As most members in Border Force already know all too well, UK Borders are now in meltdown. Crisis point has well and truly arrived.
Queues of over two hours are once more becoming routine at Heathrow, the position at Gatwick is little better, Calais and other locations are also experiencing very significant pressures. None have the resources to cope adequately with the summer rush. ISU members everywhere in Border Force are left to cope with far too few staff to manage enormous, increasingly fractious queues at the Border. As the peak of the summer season approaches, the crisis deepens. Staff from around the country are being shipped into Heathrow at great cost and inconvenience to paper over cracks there, leaving their home ports likewise understrength. New recruits, apprentices and seasonal workforce staff are not coming on stream fast enough and have not kept pace with departures – people are voting with their feet quicker than they can be replaced.
Those who remain face extraordinary, unceasing pressures. There are simply not enough staff to cope with the numbers passing through the Border. Our members are now working unstintingly for hours on end under oppressive, often hostile conditions. Managers are under severe pressure to contain queues. Their actions are scrutinised intensely, blame culture breathing down their necks, so creating still more pressure for front-line staff. Managers spend a great deal of time now accounting up the chain for ‘reputational’ queue breaches which, because of inadequate staffing, there was really no prospect of avoiding in the first place. Not that they’re permitted to say this – ‘lack of staff’ is not deemed an acceptable reason for massive queues. The truth cannot be openly acknowledged.
It is, we fear, only a matter of time before we once more see media stories about enormous Border queues shaming Britain – returning once more to the ignominy we experienced leading up to the 2012 London Olympics. We find it utterly incomprehensible that an organisation seared by those experiences should somehow contrive to make the same disastrous mistakes within only 5 short years. It honestly defies satire.
However much media criticism may be fair comment, we don’t relish the reputation of Border Force once more being dragged through the dirt. Media coverage tends to tar with a broad brush, often leaving impression of fault where there is none. Our members have been tarnished in this way before and we will not stand by and see you publicly shamed. Our people are doing their utmost under impossible circumstances and we cannot have them blamed for strategic errors elsewhere.
In the meantime, you might wonder where Border Force leadership priorities actually lie. Well there is now greater focus on front line resource issues. Too little too late as that is, money is now being thrown at the problem. Unfortunately we see no reasonable prospect that these efforts will make any significant difference this summer.
However members will be comforted to know that Border Force are most concerned to assure the ‘integrity’ of their staff. A lengthy Border Force ‘Code of Ethics’ will shortly be published while staff will soon be required to make annual ‘Mandatory Declarations’ that nothing in their personal life is of potential concern to their employer. This includes something called ‘Notifiable Associations’ – declaring connection with people you may know who might just possibly be a wrong ‘un. That’s right, their sins are not yours but Border Force wants to know, just in case you might be ‘compromised’. Or in other words, your employer has no faith in your good judgement and personal integrity.
There will be a great deal more to say on this in future circulars. For now it is simply worth reflecting that there has not been enough money to secure the Borders properly but devoting funds to glossy statements of the self-evident and implementing ‘Big Brother’ intrusions into the private lives of staff is – apparently – money well spent.
We call upon Border Force leadership now to focus energy and resource fully where it belongs, on the front-line emergency they face. We have three preliminary points for immediate, urgent action.
- There are not enough staff on the Border. We need an emergency plan to maintain Borders for this summer. And we need staff welfare to be at the heart of those arrangements. Our members need support or many will succumb to ill health and make a bad situation still worse. We need numbers – and quickly – to meet the severe pressures now faced. From there, long term investment and planning to make sure we never again face such a disastrous situation is imperative. We must ensure that Border Force are properly resourced for whatever the future may hold – and do that in a public, accountable way so there can be assurance that, unlike after 2011/12, these hard lessons will finally be learned.
- We need enhanced security presence at our Controls. Dissatisfaction with enormous delays is already reaching epidemic proportions. It’s only a matter of time before we see serious public disorder and, who knows, even mass breach of the Border. Our people are in the forefront of this, on the receiving end of passenger distress and animosity, working in atmospheres of great tension and difficulty, exhausted by punishing rosters and frequent shift extensions. Our people deserve protection and support. If that means police presence at the Border then that is not something we relish. However so be it – welfare of our people is paramount and we expect Border Force to take all steps to ensure that.
- In many Border Force locations the ‘Reward and Recognition’ budget is underspent. This speaks to an organisation not well focussed on appreciating their people. We feel that all staff working under the current, exceptionally stressful conditions on the front-line deserve commensurately exceptional reward and recognition. Money is no object in transporting staff around the country or importing seasonal workforce. We therefore call for a payment of £250 to each member of Border Force staff working on the front-line this summer. Words are cheap and senior manager platitudes change nothing. If there truly is gratitude for our efforts, we need to see more tangible expression of that than soundbites.
Events are now fast moving and sadly it is all too likely that matters will have deteriorated still further in the time between writing and publishing this circular. The more information we have, the harder we can press. We would therefore be grateful for any and all membership feedback on these issues to [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]