Border Agency 'cut too many staff'
The troubled UK Border Agency has cut too many staff too quickly and is now having to hire extra people and increase overtime to meet demands, Whitehall's spending watchdog says.
Instead of slowing down staff cuts when it emerged an automated system designed to save money was both a year late and tens of millions of pounds over budget, the UKBA increased the speed of its planned changes, the National Audit Office (NAO) said.
More than 1,000 staff over and above the planned reductions were lost last year, performance dropped and there is little evidence of the strong leadership needed to resolve the problems, the report added.
Border Force staff working at Heathrow Airport, one of its most high-profile and oft-criticised operations, also appeared reluctant to take up more changes.
A voluntary system where staff work a set number of hours each year, rather than each week was taken up by 62% of staff, saving almost a fifth (£613,000) of premium payments and overtime in the first six months of 2011/12. But less than a third (32%) of staff at Heathrow joined the scheme, meaning payments there increased 8%.
Changes were also brought in cautiously, "partly through concern about industrial relations, but also piecemeal, without evaluating their potential impact", the report said. A lack of integration, with some 120 separate targets and significant changes being made "independent of headcount reduction", affected both efficiency and performance, it said.
Some 22,580 staff were employed by the UKBA, including the Border Force, in April last year, but this had dropped to 20,469 by April this year, figures showed.
"In 2011-12, the agency's workforce reduced by over 1,000 more than planned, despite the fact that progress was slower than expected in the ICW programme and workforce modernisation at the border, and no agency-wide skills strategy was yet in place," the report said.
A Home Office spokesman said: "We're under no illusions about the scale of the challenge in transforming the UK Border Agency and Border Force and we have already saved huge sums of taxpayers' money, overhauled our business planning and improved performance in key areas of our work.
"Both organisations have now been reorganised into smaller, more focused agencies capable of delivering the further improvements that the public expects and deserves to see."