38. Operation Gangmaster was launched as a pilot
initiative in Lincolnshire and parts of East Anglia in 1998. The
Government departments involved in the operation include the Home
Office, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Customs and Excise,
Inland Revenue and Defra. The Government is currently rolling
out Operation Gangmaster to other areas of the UK where gangmasters
39. Much of the original impetus behind Operation
Gangmaster was provided by MAFF. With the launch of Lord Grabiner's
report on the Informal Economy in March 2000, and the subsequent
implementation of various initiatives to tackle the hidden economy,
the control of Operation Gangmaster was moved to the Grabiner
Working Group, chaired by DWP and on which Defra sits. DWP provides
the lead and secretariat for Operation Gangmaster.
40. The Government argues that this arrangement provides
Operation Gangmaster with greater enforcement strength and better
legislative avenues with other major departmental players for
the exchange of intelligence about individual gangmasters.
In response to a Parliamentary Question on Operation Gangmaster
in July 2000, the Minister of State at MAFF described it as "a
good example of joint action by several Government agencies".
41. Doubts about the adequacy of Operation Gangmaster
as a response to the problems associated with illegal activities
by gangmasters were identified at an early stage. The Report of
the 1998 Working Party noted that in taking the lead on Operation
Gangmaster, what was then the Benefits Agency was "not able
to commit additional resources to this area of work".
An economic evaluation of Operation Gangmaster in April 1999 similarly
commented that "no additional resource of any consequence
has been put behind Operation Gangmaster". This evaluation
also noted that Operation Gangmaster was difficult to evaluate
because it was "a pilot operation, without the benefit of
careful preparatory work enabling clearly-defined objectives to
be set or the conduct of baseline research (internally and externally)
against which change could be measured".
42. In its Memorandum to the Committee, the Government
described two operations carried out under Operation Gangmaster:
Operation Shark and Operation Twin Stem. Apart from these operations,
we found it difficult to obtain any idea of what work had been
carried out under Operation Gangmaster since it was established
in 1998. The Government told us that "it is not always possible
to quantify precisely the enforcement activity taken against gangmasters,
as Government Departments use different means to record enforcement
activity and results".
Much of the information presented to us lacked any detail whatsoever.
For example, in relation to the Immigration Service and National
Asylum Support Service, we were told that "many raids
have been undertaken" and "numerous illegal workers
and failed asylum seekers have been detected" [emphasis added].
43. Officials confirmed that there are no targets
for Operation Gangmaster as a whole.
Furthermore, there is no single Minister to whom the whole operation
reports. The TGWU
told us that when they asked what Operation Gangmaster had done
since 1998 they were given two paragraphs of information.
Moreover, Operation Gangmaster appears to have carried out no
significant analysis of the scale of the problem it has been set
up to address, or the adequacy of its response. Lord Whitty told
us that a report on Operation Gangmaster would be produced at
the end of the financial year 2003/04.
When this is published it will be the first report describing
activities undertaken as part of Operation Gangmaster for six
44. The DWP was able to tell us that it had deployed
51 staff on gangmaster activity at a cost of about £1 million.
However, we were told that "Customs and Excise has no staff
allocated specifically to combating gangmasters and no specific
The official from the Inland Revenue said that his Department
had not assessed the costs to it of working on Operation Gangmaster.
Defra told us that "Agricultural Wages Inspectors devote
some 2-3 staff years to enforcement work under the Agricultural
Wages Act 1948 at a cost of roughly £125,000
a small proportion of this activity is directly associated with
The Home Office could "not provide a breakdown of the amount
of staff hours or costs involved in Operation Gangmaster activities".
45. We are appalled by the lack of priority given
to, and political accountability for, what is supposed to be the
Government's co-ordinated response to illegal activity by gangmasters.
Operation Gangmaster appears to be little more than an umbrella
term for a few local enforcement operations in which the various
agencies have exchanged information. Five years after it was established
Operation Gangmaster has had no significant resources allocated
to it, has no targets and no Minister to take overall responsibility
for its activities. Nobody could give us a comprehensive picture
of what Operation Gangmaster does, how much it has spent and what
it has achieved. Far from being a "good example of joint
action by several Government agencies" we conclude that Operation
Gangmaster remains a woefully inadequate response to the complex
enforcement issues arising from the illegal activities of gangmasters.
46. We accept that the lack of centrally available
information about the activities of Operation Gangmaster does
not necessarily mean that nothing has been happening on the ground.
We note the comments of the official from the Immigration and
Nationality Services Division who said:
"We have moved on in the last few years
from government departments that never even spoke to each otherrefused
to speak to one anotherto a group of diverse organisations
my people meet with people from their departments on a
regular and continuous basis. We talk to one another. My department
has gained access to industries that it would not have been able
to do to take out areas where there has been exploitation and
where there is illegal working, which has been on the back of
the DWP. We have worked together with the agricultural investigation
teams, and I do not think we should just throw out the baby with
the bath water."
47. We accept that Operation Gangmaster has facilitated
some joint working between officials of different agencies. However,
it appears to us that Operation Gangmaster serves as a convenient
reference point for Ministers to give the impression that the
Government is doing far more about dealing with the problems associated
with gangmasters than is the case. We recommend that a Defra Minister
take overall responsibility for Operation Gangmaster. The Operation
should be given clear aims and objectives and it should report
regularly on these to the responsible Minister. Defra's annual
report should include a section on the Operation's work and achievements.
Data should be collected from the different agencies involved
enabling a comprehensive record of activities maintained and lessons
learned. Operation Gangmaster should have a single budget derived
from the budgets of each of the relevant Government agencies and