We have for some time now been reflecting our serious concerns that operational conditions within Border Force are compromising national security while posing serious and growing risk to the health and welfare of ISU members. In our judgement things are only growing worse and matters have now reached the point where we face very high likelihood of operational meltdown in numerous locations through 2018. We have therefore seen no option but to write to the Immigration Minister to raise those concerns – the full letter is reproduced below for your interest :-
Minister of State
I write on behalf of the National Executive and membership of the ISU to express our profound concern that chronic under-resourcing in Border Force now represents significant risk to national prosperity and security, as well as to the safety and welfare of our people who work there.
Our representatives around the country – and at the Juxtaposed Controls in Belgium and France – have consistently reported that Border Force staffing at our air and seaports grows increasingly inadequate to sustain effective Border Controls. Efforts to cope with increased demand on reduced numbers have met with entirely predictable consequence. Massive peak period queues at our Borders. Customs activity routinely neglected in desperate efforts to manage the Immigration queues. Staff morale in meltdown, their welfare neglected. We have been raising these serious concerns for some years however such remedial actions as have been attempted have ultimately proven ineffective. That reflects both management failure and inadequate budgetary allocation.
We join with the grave concerns reflected by the recent Home Affairs Select Committee report on Brexit preparedness within the Borders and Immigration system which, among numerous findings of concern, reserved searing criticism for Border Force, thus :-
We are increasingly alarmed about the impact that inadequate resources are having on the capacity for Border Force to operate effectively. This is a system which has not functioned properly for a number of years, in large part due to insufficient staffing. The consequences of a lack of resources have implications for the smooth operation of the border, the morale and wellbeing of staff, and the quality of frontline immigration services.
HASC go on to reflect that :-
Border Force’s staff are committed and professional but they are already overworked and there is an over-reliance on agency workers who lack the experience and skills of their permanent colleagues. We welcome the decision to recruit more staff but in our view the number identified by the Home Office is very likely to be insufficient to backfill existing vacancies, let alone deal with any additional workload that different entry requirements would present. We recommend that the Home Office increase the number of permanent Border Force staff. It should also recognise and urgently address the problem of low morale amongst Border Force staff who carry out such crucial and sensitive work
What is most extraordinary is that this devastating critique errs, in our view, toward moderation and does not fully capture the slow motion disaster unfolding at our Borders.
Budgetary constraint has led Border Force progressively to adopt operating practices that fundamentally risk our Border Security. Fully trained permanent staff have been replaced with an ever growing reliance on deployment of temporary workers. Known originally as the ‘Seasonal Workforce’, they have now become workers for all seasons.
These staff receive only a little over one week of training prior to front-line deployment, while fully trained Border Force Officer require many weeks of training. There is no ongoing training investment, they are simply used with ever growing desperation to narrow the numerous gaps in Border Force rosters. Management arrangements for these staff are also typically inadequate. For example, the entire Heathrow cohort are managed through a single central point of contact. Through no fault of their own these temporary staff are not fully apprised of intelligence profiles, lack extensive experience of Border operations and so are not well placed to identify those crossing our Borders with harmful intent. Within the current climate, that seems to us a dereliction of Border Force’s duty to support our National Security.
We do recognise and welcome recent commitments to recruitment of permanent Border Force Officers. However staff retention is exceptionally poor and inbound numbers simply do not reach the levels required. Poor retention is due largely to very severe operational pressures, absence of meaningful development investment, inadequate welfare support and widespread feelings that Border Force management hold our members in contempt. It is unlikely to improve rapidly. Under these circumstances, current recruitment commitment will not sufficiently outpace retention to deliver adequate front-line staffing for Border Security imperatives. Moreover the majority of new recruits will not come on stream for many months yet to come, while significant front-line resource will meantime need to be diverted to train them. The system simply cannot cope with that additional demand.
We need to be clear that the year ahead is likely to see the wholesale disintegration of Border Force operations across multiple locations. Queues at our Borders will multiply beyond control, threatening our national prosperity and contradicting any pre-Brexit notion that ‘Britain is open for business’. Border Security will be compromised, with potentially disastrous consequence. The reputation and welfare of our members will unjustly suffer once more. Border Force have staggered inches from operational collapse in each of the last three years however every indication now suggests that Border meltdown in Summer 2018 is inevitable.
We see no indication that Border Force managers are resourced to meet the challenges now before us. We call upon you to meet this impending crisis with swift, decisive action to prevent these appalling outcomes.
Naturally we would be happy to meet and discuss these issues with you.
27th February 2018