this is the kind of ‘authority’ David Davis suggested be replicated for the national independent authority that will oversea citizens’ rights post Brexit. Home Office clearly don’t take it seriously.
— Luke Piper (@Pipermigration) June 13, 2018
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, to give Mr Bolt his full title, also complained about the tendency of Marsham Street to sit on his reports longer than necessary and to release them in batches to minimise media coverage. While the chief inspector is formally independent of the Home Office, the release timetable for his inspection results is up to the Home Secretary. “Delays, and the release of reports in batches, inevitably raise questions about my independence and about the Home Office’s management of ‘bad news’”, Mr Bolt pointed out.
As I highlighted at the time, March 2018 saw five reports released simultaneously. The Home Office says that the reports had all been sent to the Home Secretary by Mr Bolt over the course of a week to ten days at the end of January 2018, so naturally their publication deadlines fell together and it was natural to batch them to ensure speedy publication as close to the eight-week target as possible for all reports.
The report also echoes the concerns of the Home Affairs committee of MPs about the capacity of the immigration system to “deliver” Brexit. It says that
the greatest cause for concern was not a particular function or failing but the overall capacity and capabilities of the Home Office’s Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System (BICS)… During 2017-18, questions were asked by the Home Affairs Committee and others about the capacity and capabilities of BICS, particularly staff numbers, because of the additional demands that are expected to flow from the UK’s exit from the European Union. Partly for this reason, but primarily because it is fundamental to the efficiency and effectiveness of all borders and immigration functions, in 2018-19 the Inspectorate will examine all aspects of BICS workforce planning, both overall and in relation to specific business areas.
The inspectorate itself is “under strength” and critics (such as my editor) will welcome the fact that a forthcoming recruitment campaign will be open to external candidates as well as existing civil servants.
— Colin Yeo (@ColinYeo1) May 16, 2018
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration was set up by the UK Borders Act 2007 to inspect and formally report on Home Office performance. Mr Bolt’s term of office runs from 2015 to 2020.