The immigration inspector has urged the Home Office to reverse a long-term trend of increasing delays to the publication of his office’s inspection reports, which he said “undermine the impact and value” of the watchdog’s work.
And the Home Office must do more to address the “systemic or cultural issues” that often underlie the problems identified in his reports, rather than narrowly accepting individual recommendations, he said.
In his final annual report before stepping down next month, independent chief inspector of borders and immigration David Bolt said the Home Office must start delivering on its commitment – affirmed most recently in January, to publish reports from ICIBI inspections and laying them before parliament eight weeks after they are submitted to the home secretary.
The vast majority of ICIBI reports – which cover areas such as the asylum system, the EU settlement scheme, the Right to Rent scheme and e-passports – are published much later than this. CSW reported earlier this year that the Home Office failed to publish a single one of the 14 reports he submitted to the department in 2019 within its target timeframe.
Bolt, whose role is to scrutinise the borders and immigration system and the work of the Home Office, has grown increasingly insistent in successive annual reports that the Home Office tackle the delays.
In his 2019-20 annual report, published yesterday, Bolt said delays undermine the value of the inspectorate’s work. “They affect its ability in near time to influence how the Home Office is operating, and also put at risk ICIBI’s credibility with external stakeholders, on whom the inspectorate relies for input into the inspection programme and individual inspections and in order to stay abreast of issues of concern to ‘customers’ of the Home Office’s Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System.”
He said it has often appeared that there has been “little, if any” work to implement his recommendations before the department’s formal response has been signed off by ministers, which is typically just before publication.
“I recognise that many areas are working at capacity, nonetheless I am frequently left feeling that the Home Office could go further and faster, and also that its acceptances of recommendations come with too many caveats and broad assurances rather than commitments to specific, time-bound actions,” Bolt added.
He noted that in her Windrush lessons-learned review, Wendy Wiliams wrote that the Home Office should consider giving the chief inspector more powers to publish reports, as part of a wider review of ICIBI’s remit. Ministers should have a duty to publish clearly articulated and justified reasons when they do not agree to implement ICIBI recommendations, Williams said.
Bolt also said simply publishing and responding to inspection reports would not be enough to effect the changes needed at the Home Office.
“Accepting a recommendation is not the same as implementing it,” he said.
He said he agreed with Williams’s assessment that the “deeper-rooted recommendations [made by ICIBI] that refer to systemic or cultural issues, such as stakeholder engagement, or proper evaluation of the impact of policies on different groups of people, or staff training and development, as opposed to process-related recommendations, tend to be left unresolved”.
And he agreed with Williams that in responding to his recommendations, the department usually "looks to close the recommendation rather than learn".
And Bolt added that too often, his recommendations and communication had been filtered through civil servants rather than going straight to the home secretary. He said he had had just one meeting with current home secretary Priti Patel, in the wake of the Purfleet tragedy.
He said he had written to Patel after that meeting recommending that she meet with his successor more often so she could hear recommendations first hand and to “make the process more dynamic and capable of affecting change”.
“While it is important to maintain a good working relationship with officials, I argued that when the Inspectorate was created the intention was that the chief inspector would provide the home secretary with insights and advice independently of the department, whereas, in practice, my reports are filtered through officials."
CSW has approached the Home Office for a comment.