Friday, July 21, 2006


Reid Knows the Home Office Won't Get Sorted

John Reid has declared himself to be part of the Home Office farce with comical promises and a worst possible solution for the chunk of his Department concerned with immigration and asylum.

We can imagine the mutual back-slapping between the new Home Secretary and Whitehall mandarins when it was agreed to tow the Immigration & Nationality Directorate out of the harbour and scuttle it. The "arms length" at which the IND will be from both Home Office senior management and ministers is the perfect way for both sides to wash their hands of the immigration and asylum debacle. "Semi-autonomous" means that both Whitehall and Government can distance themselves from the endless bad news and be seen to be trying to do something about the problem in the light of the clear ‘dysfunction’ across the whole of the Home Office; whilst at the same time, the Government will of course retain the dead hand of its news management 'target culture' grip: it will be that much more direct and so even worse.

Another turn in Reid’s vaudeville act on Wednesday was his announcement that he will clear the backlog of failed asylum seekers in five years. This is crazier than the pronouncement by the outgoing immigration minister Tony McNulty on BBC Newsnight that all illegal immigrants will be ‘removed’ in ten years. Had Mr Reid not read the news from his own department the night before? The BBC had revealed that a trawl through Whitehall’s Cinderella department had revealed rather a lot of cardboard files on windowsills covered in post-it notes. The total number of failed asylum seekers was not the 200,000 plus that the Home Office previously had poo-pooed as being an excessive estimate, but 450,000; albeit that who knows how many may have left the country. As with McNulty’s laughable promise re illegal migrants, the problem is that there is no tracking of where any of these people are. Then there is the problem that not just ‘removal’ but even the rarer ‘deportation’ are completely unreliable stats: any individual so labelled may well be roaming the streets months after they were supposedly expelled. At the current rate of ‘removal’ by the Immigration Service, in five years the backlog of failed asylum seekers will have been reduced by about one per cent. Mr Reid knows that there is no danger of him being around to explain this.

There were other scarcely less believable forecasts of cutting down the time it takes to process applications to less than 10% of what it takes at the moment, and a guffaw-inducing ultra precise prediction of a reduction in applications that are expected to come in. As to what actually was to be the means of doing any of what Reid announced, we are possibly to find out next week. When Parliament is safely in recess? Or when the Government has decided what it might do in the light of the tone of the response to Wednesday‘s ‘kite flying‘?

The problems at the Home Office are at every level and in every nook and cranny. There is no prospect in the short to medium term, if ever, of it becoming ’fit for purpose’ other than for its starring role as Whitehall standing joke. Cutting a small proportion of head office staff and deploying them to the periphery is not going to do very much. Staff don't have the training to do the jobs they do already, management is of poor quality given the longstanding recruitment problems, and those at the top are politically driven appointments of those who may think radically but have little idea how to implement the very different sort of radical changes neded. There is a culture of an old creaking way of doing Government hand-in-hand with the glorious excuse of being the lead Government department for ‘equal opportunities and diversity’. Meta issues grab Home Office minds and not only distract from the real work they are supposed to do but directly hinder implementation of policy. The ethos of political correctness fascism ensures that applicants to migrate here are regarded as having an inalienable right to do so unless special reason is found not to admit them. Poorly trained staff under pressure not to reject more than a very small proportion and not to waste time checking evidence -- on pain of disciplinary action -- are forced to comply with the Home Office‘s refusal to perform a gateway function. This suits both senior management and their political masters, given that life is made easier all round and the political correctness outlook of the political classes is a shared one.

What is needed is radical action based on the assumption that the Home Office is an ongoing basket case. Instead of a quasi independent IND there has to be a genuinely separate Government department, and one that has the capacity to remove functions from the Home Office and also from the DWP -- which catastrophically fails to check the immigration status of those claiming benefits or trying to get a National Insurance number. Threatening ‘empire’ is perhaps the only language mandarins understand. The new ministry should be the home of the ID card database, which can be used as the focus of an integrated system to prevent those living here illegally from having a normal life. If the Home Office can’t and won’t act as a gateway for our borders, then we will have to erect internal gateways, where detailed residence history will have to be provided the fist time an individual makes an attempt to access benefits, claim tax credits, get a passport or a NINO, etc. A new ministry that houses the various bits that for a long time have not been on speaking terms might seem like the rationale behind Colditz, but it cannot conceiveably be worse than the status quo!

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