Staff were carrying out all border security checks as required at Birmingham airport and demonstrated an excellent customer service ethos, found the Chief Inspector, John Vine, during his inspection. However, he was concerned to find the biometric chip reading facility had been deactivated on a number of occasions in the months prior to the inspection. Two-thirds of these deactivations were caused by contingency staff working at the border.
Birmingham Airport is the UK’s seventh busiest airport and the third busiest outside London, processing over 8.5 million passengers and just under 84,000 flights in 2011. This inspection followed up on the findings of the Chief Inspector’s investigation into border security checks in February 2012, looking at what action has been taken by Border Force to ensure all appropriate security checks are undertaken. As a result of that inspection, Border Force published an Operating Mandate in July 2012, which set out the checks which Border Force officers must conduct on arriving passengers.
The Chief Inspector found that Border Force staff:
• were fully aware of the Operating Mandate and all border security checks at the Primary Control Point (PCP) were being carried out at the time of the inspection;
• demonstrated excellent customer service when interacting with passengers, and effectively promoted the complaints process;
• were complying with the statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
However, the Chief Inspector also found that:
• between January and September 278 passengers came through the PCP when the biometric chip reading facility had been deactivated. This is one of the mandatory checks required to assist in establishing that the passenger is the rightful holder of the passport or travel document;
• senior managers considered a significant contributing factor to this was that contingency staff did not receive training on this function;
• positive action was taken by Border Force after our inspection to prevent further deactivations. In addition, other security checks were carried out on these 278 passengers;
• conflicting guidance was in place in relation to the action’s staff should take when intercepting passengers suspected of customs offences. As a result, central record keeping about the use of powers to intercept passengers suspected of customs offences and conduct covert baggage searches was incomplete;
• ineffective management assurance processes had failed to identify these issues and overarching guidance had not been updated to clarify the correct process required of staff.
John Vine CBE QPM, Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, said:
“I was pleased to find that at the time of our inspection all border security checks were being completed on passengers. I also found a good customer service ethos with staff dealing professionally and courteously with passengers at all times.
However, I was concerned to find that in the months before the inspection, checks on the biometric chips within passports had not been carried out on 278 occasions. Equally concerning was that these breaches of the Operating Mandate only came to light through our inspection and were not identified by Border Force’s management.
I was also disappointed to find that problems continue to exist in relation to the secondary control area, which deals with the interceptions of passengers suspected of customs offences. I found conflicting guidance was in place in regard to what action staff should take when intercepting passengers suspected of customs offences and when conducting covert bag searches.
I found there was no central record to show occasions where covert baggage searches were carried out, but no seizures were made. The absence of these records meant that no assurance could be provided to demonstrate that this power was being used in a lawful, proportionate and controlled manner.
Border Force must ensure a single source of clear guidance is available and that it introduces more effective management assurance to ensure poor practice or operational failures are identified and addressed quickly.”
The Chief Inspector made two recommendations to Border Force; to ensure that there is a single set of operational guidance that is maintained and kept up-to-date; and that managers undertake regular and effective audit and assurance activity to ensure staff are complying with policy, guidance and legislation that covers their work activities.
A PDF copy of the report can be downloaded here.