Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by CBI [UKBA 04]

The Work of the UK Border Agency and Border Force at Heathrow

1. The CBI is the UK’s leading business organisation, speaking for some 240,000 businesses that together employ around a third of the private sector workforce. With offices across the UK as well as representation in Brussels, Washington, Beijing and Delhi the CBI communicates the British business voice around the world.

2. Waiting times at the UK border are now a serious business concern and constitute a threat to perceptions of the UK as a good place to do business. The issue demands an urgent solution given that it has been worsening for months and that the impact has now spread from Heathrow to Stansted and the Channel Tunnel. These are not one-off incidents—instead, long queues for travellers at passport control are occurring on a regular basis—running to more than three hours at worst. Security and customer service are not mutually exclusive, however, and we believe the UK Border Force can meet passenger demand at the same time as securing the border.

3. In this submission we argue:

While border security must remain the number one priority, this is not incompatible with ensuring a good passenger experience.

Long queues undermine our reputation as a global trading hub.

Concerns go beyond peak Olympic traffic—a permanent fix is needed.

While Border Security Must Remain the Number One Priority, this is not Incompatible with Ensuring a Good Passenger Experience

4. There is no disagreement in the business community that security at the border must remain the number one priority for the UK Border Force (UKBF). But there should be no inconsistency between maintaining appropriate controls and a sufficient degree of rigour while also delivering a competent and efficient service. Service design, staff rostering and active queue management can all be used by managers to optimise customer experience at busy times.

5. Such actions have not been taken at Heathrow. The operators of airports and other border terminals invest huge amounts of money in ensuring that their operations provide both a good passenger experience and successfully manage traffic. This work and investment is undermined by failures in the working model of the Border Agency which lead to excessive queues.

6. BAA figures show that the target for 95% of passengers from outside the European Economic Area to clear passport control with 45 minutes was not achieved by any Heathrow terminal during April. Passengers in all terminals have faced significant delays, with non-EEA passengers at terminal 4 taking three hours to reach passport control on 30 April. Elsewhere EU passengers at Stansted have recently faced excessive queues with delays of up to two hours at passport control and there have been queues of up to an hour at Eurotunnel immigration control booths. This is not a recent or temporary problem—the Independent Chief Inspector’s report on Border Control Operations at Terminal 3, Heathrow Airport during August—November 2011 found Immigration Officers facing “significant pressure of a full arrivals hall, dealing with passengers who had been waiting for long periods of time.”

7. A more intelligent and responsive approach to staffing, service approach and technology would pay dividends. Adequate and flexible staffing is needed throughout the year and not just to deal with peaks in traffic. Airlines provide up to date passenger data to UKBF a week in advance but border staff are scheduled a month in advance meaning that key data on demand is not fully utilised. At the same time, there should be a renewed focus on embracing the opportunities afforded by new and existing technology and queue management. It is for UKBF to decide what measure of risk-based checking is appropriate but we believe that greater use of this may have a role to play as part of a solution. Finally, sifting the queues earlier and managing them effectively will ensure citizens are not held up by huge non-EEA queues that are not split out until people enter the hall itself.

Long Queues Undermine Our Reputation as a Global Trading Hub

8. The longest of the recent queues at Heathrow terminal 5 occurred in a week in which the CBI and UKTI ran the first ever trade mission designed especially for mid-sized businesses. While this mission was in Turkey paving the way for mid-sized business deals in a key market, potential investors in the UK from Turkey would face being held up at passport control for long periods, giving a very different picture of the UK from the one the visit was trying to establish. The Government has rightly set targets of doubling our annual exports by 2020 to £1trn and getting an additional 100,000 UK firms exporting. With domestic demand subdued this is crucial to our recovery. If we are to achieve these targets however, we need to create the right impression. An effectively functioning border system is a key part of the essential infrastructure supporting and attracting this trade and investment which is vital to delivering a sustained economic recovery.

9. Airlines now report that the immigration queue is now the biggest area of dissatisfaction for customers. This does not sit with an image of UK as an ambitious, successful country equipped to capture global trade an investment opportunities. With UK nationals also facing these ever-longer queues, our business people and entrepreneurs also face loss of productive time when they travel abroad.

10. While chaos at the border represents a current threat to UK competitiveness we are also facing longer-term challenges. The UK faces severe capacity constraints with our hub airport running at 99% capacity, preventing airlines from meeting demand for flights to key growth markets while at the same time competitor airports in Europe are building the direct links to serve key emerging destinations. This challenge to the position of the UK as a global hub for trade—which must be addressed by an aviation strategy which delivers in the short, medium and long term—must not be added to by an inefficient and ineffective immigration service acting as a further structural impediment to our growth potential.

Concerns Go Beyond Peak Olympic Traffic—A Permanent Fix is Needed

11. The Olympic Games offer the UK significant economic benefits and an opportunity to showcase its strengths in front of the world—we must not squander this opportunity by making a poor first impression. Although processes are in place to deal with increased passenger numbers recent experience of delays shows how vulnerable UKBF is to any shock.

12. The Olympics are an opportunity we cannot afford to miss—but business believes a better service at Heathrow in the long-term is essential for the UK economy. One-off increased staffing ahead of the Olympics is not enough. Real change is required on a permanent basis if we are to avoid the costs of poor service damaging the UK economy.

Employment and skills directorate
CBI

May 2012

Prepared 20th July 2012