The Home Office (the Department) has presided over a litany of failure in nearly 20 years of non-delivery of digital border programmes, with significant delays introducing additional costs to taxpayers, continued dependency on contractors to maintain legacy programmes, and delayed delivery of benefits to Border Force officers, other users and passengers. The Digital Services at the Border (DSAB) programme is crucial to delivering the Department’s overall objectives for national security at the border to protect the public from terrorism, crime, illegal immigration and trafficking, and is vital for facilitating the legitimate movement of people across the border. Following the 2011 abandonment of the e-borders programme which it began in 2003 and despite assurances from numerous senior Departmental officials over the years, the Department has now delayed delivery of its original objective of improved information at the border by a further three years, with little demonstrable lesson learning. The Department failed to respond to or address risks and problems flagged to the programme board earlier in the DSAB programme and false assurances about progress left the Department unable to act on accurate information.
The Department failed to deliver the DSAB programme by the March 2019 target it originally planned, with delays so far costing £173 million. It has since reset with a reduced scope and a plan to deliver three years later, pushing delivery back to the end of March 2022. It started its latest roll out of the Border Crossing part of the programme in December 2020, but Border Crossing is so far being used by only 300 staff, well short of the 7,000 who should be using the system by June 2021 and previous attempts to roll out Border Crossing experienced technical difficulties. The Department has yet to deliver another core part of the reset DSAB programme—modernising rather than replacing Semaphore—and must also manage interdependencies with other programmes (Data Futures, e-gates) if it is to deliver the practical benefits for frontline Border Force officers, other users and passengers. The Department is planning for more than 140 million passengers a year to pass through its the new DSAB systems; but it has not yet shown that the new systems will be able to cope with existing volumes, let alone a 6% annual increase to this scale of activity.