Consistent failure to meet eight-week guidelines is latest in a number of instances in which department has published data late or not at all
Last year the Home Office failed to publish a single report by the independent watchdog responsible for scrutinising its work within its own eight-week target, it has emerged.
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), David Bolt, submitted 14 reports to the Home Office in the 2019 calendar year detailing the findings of probes into various aspects of the department’s policy, procedures and publications.
It has so far published eight and has yet to make six public. The department aims to lay these reports before parliament within eight weeks of receiving from the chief inspector, per a 2014 commitment by then-home secretary Theresa May.
The eight-week timeframe is not a hard deadline. Home Office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford reiterated last February that “wherever possible, the department will lay ICIBI reports before parliament within eight weeks of receipt, or as soon as possible thereafter”.
But the latest count reveals that delays have become the norm.
The six as-yet-unpublished reports were all submitted to the department more than three months ago, and three are now six months old.
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In the most severe case, the Home Office has yet to publish the inspectorate’s findings from its re-inspection of the department’s complaints-handling procedure, which it received on 4 July – nearly 30 weeks ago.
Of those reports the Home Office has made public, one concerning the EU settlement scheme came a day shy of the eight-week guideline, while another on Border Force operations at Glasgow and Edinburgh airports was not published for four and a half months.
In his 2017-18 annual report, Bolt said delays “inevitably raise questions about my independence and about the Home Office’s management of ‘bad news’”, adding that “publication of several reports on the same day may affect the media coverage each receives and therefore how widely they are read”.
He said he had urged the Home Office to act on his recommendations before reports were laid before parliament.
“This happens in some cases, but the department has often moved more slowly than I had hoped it would,” he said.
The following year, Bolt added: “Whatever the reasons, some of which I accept are beyond the Home Office’s control, the effect is to slow down the flow of reports.”
This month the chief inspector submitted two reports to the Home Office on family reunification applications and administrative reviews. There is still time for the department to publish them within its self-imposed guidelines.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “It is important that full consideration is given to the recommendations made in ICIBI reports. In some circumstances, this will take longer than usual due to the complexity or importance of the recommendations.”
The delays in the publication of ICIBI reports is the latest in a number of instances of the department failing to release transparency data and other information, or doing so belatedly.
For eight consecutive quarters, the Home Office has failed to publish updates on approved exceptions to government spending controls.
The Cabinet Office – which oversees the controls themselves – mandates that departments publish quarterly updates on all occasions in which they have been approved to spend money outside of the spend-control requirements.
Most departments stick fairly reliably to this regular publication schedule, with data for the current fiscal year’s second quarter – covering July to September 2019 – published by numerous departments last week.
The last batch of information released by the Home Office covered the corresponding period of 2017.
In response to recent a freedom of information request from PublicTechnology, the department declined to release to us the information in question. Nor did it reveal why it has failed to publish this data for two years and counting, nor whether it has faced any censure for doing so, and if and when it plans to publish the outstanding data.
In an explanatory note it did, however, indicate that it intends to clear the backlog and “as soon as possible”.
It added: “Going forward the Home Office will work with the Cabinet Office to ensure [we] are able to publish current and future data releases in line with Cabinet Office timelines.”
The department also recently admitted that it was unable to share some immigration statistics as the relevant data was contained only in paper case files or in other formats that are not “reportable”.
The Home Office had been asked, via a written parliamentary question from Labour MP Catherine West, to provide information on the number of asylum seekers granted permission to work in the UK during 2019.
Having been unable to answer this question, a departmental spokesperson told PublicTechnology that the ongoing rollout of a new immigration case-working system would ultimately “remove the requirement for paper files”.