Home secretary Theresa May has sought to defuse a row with the Home Affairs Select Committee, as her department's second most senior official – Oliver Robbins – faced the prospect of a second grilling by MPs over "unsatisfactory" answers on the Border Force's budget.
The Home Office second permanent secretary was repeatedly pressed by the committee last week over whether the Border Force's director general Charles Montgomery had been informed of his organisation's budget for the year ahead. But committee chair Keith Vaz said his answers had been "extremely unsatisfactory" and asked Robbins to return today for a second evidence session. CSW understands that Robbins will now not be appearing before HASC today.
An exchange of letters between Vaz and home secretary Theresa May has been published on the Home Affairs Committee's website, with Vaz saying he has "not received an answer to the single question" put to the department – namely whether Montgomery was aware of the Border Force's resources.
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And Vaz's letter – which has been copied to prime minister David Cameron, chancellor George Osborne and Liason Committee chair Andrew Tyrie – says "arrangements have been made" for May to attend today's hearing.
But, in her reply, May seeks to "directly" address the question Vaz has asked, writing: "Sir Charles Montgomery does indeed know his budget allocation for this financial year."
And she adds: "Each command within the Home Office was aware of their indicative budget in advance of the financial year. Following discussion of the department’s transformation plans, I formally confirmed the core 2016/17 budget for each command on Monday 11 April. It is not unusual for this process to carry over the beginning of the financial year, given the department’s spending envelope is set and indicative allocations within that are able to change."
The Border Force's in-year contingency was allocated on April 13, May adds, with further budget decisions to be made "over the course of the financial year".
She added: "As is customary, parliament is provided with a detailed view of the department’s budget when the Treasury presents the Main Supply Estimates; this is due to happen this week. My permanent secretary will also write to you in the normal way with an explanatory memorandum on the Home Office’s estimates. I hope you will find it helpful."
A Home Office spokesperson said neither May or Robbins were expected to attend the committee session today. The Home Affairs Committee could not be reached for comment.