Independent Chief Inspector appears before the Home Affairs Select Committee

On Tuesday 2 March, the Independent Chief Inspector, John Vine, gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on his latest inspections of the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

The Committee’s Chairman, the Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, thanked John Vine for the ‘very good progress’ made by the inspectorate and praised him for an ‘excellent’ first annual report.

The Independent Chief Inspector was asked by David Winnick MP about his recent inspection report: ‘Asylum: Getting the Balance Right?’, in particular the UKBA’s performance around clearing unresolved legacy cases by July 2011.

John Vine told the Committee: ‘The Border Agency needs to be clearing far more per month than we found in our inspection report. And, that’s why I made the recommendation that the Border Agency should produce an action plan to show how they are going to clear this backlog by the declared date of July 2011.’

Mr Winnick MP went on to ask the Chief Inspector to explain his finding that targets on concluding asylum cases are set by management without consulting frontline staff.

Mr Vine explained: ‘People on the frontline tend to have a lot of opinions about how the job that they’re doing can be done more effectively. I found a dearth of evidence of that happening and I would like to encourage the Border Agency to do that more, and that’s why I made that recommendation in the report.’

James Clappison MP asked the Chief Inspector if he was concerned about a new ‘backlog’ of asylum cases since 2006.

John Vine responded: ‘Yes, I am. I’m concerned that at the time of inspection we found that there were 29,474 cases that had been created around the New Asylum Model. What I’m concerned about now is that some of the targets, for example the 90 per cent of asylum cases to be achieved within six months, are driving behaviour which means that many of these new asylum cases are being put to one side, in order to concentrate on the cohort of cases that enables the Border Agency to achieve its target in the milestone month.’

The Chief Inspector told the Committee that despite his concerns about the Agency achieving published targets, he was confident that the New Asylum Model was driving improvements in performance.

‘The New Asylum Model is a new system and a good system – it’s been commended by the National Audit Office when they looked at Asylum at the beginning of last year – and I think it’s a system which should be supported and which will bode well for the future. But having a queue of cases relating to that particular model I think is concerning.”

Mrs Ann Cryer MP asked the Chief Inspector about his expectations relating to the UKBA accepting his recommendations included in his inspection reports.

John Vine said: ‘There’s no point me making recommendations unless some action is going to be taken and things change. I’ve been very encouraged by the co-operation of the Border Agency at a senior level. There’s been good co-operation on the ground. The vast majority, if not all, the recommendations I’ve made have been accepted, so the next stage is to make sure things have changed.’

The full session is available on www.parliament.uk

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