The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration has hit out at the Home Office for failing to publish his reports on time, continuing long-running frustrations about the department's handling of inspection reports.
David Neal, who was appointed to the role in March 2021, set out his frustration in a press release published on gov.uk on Monday, that his small boats report had not been published more than 20 weeks after he handed it in.
The report and the Home Office's response were published on gov.uk today, two days after he publicly complained and almost 13 weeks late.
Home secretary Priti Patel has committed to publish ICIBI reports within eight weeks but Neal said only two out his 12 reports have been published within this timeframe.
“The failure to publish within the period suggested begins to devalue the purpose of independent oversight, and continued failure to publish such an important report infringes on my independence,” Neal said.
Neal's comments echo those of his predecessor, David Bolt, who said delays in publishing reports “undermine the impact and value” of the inspector role.
The vast majority of Bolt's reports – which covered areas such as the asylum system, the EU settlement scheme and e-passports – were published outside the eight-week deadline. In 2019,the Home Office failed to publish any of the 14 reports he submitted to the department within that timeframe.
In the latest instance, Neal his report to the home secretary on 24 February – it should have been published by 25 April.
He said he believes the reason for the delay is unrelated to the findings of the report.
“I have spoken with senior officials at the Home Office, and I do not think that there is any disagreement with the content of the report or the recommendations,” Neal said.
“I understand they have some concern about the tone of my foreword, and I suspect this is part of the reason for the delay.”
In the foreword, Neal speaks describes levels of data keeping as "system failure", says effective safeguarding has been sacrificed for a focus on strategy and adds that a new model for borders and enforcement is "desperately required".
The inspection examined border security and vulnerability at the now closed Tug Haven facility and Western Jet Foil, both in Dover, between September 2021 and December 2022.
A report by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons published in November 2021, after unannounced inspection visits to Tug Haven in October, found very poor treatment and conditions, including failure to detect injuries and safeguarding concerns.
A new permanent site in Manston is now fully operational, while Western Jet Foil also still being used as part of a new two-site tegy.
Neal said on Monday that there is a “strong public interest” in the report being published.
"I fear that unless it is laid before parliament this week there will be yet further delay over the summer recess,” Neal added at the time.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “It is right and proper for the government to take time and fully consider recommendations suggested in independent reports before agreeing to make changes to policies”.
The report makes recommendations on improving staff training, data collection – described as "inexcusably awful" by Neal in the report – and reviewing operational staffing requirements. The Home Office said in its response to the report that it accepts all the recommendations and, in many cases, had already begun work to address the issues at the time of inspection.
"Almost all of the recommendations have now been addressed, both through the implementation of revised processes, and in the separation of welfare and immigration functions through the two-site model," the Home Office added.