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Understaffed immigration inspectorate struggles to hold Home Office to account


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Staff shortages mean that the immigration inspector’s office is struggling to effectively scrutinise the work of the Home Office, according to the organisation’s annual report. There are supposed to be 25 inspectors working under chief David Bolt, but by the end of March 2019 there were just 11 in post.

The inspectorate operated at two-thirds strength across the whole of last year and “is likely to be significantly under strength for at least the first half of 2019-20”, Bolt said.

The staffing troubles seem to be caused by high turnover compounded by difficulty recruiting civil servants — inspectors have traditionally come from the Home Office itself — as well as security clearance holding up external recruitment. The organisation managed only seven published reports in 2018/19 — compared to 20 the previous year.

Recruitment woes aside, Bolt partly blames the Home Office for the low output. It decides when draft reports can be published and invariably sits on them for months on end. Not a single one made it to publication within eight weeks of being submitted, as the department supposedly aims for.

The Home Office’s incentive to delay reports (and publish them in batches to reduce media impact) is because they consistently demonstrate its failings. Bolt writes that his work in 2018/19

painted a by now familiar picture of a system (or more accurately a set of related but not always connected or coherent functions) that does not have the capacity, and in some instances the capabilities, to do everything required of it all of the time, with the result that some things are not done well or not at all.

Bolt also sighs his way through a catalogue of Home Office intransigence. On refugee resettlement, for example, he comments that the department appears “closed to the idea that there was any room for improvement”.

The chief inspector may even give up on inspecting Border Force outposts on the basis that there’s no point in making recommendations for improvement to an organisation that refuses to listen:

… it was difficult to escape the impression that Border Force believes it knows best and will make changes only on its own terms and at its own pace. Consequently, my plan to complete the series of seaport and coastline inspections with an inspection of the west coast in 2019-20 may need to be postponed.

Last week, Channel 4 reported on leaked extracts from another independent probe of the Home Office, the Windrush “lessons learned” review. In her draft report, Wendy Williams writes of a “defensive culture that results in an unwillingness to learn from past mistakes”. On this evidence, the department appears doomed to repeat them forever.

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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.