By Winnie.Agbonlahor

21 Aug 2014

Winnie Agbonlahor hears new director general regret past 'last of investment in leadership.'

A long-term lack of investment in leadership in the Border Force has dampened morale among the organisation’s staff, its chief, Sir Charles Montgomery, told the Home Affairs Select Committee on 22 July.

Asked by committee member Michael Ellis what he was doing to improve his staff’s confidence in senior management following a People Survey that revealed “some dissatisfaction in the vision for the future”, Montgomery said: “[The] endemic problems surrounding change — lack of investment in leadership over many years — have left us with a position that is going to take some time to [improve].”

While he accepted that morale “is low”, he was keen to emphasise that it was better than “just over a year ago”, when “the Border Force was an organisation with low morale… because of the discontinuity in leadership, the lack of investment in leadership, and the way in which change had been managed in the Border Force.” 

Home secretary Theresa May appointed Montgomery as director general of the organisation in January 2013 — a year after she announced that the body
would become a separate entity, split from the now-defunct UK Border Agency.

At the time, she told MPs that the organisation “needs a whole new management culture” and that it would “become a separate operational command, with its own ethos of law enforcement, led by its own director general, and accountable directly to ministers”. 

From March 2012, the Border Force was transitioned into a directorate within the Home Office; a process that lasted almost a year. The rest of the UKBA subsequently followed it into its parent body, experiencing its own protracted period of organisational change and disruption.

Montgomery replaced interim DG Tony Smith, who led the Border Force for less than a year following the unexpected departure of his predecessor Brian Moore after just six months in the job. Before Moore, Brodie Clark was director general – but he was famously forced out by May, leading to the Home Office agreeing a settlement in an employment tribunal.

This continuous uncertainty “is very detrimental to morale”, senior Institute for Government (IfG) researcher Jonathan Pearson told CSW, with the latest changes implemented “effectively so the department could keep a tighter rein on the organisation”. 

Pearson, who led on two IfG reports covering ‘Leading change in the civil service’ and ‘transforming Whitehall departments’, said any substantial organisational changes can only be managed successfully if managers commit to “communication, and being honest with people about the problem and what has led to [them] wanting change”.

If managers effectively communicate that they want to achieve improvement, he said, staff are likely to come on board. But, he added, given tightened
budgets and other pressures, “softer” management skills — corporate and collective leadership — can often be left on the sidelines. And that, he explained, is “what [Montgomery] probably meant by ‘lack of investment in leadership’.”

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