Home Office chief reveals two thirds of users also need to be trained
Credit: Steve Parsons/PA
Only one in 15 of the total number of staff that will be soon be required to run the new digital system for managing border crossings is currently up and running on the technology.
The tool for managing entries and departures in the post-Brexit world – part of the Home Office’s Digital Services at the Border programme – is expected to need at least 4,350 Border Force staff “to meet the anticipated operational demand from 30 June 2021”, according to the department’s permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft.
Four months away from this date, little more than a third of this amount – 1,600 – have so far been trained. And, since the rollout began at the start of December, only about one in 15 of the necessary staff numbers have begun operating the platform, with Rycroft telling the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that “approximately 300 are currently using the live system”.
“The department is confident that we will meet the 4,350 staff trained target. Users are trained as close as possible to the time they use the system, to ensure maximum retention of skills and knowledge,” he said, in a letter to committee chair Meg Hillier. “Figures increase daily as Border Crossing is rolled out to new ports each week. Border Force has the ability and flexibility within the training programme to be able to increase or decrease training to meet any changes in operational demands.”
The total of 4,350 users is based on what would be needed to cope with the approximately 140 million people that typically arrive in the UK each year. But the system can support “is designed and scaled to support the use of the system by 7,000 potential users at launch”, Rycroft said.
Elsewhere in the letter, the Home Office chief revealed that, of the additional expenditure of £173m that was added to the cost of the Digital Services at the Border programme as part of a recent reset, the biggest single chunk, £50m related to Border Crossing.
Some £30m of this related to development and testing of the system, including “data security classification changes; the ability to check the current immigration status, including the EU Settled Status, of each passenger; and interfaces with other Home Office systems”.
A total of £9m was spent on “building and equipping datacentres”, with £5m dedicated to improving security, £3m for improving the interface linking the system to e-passport gates, and £3m to support “real-time connectivity to the Interpol stolen and lost travel documents database”.