Tag Archives: National Audit Office

£850 million spent on managing foreign national offenders in UK during 2013-2014 but Home Office making “slower progress than expected” states NAO

Despite increased resources and the introduction of tougher powers, the Home Office has made “slower progress than expected” in managing foreign national offenders in the UK and in removing them to their home countries.

Today’s report published by the National Audit Office (NAO) highlights the fact that the number of foreign national offenders in prison and the numbers deported from the UK have remained broadly unchanged since 2006.

Across that period, the number of foreign nationals in prison in the UK increased slightly (by 4%) from 10,231 to 10,649 despite a ten-fold rise in the number of Home Office staff working on foreign national offender casework.

In the wake of an initial surge in the numbers removed from 2,856 in 2006-2007 to 5,613 in 2008-2009 (following the problems in 2006 when the Home Office discovered that 1,013 foreign national offenders had been released without being considered for deportation), removal numbers have now declined to 5,097 in 2013-2014.

With regard to prevention and early action, according to the NAO “the Government did relatively little” before December 2012 to tackle the problem of potential foreign national offenders entering the UK. A new 2013 Action Plan focused efforts on this aspect of prevention but, suggests the NAO, it lacks “a structured and informed approach”.

The Home Office is looking at better use of intelligence databases and has changed its immigration rules, but progress in modernising its border information system – designated the Warnings Index – has been slow. Indeed, the NAO estimates that £70 million could be saved every year if all early identification opportunities were duly seized and acted upon.

Despite increased resources and tougher powers, the Home Office has made slower progress than expected in managing foreign national offenders in the UK and in removing them to their home countries

Despite increased resources and tougher powers, the Home Office has made slower progress than expected in managing foreign national offenders in the UK and in removing them to their home countries

Barriers to removal are “considerable”

Today’s NAO report recognises that the barriers to foreign national offender removals are “considerable”. These barriers include foreign national offenders exploiting legal and medical obstacles to their removal. However, the spending watchdog identifies measures and opportunities for making progress which are not being maximised.

An analysis of 1,453 failed removals in 2013-2014 indicates that at least one third might have been avoided through “better co-ordination of the bodies involved” and “fewer administrative errors”.

Following a change of approach from April 2013 onwards, all foreign national offenders are now considered for deportation. This has increased removal numbers from 4,722 in 2012-2013 to 5,097 in 2013-2014.

The time taken to deport foreign national offenders has also reduced from an average of 369 days in 2012-2013 to 319 days come 2013-2014. However, according to the NAO, delays in starting cases and an over-reliance on form-filling mean that there remains “considerable scope” for speeding up the process.

Greater use of early removal schemes could also save money. The NAO estimates that the 37% of foreign national offenders who left as part of the Early Removal Scheme in 2013-2014 saved £27.5 million by reducing the average number of days spent in prison by 146.

The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice do not use cost data to manage foreign national offenders, but the NAO estimates that, during 2013-2014, public bodies spent no less than £850 million on managing and removing these offenders. That figure equates to around £70,000 per offender.

The NAO states that, since 2006, the Home Office has made “limited progress” in removing foreign national offenders who’ve completed their sentences. By the end of March this year, more than one-in-six foreign national offenders living in the community (760, in fact) had absconded. This figure represents a rise of 6% since 2010.

Furthermore, 395 absconders have been missing since before 2010. 58 of them are designated ‘high harm individuals’.

Despite the 2006 crisis, the Home Office did not keep records of foreign national offenders released without consideration for deportation before January 2009. The Department estimates that 151 such offenders have been released without consideration since that point in time.

Amyas Morse: head of the National Audit Office

Amyas Morse: head of the National Audit Office

Commenting on today’s report, Amyas Morse – head of the National Audit Office – stated: “It’s no easy matter to manage foreign national offenders in the UK and to deport those who have completed their sentences. However, too little progress has been made, despite the increased resources and effort devoted to this problem.”

Morse added: “The Government’s focus on preventative measures and early action is promising, but it has only just started to exploit these options. The Government needs to build on the momentum of its recent Action Plan, in particular taking advantage of relatively inexpensive and straightforward opportunities to make progress.”

Foreign national offenders in the UK: the top line statistics

12,250
Foreign national offenders in England and Wales serving in prison and living in the community after prison pending removal action (as at the end of March 2014)

5,100
Foreign national offenders removed from the UK (during 2013-2014)

£850 million
The NAO’s estimate of public spending on managing and removing foreign national offenders (during 2013-2014)

10,650
Foreign nationals in the prison estate in England and Wales as at 31 March 2014 (of whom 2,600 were on remand or not sentenced)

30%
Proportion of arrested foreign nationals on which police carried out an overseas criminal record check through the ACPO Criminal Records Office (2013-2014)

1 in 25
Foreign national offender files arriving at the Home Office to start processing for removal which have sufficient identity documents

139
Number of days (on average) foreign national offenders are removed from the UK after the end of their sentence in 2013-2014

146
Prison days saved (on average) as a result of foreign national offenders being removed as part of early removal schemes in 2013-2014

37%
Proportion of foreign national offenders removed from the UK which were part of early removal schemes (2013-2014)

4,200
Foreign national offenders living in the community pending removal at the end of March 2014

1 in 6
Foreign national offenders living in the community that had absconded at the end of March 2014

151
Departmental estimate of foreign national offenders released from prison without being considered for deportation (January 2009-March 2014)

Comment from the Committee of Public Accounts

The Committee of Public Accounts is appointed by the House of Commons to examine “the accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted to Parliament to meet the public expenditure, and of such other accounts laid before Parliament as the Committee may think fit”.

Margaret Hodge MP – current chair of the Committee of Public Accounts – has commented on the NAO report.

“The Committee of Public Accounts has said that deporting foreign national offenders would be the best way of reducing the cost of the prison system,” declared Hodge, “and yet the Government’s performance in reducing the number of foreign national prisoners continues to be frustratingly poor. I’m astounded that the number of foreign nationals in prisons has increased to 10,649 since 2006 and that, of those released, 760 currently waiting to be deported have disappeared and around 150 are thought not to have been considered for deportation.”

The MP continued: “It’s appalling that only 30% of potential foreign national offenders in custody were searched on immigration databases to see if they had committed crimes overseas.”

Margaret Hodge MP

Margaret Hodge MP

In addition, Hodge said: “All this is despite the ten-fold increase in the number of officials working to deport foreign national offenders, from fewer than 100 officials to over 900, and an estimated £850 million of taxpayers’ money spent on managing and removing foreign national offenders in 2013-2014. It beggars belief that the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are managing the removal of foreign national offenders without knowing basic costs and how best to target their resources.”

As far as Hodge is concerned: “Government is not helping itself. The continued use of outdated IT and too much reliance on form-filling means that crucial checks and information gathering are not happening at the right time. Given its poor track record, Government will need to take huge strides in order to improve its management of foreign national offenders through its still-evolving 2013 cross-Government Action Plan.”

Officials from the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are due to appear before the Committee on 5 November.

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National Audit Office issues update on UK Government’s National Cyber Security Programme

The National Audit Office has published an update on the Government’s National Cyber Security Programme for the Committee of Public Accounts.

The Programme’s objectives include tackling cyber crime and making the United Kingdom one of the most secure places in the world in which to do business.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report finds that the Government has made good progress in improving its understanding of the most sophisticated threats to national security. However, the level of understanding of threats to wider public services is varied.

While exports in UK cyber products and services have increased by 22% between 2012 and 2013, progress in encouraging trade and exports has been slow and, according to the NAO’s survey of stakeholders, this is the objective against which the Government currently has the poorest performance.

Some progress has been made in encouraging businesses and citizens to mitigate risks, particularly in enticing larger companies to take action. That said, the Government has had a limited impact in targeting SMEs and struggled to communicate guidance in a way that meets their needs.

The UK Government has made good progress in improving its understanding of the most sophisticated threats to national security

The UK Government has made good progress in improving its understanding of the most sophisticated threats to national security

The Programme’s financial management and governance mechanisms are strong, and the Government is on track to spend the Programme’s budget of £860 million by March 2016.

Overall, the NAO finds that Government continues to make good progress in implementing the Programme, which is helping to build capability, mitigate risk and change attitudes. Cyber threats, however, continue to evolve and Government must increase the pace of change in some areas to meet its objectives.

Valid concerns that must be addressed

Responding to the report, Hugh Boyes from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) commented: “While the Government’s investment in this area has increased the capability for the public sector, there is still much to be done to strengthen UK industry. The report highlights industry concerns about the confusing range of advice available and the lack of cyber security skills. These are valid concerns that need to be addressed.”

Boyes continued: “The current cyber security skills initiatives have been focused on providing the skills for individuals employed in cyber security roles. This is a short term solution which does not address the need to improve the security awareness and skills of everyone involved in the design, production and use of software-based systems. That requires significant investment in education and training at all levels in the UK to ensure that software is trustworthy and that those involved in its development and maintenance are applying software engineering Best Practice.”

In conclusion, Boyes explained: “The recent interest in cyber security and cars highlights how this is an issue that extends far beyond our desktop and tablet computers.”

Industry demand for the cyber security skills needed to tackle cyber car crime and the other areas of our business and personal lives threatened by security issues is growing all the time. Only recently, a free online course was launched with support from the Government. The course is designed to inspire the next generation of cyber security professionals.

The MOOC – Massive Open Online Course – has been developed in conjunction with the Open University and support from the IET, and is the first of its kind anywhere in the world to gain Government backing. For more information visit: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/introduction-to-cyber-security

Cyber security measures must be part of the Government’s smart metering programme

As the Public Accounts Committee publishes its report on the Update on Preparations for Smart Metering, engineers are warning of the need for cyber security measures to be an integral part of the programme.

Dr Simon Harrison of the IET said: “The Public Accounts Committee report does not mention the issue of cyber security. The IET has consistently argued that end-to-end consideration of cyber security has to be a key feature of the smart metering system which will become a part of the nation’s critical infrastructure. It’s crucial that all possible steps are taken to ensure the smart meter system will stand up to the continuing cyber security threat.”

Harrison went on to state: “Smart meters and the smart grid are part of a Critical National Infrastructure which should be planned, designed and managed as a system. The most important role for smart meters is to enable the smart grid, which is needed to support increased renewable energy, electric vehicles and domestic heat pumps and to avoid having to dig up a lot of streets to install new electricity infrastructure.”

Continuing this theme, Harrison explained: “The smart metering programme is challenging in its own right, but it’s the first stage of the building of the smart grid that will be essential for cost-effective and secure low carbon electricity in the future. When considering the costs of the smart metering system, it’s essential that the features designed to enable a future smart grid are taken into account.”

The IET’s concerns centre on examples of systems engineering, a subject that Harrison suggests is currently under-valued in Government. “The IET believes that a professional systems architect function needs to be established and, indeed, will be essential if the UK is to achieve the transition to low carbon electricity both securely and on an affordable basis.”

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NAO publishes Memorandum for Parliament on electronic monitoring contracts

The National Audit Office has published a Memorandum for Parliament setting out the events surrounding the Ministry of Justice’s process in 2013 to retender its electronic monitoring contracts, currently with private contractors G4S and Serco, and its subsequent decision to commission a forensic audit of the contracts by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Today’s report also covers the main findings of that audit.

Following completion of the PwC forensic audit, the Department is in dispute with G4S and Serco over the amount of money by which the Department may have been overcharged for electronic monitoring services under the current contracts.

Both contractors are also now subject to a criminal investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

The National Audit Office has published a memorandum for Parliament setting out the events surrounding the Ministry of Justice’s process in 2013 to retender its electronic monitoring contracts

The National Audit Office has published a Memorandum for Parliament setting out the events surrounding the Ministry of Justice’s process in 2013 to retender its electronic monitoring contracts

The Department believes that both providers charged for work that had not taken place in a way that was outside what was set out in the contracts for the electronic monitoring of offenders.

PwC’s estimate is that the potential overcharge by both providers in total may amount to tens of millions of pounds.

Examples of disputed billing practices

The NAO’s report includes examples of disputed billing practices which show that, in some instances, both contractors were charging the Department for monitoring fees for months or years after electronic monitoring activity had ceased, over similar timescales where electronic monitoring never occurred and multiple times for the same individual if that person was subject to more than one electronic monitoring order concurrently.

Both contractors have said that, in their view, such charging was in line with the terms of the contract.

G4S has since stated, however, that it now views that interpretation as inappropriate. The company has said that it intends to offer the Ministry £23.3 million in credit notes in respect of issues it has identified to date.

Serco has stated that it will refund any amounts that it agrees represents overcharging.

The Department has not currently agreed to any refund offers made by the providers.

The NAO does not draw any conclusions on contractual interpretation.

Read the full report issued by the National Audit Office

About the National Audit Office

The National Audit Office scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of Government.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Amyas Morse, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 860 staff.

The C&AG certifies the accounts of all Government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively and with economy.

Its studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. The NAO’s recommendations and reports on good practice help Government improve public services, while its work led to audited savings of almost £1.2 billion in 2012.

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