The failure of IT projects at the UK Border Agency may end up costing taxpayers the “gobsmackingly awful” sum of £1 billion, said Public Accounts Committee chairman and Labour MP Margaret Hodge.
Commenting as the PAC launched its Reforming the UK border and immigration system report, Hodge also warned the collapse of the e-Borders system has led to 50,000 rejected asylum seekers going missing within the UK, and the backlog of asylum applications has now increased to 29,000.
Calling for the government to take “urgent steps to sort out this immigration mess”, Hodge said: “The Home Office must put in place skilled, incentivised staff and sort out its data so it can crack the backlog and move people through the system. It must also go back to the drawing board and develop a comprehensive, system-wide IT strategy.”
She added speedy solutions are essential to stop the problem getting worse: “The department is also failing to meet its targets for dealing with newer claims, so it is now creating another backlog for itself. The number of claims awaiting an initial decision was up 70 per cent to 16,273 in the first three months of 2014 compared to the same period last year.
“It is particularly disturbing to find that, when the department asked Capita to check over 250,000 case records in 2012 and 2013, Capita had been unable to contact over 50,000 people listed. The department admitted that they did not know where these 50,000 people were.
“The failure of major IT projects designed to streamline process not only leaves the department reliant on archaic systems but may also end up costing the taxpayer up to £1 billion. The cancellation of the Immigration Case Work programme and the e-Borders IT programme could mean a gobsmackingly awful figure being wasted.”
In 2010 the UKBA - now known as UK Visas and Immigration - unveiled plans for a new Immigration Case Work (ICW) system, which would replace the older Casework Information Database and 20 other legacy IT systems. ICW was intended to allow all interactions between a caseworker and applicant to be stored in a single place, rather than spread over multiple systems, promoting efficiency and making it much easier to produce information. But the programme delivered significantly less than expected and it was cancelled in August 2013 at a cost of £347 million.
Similarly, the e-Borders IT programme, which would have provided exit checks on all people leaving the UK, has also been cancelled. The department had spent £260 million on e-Borders before it was cancelled and has now been ordered to pay a further £224 million in costs (£186 million direct cost plus £38 million in interest) to the supplier for unlawful termination of the contract.
The Home Office is now moving away from large IT programmes managed by a single supplier, towards smaller, more manageable packages of work.