John Vine’s successor has a hard task ahead of them

The resignation of the man in charge of immigration and borders is further evidence of problems at the Home Office.

The resignation of the man in charge of immigration and borders is further evidence of problems at the Home Office

Today John Vine, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration has announced his resignation. For those who work on immigration policy, it is surprising he has lasted so long. Over the last two years he has sounded increasingly frustrated by failures of the government to act on his recommendations.

His exit is further evidence of on-going and wider problems in the Home Office.

The last Labour government set up role of the chief inspector and the legal framework for this post was outlined in the UK Borders Act 2007. John Vine, formerly chief constable of Tayside, came into post in 2008. He reports to the home secretary who sets his work priorities, but the chief inspector can inspect outside these areas.

Over the last six years, John Vine and his 30 staff have carried out inspections and spot-checks in the UK and overseas. They have looked at issues such as asylum support, border and customs controls at ports, visa procedures, asylum decision-making and the removal of overstayers from the UK. The chief inspector’s office also oversees the work of the Independent Advisory Group on Country Information. This group of academic advisers commission human rights reports that are used to help make decisions on asylum cases.

John Vine has a difficult role. There are longstanding concerns about the competency of borders and immigration staff. In 2006 then home secretary John Reid declared the UK Border Agency ‘not fit for purpose’. In 2012 Theresa May split up the UK Border Agency, after revelations – some from John Vine – that thousands of people had been let into the UK without any immigration checks.

A year later, the UK Border Agency was brought under direct Home Office control, although UK Visas and Immigration remains as a separate agency. But crisis and mismanagement continue, some of which has been made worse by cuts to funding for border and immigration staff.

There is a consensus that John Vine has done a good job in highlighting ineffective borders and immigration control, as well as ensuring that migrants are treated fairly and law and policy are upheld. In the last two years John Vine’s reports have highlighted backlogs of asylum cases, poor record keeping and that the planned e-borders alerts for high risk passengers only covering 65 per cent of incoming visitors to the UK.

His office has also highlighted the need for rigorous checks on those seeking to enter the UK on the basis marriage to an EU-national, and the ‘archiving’ of asylum and immigration overstayer cases. A particularly critical report on student migration showed a failure by the UK Border Agency to follow up on notifications it received about students who have failed to turn up to classes, with a backlog of 153,000 cases in May 2012.

Unfortunately there is little evidence to show that the government has acted on many of John Vine’s concerns. It has set up high profile stunts, the ‘go home’ vans and the prime minister’s participation in an immigration raid are just two examples. But asylum backlogs are increasing, and there is no evidence to show that ‘archived’ cases of undocumented migrants are being reduced. In May this year, incoming passengers to the UK were faced with long delays when the border IT system failed.

Public hostility to immigration remains high in the UK and a major issue that plays into this are the operational failures of borders and immigration staff. If, as a country, we are to become more comfortable with immigration, the government needs to address these failures so as to build greater trust in the immigration system.

For this to take place, we need competent political leadership and high quality staffing, and a Home Office that is adequately resourced. We also need an independent chief inspector who can highlight any failings. John Vine’s successor has a hard task, but his or her role is an essential component of an effective and fair immigration system.

Jill Rutter writes on immigration and is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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12 Responses to “John Vine’s successor has a hard task ahead of them”

  1. Dave Roberts

    So what are you recommending?

  2. Holly

    Why are the staff failing?
    Why has the managements failure to ensure staff are doing what they meant to do, gone on for so long?
    This is not a new phenomenon, so how can the current Home Secretary ensure that staff are being asked to do their job properly by their managers if managers are not up to the job, without a constant barrage of criticism on how awful she is for ‘blaming’ staff & management?
    How will the Home Secretary get the ‘high quality staff’ when up against the barrage of criticism she will no doubt have to face down.
    Are the ‘high quality’ staff/management, the public, and the opposition willing to back the Home Secretary if she decides on a mass transplant of staff/management, which sounds inevitable, if we are going to start to improve things, or are they going to scream blue murder and call strikes?

  3. Guest

    Ah, so when staff magically can’t do more with fewer numbers and resources, they’re “failing”?

    And I see, you’ll whine if your massive firing, and telling the rest that they need to do more work to make up for it leads to strikes.

  4. Holly

    This mess has been going on for years and years. Long before the 2010 General Election, long before the Cuts, so Einstein, what’s you excuse for the shoddy management/staff prior to 2010, when it was a case of MORE staff not doing what they are paid to do?
    Didn’t one top bod get himself into all sorts of trouble by instructing those working under him to ‘cut corners’?
    Please do not try to make out that this is some new occurrence, because it is not.
    Labour had SIX different Home Secretaries, and not one of them were allowed to stay in place long enough to fix it, because when an issue hit the public domain, they were moved.
    Thus ensuring the wrong culture took hold in the top ranks, and the ‘issue’ disappeared….. until the next one appeared….Repeated as necessary.

    If people are not doing what they should, then there should be consequences, and in this department, they are putting us ALL at risk of harm. So please stop being so ‘precious’ about failing public sector workers who are failing you, as well as me.
    Personally, I would much prefer them not to be there.

  5. Guest

    Okay, you want to blame people for not working 80 hour weeks.

    That people don’t work themselves in unproductive ways when they’re simply understaffed and thus don’t magically get everything done…well, that’s logic, you ain’t having none of that.

    YOUR culture of blaming the workers for understaffing is the wrong one. Of course you want to fire people repeatedly if they refuse to woprk those 80 hour weeks, removing basic protections from staff. And then fire them anyway when they can’t get it done anyway.

    Your hatred of workers right is not new, no.

  6. Holly

    Like I said in my previous comment…
    Please try and answer the points I raise.
    What is your excuse for the same failings that went on BEFORE the cuts?
    What is your excuse for the management being allowed to grow a dangerous work ethic, because they KNEW they could 100% rely on YOUR culture that it would NEVER be them who took the blame for their bad work practices, it would ALWAYS be the Minister that got moved. This ensured the management could continue to fail the staff working under them, fail YOU, fail me, and millions of other people, still on a salary we can only dream of, not forgetting their pensions.
    Do YOU think the government, regardless of political party, are right to expect managers to do what is expected of them (I doubt there are fewer managers by the way)and if they do not, should the government be able to replace them with someone who takes the role more seriously?
    If you stopped jumping to conclusions about what you think I said, you might realise I BLAME THE MANAGERS!
    The staff under them, regardless of how many there are, have no choice but to obey. Subordinates you see.
    However, the management have been allowed to do whatever the heck they like, KNOWING it would be the minister who got shifted if a problem got into the public domain.
    Under Labour there were SIX Home Secretaries, and that is how the current culture grew.
    NO ONE was really accountable.
    Hopefully now they will be.

  7. blarg1987

    Think you find that the border agency has been in decline before the financial crisis under New Labour who also tried to make it more efficient by reducing staff numbers and things have gotten worse since.
    “Didn’t one top bod get himself into all sorts of trouble by instructing those working under him to ‘cut corners’?”

    That may be true unfortunately it was probably an order higher up the food chain along the lines of sort it out I don’t care how you do it just sort it and thus that was a consequence.
    You are right their should be consequences but to give you an example of the problem if I give you 30p and tell you to get me a fresh loaf of bread (which you fail to do) who should bare responsibility you for failing to do your job or me for setting a task that is not possible?

  8. Holly

    Thank you for your decent reply.

    I don’t think it’s been so much that, I couldn’t get you a fresh loaf for 30p,(even though I’d fail) I think it’s been more a case of, here’s 30p go get a fresh loaf, if you can’t just nick one. It won’t come back on us it’ll be the Minister who gets the chop.
    If you know what I mean.
    That is the culture in many departments, and until those at the bottom have the right to say ‘NO’ to their managers, so as to escalate the issue up the food chain, to the Minister, nothing will be sorted.
    Those at the bottom should have a direct link to the appropriate Minister when security procedures are not being followed properly.

  9. Guest

    I did. You just don’t like my answer.

    I don’t excuse underfunding. That’s the problem.

    You are describing YOUR work culture, no more, as you attack the concept of pensions again. And of course you think expecting people not producing more with less justifies ending basic employment rights – you called very specifically for firing workers.

    You’ve repeatedly blamed anyone but those responsible – the government.

  10. Holly

    I don’t understand your answer.
    I have worked in the public sector, and as long as the boxes were ticked nothing else mattered.
    There were no checks, no way to tell who did what and when, just targets, targets, targets. We always hit our targets.
    The staff looked good, the line manager looked good, their manager looked good, and the Labour minister looked good.
    The poor user, however, was just considered a pain when they complained, or queried why there case was taking so long, and no one could sort it, because more often than not, we had ‘lost’ it,(usually filed under B for bin) It was a running joke.

    No one could ‘speak out’ because that was heresy.

  11. Guest

    So they can be fired double-quick? Yea.

  12. Guest

    Exactly. You can’t understand anything but blaming people, and demanding 80 hour weeks, for less money.

    That YOU were (/are) a useless drone…really defines you, nobody else.

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