The troubled UK Border Agency has cut too many staff too quickly and is now having to hire extra people and increase overtime to meet demands, Whitehall's spending watchdog said today.
Instead of slowing down staff cuts when it emerged an automated system designed to save money was both a year late and tens of millions of pounds over budget, the UKBA increased the speed of its planned changes, the National Audit Office (NAO) said.
More than 1,000 staff over and above the planned reductions were lost last year, the report found.
Performance dropped and there is little evidence of the strong leadership needed to resolve the problems, the report added.
Border Force staff working at Heathrow Airport, one of its most high-profile and oft-criticised operations, also appeared reluctant to take up more changes.
– Whitehall's spending watchdog report
The result of this disconnect was, in some places, a dip in performance and the need to hire new staff or increase overtime."
– A Home Office spokesman
We're under no illusions about the scale of the challenge in transforming the UK Border Agency and Border Force and we have already saved huge sums of taxpayers' money, overhauled our business planning and improved performance in key areas of our work.
A lack of integration, with some 120 separate targets and significant changes being made "independent of headcount reduction", affected both efficiency and performance, the watchdog said.
Some 22,580 staff were employed by the UKBA, including the Border Force, in April last year, but this had dropped to 20,469 by April this year, figures showed.
The £385 million immigration case work (ICW) computer system, which aimed to improve efficiency and cut costs, has "significant problems" and, despite early successes, "has slipped by a year and is over budget", the NAO said.
Despite less being delivered than expected, the system was £28 million (12%) over its £224 million budget by the end of March and overall expected savings had been revised down to £106 million.
– Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office
The real leadership test will be whether the agency can transform casework processing without relying solely on new IT, and whether the Border Force can improve its workforce practices and raise productivity."
Some 540 requirements, previously described as "must haves", have been removed or postponed in the latest version of the system, leading to limitations, including that customers will not be able to track their applications online.
Further staff reductions before systems such as the ICW programme are implemented "may impact negatively on performance", a risk the agency acknowledges but the impact of which it "is unable to quantify", the watchdog said.
Daybreak's Angela Corp reports.