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PAC warns on “staggering” cost of Home Office border security tech failures

12 March 2021

The Home Office continues a miserable record of exorbitantly expensive digital programmes that fail to deliver for the taxpayer or for border security, says the Public Accounts Committee in a report today, due to a "lack of effective leadership, management and oversight".

Delays to the Digital Services at the Border (DSAB) programme have cost the taxpayer £173 million so far. The 'Border Crossing' part of the programme is being used by only 300 border staff, against the 7,000 supposed to be using the system by June 2021, and previous attempts to roll out Border Crossing experienced technical difficulties.

The Home Office is planning for more than 140 million passengers a year to pass through its the new DSAB systems but it still has "no proof that systems can cope with passenger volumes that existed prior to COVID-19, let alone the 6% annual growth in the volume of passengers" it predicts.

The Home Office has a poor record on delivering technology programmes. Delays to the Emergency Services Network, also a recurring subject of PAC inquiry, are costing taxpayers £650 million a year, and the programme is currently running 6 years late.

PAC says the Home Office has failed to "identify, acknowledge and be transparent about problems" in delivering tech programmes that are "crucial to national security objectives" of protecting the public from terrorism, crime, illegal immigration and trafficking, and also vital for facilitating the legitimate movement of people across the border.

The Home Office failed to address risks and problems that were flagged to the programme board, and false assurances about progress further impeded its responses.  The original objective of improved information at the border has now been delayed by a further three years, with little demonstrable lesson learning.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"Immigration and border security are among the biggest political issues of our time. It is incredible that the Home Office can have failed so badly, for so long, to deliver technology that is crucial to our national security objectives: crucial to protecting the public from terrorism, crime, illegal immigration and trafficking, and crucial to facilitating legitimate movement across the border.

The Home Office has struggled to get to grips with the technical challenges, resetting the programme and changing the leadership repeatedly. And it is the tax payer hit by both the financial cost and the risks to our security."

Further information

Image: PA