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Cabinet Office has “failed to get grip” since taking responsibility for national security vetting

12 May 2023

  • Unacceptable delays could hinder work of Government and increase security risks
  • Committee especially concerned with Cabinet Office complacency over clearance renewals
  • UKSV “understaffed since 2017 inception” despite essential role in national security

In a report today the Public Accounts Committee says the Cabinet Office has failed to get a grip on delivering national security vetting since taking over responsibility for this vital government service in April 2020, with potential consequences running from losing the best candidates for essential roles to impeding the effective functioning of Government work to increased security risks.  

The UK Security Vetting service has not met either of its key performance targets for timely CTC/SC and DV clearances since July 2021 and has also missed its targets for priority clearances in 23 out of 60 months for DV and 30 out of 60 months for CTC/SC clearances. Clearance backlogs have increased over the last two years. 

It also has a woeful record on aftercare checks, which should occur between the initial clearance and a full review to confirm someone’s circumstances have not changed. Aftercare targets have not been met once since the start of 2018-19.  

These unacceptable delays in processing clearances could result in departments being unable to progress the work of government, but the Cabinet Office does not appear to have fully assessed the potential impact across government. It seems content to repeatedly extend DV renewals as a means of managing demand, despite the increased risk associated with individuals going many years without a full review of their security clearance, and the risk environment all this is creating that many UKSV customers across government are uncomfortable with. The Committee calls on the Cabinet Office to set out how and when it will stop repeatedly extending DV renewals going forward. 

The Cabinet Office and UKSV have also so far failed in attempts to modernise and transform how security vetting is delivered and the Cabinet Office has repeatedly blocked transformation business cases from UKSV.  

Chair's comments

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The Cabinet Office appears deaf to the discomfort that staff across Government have with the level of risk being created by its failure to get a grip on our national security vetting services. Though the current governance structure actually appears to be a barrier to the necessary change, the Cabinet Office is blocking all UKSV’s valiant attempts at reform. UKSV has been understaffed since its inception and the result is desperately uncomfortable compromise choices for existing staff about their essential functions. This is all totally unacceptable. We expect the Cabinet Office to set out and immediately get on with productive change in response to this report.”

Further information

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