Border Force staff at Stansted were carrying out all immigration security checks effectively and meeting queuing standards, but insufficient resources were allocated to customs functions. These were among the findings in the Chief Inspector’s inspection report on Stansted Airport.
The inspection assessed the efficiency and effectiveness of Border Force operations at Stansted Airport, which is the fourth-busiest airport in the UK, after Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester. It is used by a number of major European low-cost carriers and in 2012 over 17 million passengers used it to travel to 30 countries, mainly within the European Union.
The Chief Inspector found that:
• staff were complying fully with the Border Force Operating Mandate across both immigration and customs work and service standards for passenger queuing times were being met;
• all passengers who were the subject of high/medium intelligence alerts for suspected smuggling were being met by staff, who showed a great deal of resilience and professionalism in the face of fluctuating resources;
• Border Force had a positive relationship with its operating partners, and a good understanding of its operating responsibilities;
• Border Force was using legislation effectively to impose and, more importantly, collect civil penalties on airlines who failed to prevent incorrectly-documented passengers from reaching the UK.
However, the Chief Inspector also found that:
• the requirement to manage 100% checks on arriving passengers, combined with meeting queuing time standards, meant that insufficient resources were allocated to customs functions;
• an absence of staff in the customs channels removed an important visible deterrent of border security;
• targeting of fast-parcels traffic was not being performed as often as was required and delays in the examination of high-risk parcels occurred regularly. When examinations were undertaken, they were often rushed and were completed to varying standards, therefore increasing the likelihood that prohibited and restricted goods might go undetected;
• whilst immigration decision-making was generally sound the option of granting Temporary Admission was used infrequently in cases where further enquiries should have been made, and in two cases entry was granted when it should not have been;
• immigration staff who had undergone cross-training that allowed them to undertake both immigration and customs functions, were unable to put their training into practice in the customs arena;
• record-keeping and assurance activity was poor across most areas we inspected and many of the failures we identified were either unknown to managers or undetected by their assurance procedures;
• a weakness in the controls at the airport that meant that outbound passengers could buy duty-free cigarettes or tobacco, and then leave the airport without travelling abroad;
• Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) procedures and guidance were breached on more than one occasion when passengers were arrested; and
• asylum claimants, who used forged documents to reach the UK, were issued with notices informing them of the likelihood that they would immediately be arrested and prosecuted for this offence.
Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine CBE QPM, said:
“Stansted is the fourth-busiest airport in the UK after Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester. I was pleased to find that the requirements of the Border Force Operating Mandate were being met across both immigration and customs work.
The operation of the civil penalty scheme was also working well and I was pleased that financial recovery was effective.
However, I was surprised to find so little visible border force presence in the customs channels. These resources are important both to detect smugglers and provide a deterrent to others. In addition it is important for former immigration staff who are trained to undertake customs work, to get the opportunity to do so.
To address these failings the Home Office must act with some urgency to embed a much stronger management assurance framework in all areas of Border Force and ensure compliance with it.”
The Chief Inspector made 11 recommendations for improvement. These included the need for the Home Office to assess its priorities and review whether the additional recruitment at Stansted will be sufficient to drive improvement across the whole range of immigration and customs activities, and putting in place an effective quality assurance framework.