1.On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, we took evidence from the Home Office (the Department), Raytheon Systems Limited and the former Chief Executive of the UK Border Agency on e-Borders and successor programmes. We also took evidence from representatives of two transport carriers, British Airways and P&O Ferries.
2.Managing the UK Border has been the responsibility of the Department’s Border Force directorate since 2012, prior to which it was the responsibility of the former UK Border Agency. The task faced by the Department is complex and growing. Around 118 million people entered the UK in 2014–15, most of these travelling via commercial aviation, commercial maritime or rail. People can also enter the UK via general aviation and maritime (private aircraft and vessels) or over the land border with the Republic of Ireland but there are no reliable estimates for the number of people entering the UK by these means. The number of people entering the UK has been increasing by 2% per year for some time and is expected to continue increasing in the future. The Department has to balance achieving a speedy transit for the increasing volumes of legitimate passengers with detecting individuals of interest to the UK authorities.
3.In the early 2000s the UK authorities received virtually no advance data on people travelling to the UK, with decisions on who to admit taken by border officials after checking their passport and travel documents. In 2003, the Department identified the need to do more checks on people before they arrive in the UK so as to better identify persons of interest and prevent travel where deemed necessary. To deliver this, it set up its e-Borders programme which required a new system to collect an individual’s passport and booking data (the information that travel operators hold on passenger reservations, such as addresses and method of payment). In December 2004 the Department introduced a pilot system, known as Semaphore, for this purpose. The data collected on Semaphore had to be compared to data on persons of interest to the government held on an existing system known as the Warnings Index.
4.By 2007 the Department thought it was ready to roll out greater use of advance passenger data. It signed a contract with the US company Raytheon to deliver a single e-Borders system which would replace both Semaphore and the Warnings Index. The Department, however, cancelled this contract in 2010, citing failure to achieve milestones. Since then the Department has run several successor programmes, including the Border Systems Programme and the Digital Services at the Border programme, to attempt to produce a single integrated replacement for Semaphore and the Warnings Index.
5.In entering into a contract with Raytheon in 2007, the Department expected to increase the amount of data collected on those travelling to the UK before they reach the border, with a target of 95% by December 2010 and 100% by March 2014. It also intended to provide, new and more efficient capabilities by replacing the Semaphore and Warnings Index systems by April 2011. The Department forecast that it would spend £600 million between April 2006 and March 2011 to achieve this.
6.When the Department terminated the contract with Raytheon in 2010 the Department was collecting data on 54% of those travelling to the UK. The decision to terminate the contract with Raytheon cost the Department £150 million in an out of court settlement plus £35 million in legal costs. This came on top of expenditure by the Department between 2006 and 2011 of £342 million of which £156 million had to be written off at the time of termination. The Department does not know how much it spent before April 2006 due to changes in its accounting systems.
7.The former Chief Executive of the UK Border Agency argued that the e-Borders period represented a contract not a programme failure. She accepted that elements of the e-Borders programme had not been delivered as fast as expected but considered that very significant elements of it were in place by the beginning of 2011. She also told us that she would not have terminated the e-Borders contract in 2010, but would have instead “reset” it so it would be implemented more gradually.
8.Following the cancellation of the e-Borders contract, the Department focused on making improvements to existing systems, that the e-Borders programme should have replaced, and improved their resilience. During this time coverage rose gradually so that, by September 2015, the Department was collecting data on 86% of those travelling to the UK, still short of the target it was supposed to have delivered in 2010. The Department was emphatic that our borders are secure, but agreed that border processes are currently inefficient. The Department is still using systems that the e-Borders programme should have replaced, albeit with significant improvements to resilience and capacity, and does not now expect to replace them with a single integrated system until 2019, eight years later than planned.
9.The Major Projects Authority (MPA) has consistently found problems with the successor programmes. Since 2010 the MPA has conducted eight reviews of the programme and has given an overall red or amber-red rating in seven of them, pointing to serious concerns with the deliverability of the programmes. While the Department agrees with the ratings it has received, it does not consider that the succession of bad reviews points to an underlying problem and instead told us that it had implemented all the recommendations the MPA had made.
10.Between April 2011 and March 2015 the Department spent £303 million on successor programmes. This brings the total known spend on e-Borders and its successor programmes to £830 million. The Department expects to spend a further £275 million by 2019, when the old systems are expected to have been replaced, bringing the total cost of e-Borders and successor programmes to over £1 billion (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Expenditure on e-Borders and successor programmes
Source: C&AG report, Figure 5 and paragraph 1.26
11.The Department claims to check the passports of 100% of individuals that come through border control points, with 86% checked in advance of arrival. However, these numbers do not take any account of those that enter the country via land from the Republic of Ireland, or full account of those that travel via smaller craft known as general aviation or general maritime. The Department told us that the UK has 11,000 miles of coast and some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and has processes for knowing about smaller craft and makes a risk-based decision on whether to check passports or not. The Department does not have an estimate of how many people enter the country unchecked via these routes as it does not know how many people have had their passports checked against the Warnings Index.
12.The National Audit Office found that the Department also lacks robust measures on the effectiveness of new capabilities. The Department told us that, since 2010, over 20,000 arrests had resulted from advance checks. These individuals may have been arrested anyway when their passports were checked at the UK border, but the Department considered that advance checks added value by allowing the authorities time to prepare for their arrival. Between August 2014 and July 2015, 355 people were stopped from leaving their country of origin due to advance checks. Legal changes were made in April 2015 which widened the number of people who could be stopped from travelling and the Department told us that the number stopped now stood at some 900. The Department noted that estimating the financial and economic value of preventing someone travelling was very difficult; preventing someone arriving with invalid travel documentation saves around £15,000 in removal costs, but the value of stopping a person who may pose a threat to national security was impossible to estimate. The Department explained that this complexity was the reason why the original business case for e-Borders had a negative net present value.
13.The Department accepted that the systems it has do not provide all the management information it would like and noted that the new system it is developing will improve this situation. However, improvements could be up to three years away and it is not clear that they will address problems with the quality of raw data the Department receives, both on those planning to travel to this country and on those persons of interest to the UK authorities, for which the Department has very limited measures. The National Audit Office found that anecdotal evidence raises particular concerns about the quality of data on people of interest on the Warnings Index system.
1 E-borders and successor programmes
7 , ,
16 The Common Travel Area is formed of the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland. A person who has been examined for the purpose of immigration control at the point at which he entered the area does not normally require leave to enter any other part of it.
Prepared 1 March 2016