UKBA, which was created in 2008 as an arms-length body to the Home Office, was abolished earlier this year by home secretary Theresa May, who said "its performance was not good enough".
Its work has now returned to the Home Office and has been split into parts focusing on the visa system and on immigration law enforcement, with both parts reporting directly to ministers.
Appearing at a Public Administration Select Committee on Tuesday, 17 June, Whiteman, who led the agency since 2011, said that if he’d have his time again he would have “reached an earlier view that the organisation was too big and in need of breaking into smaller pieces”.
The agency, he said was “never going to work” simply because of its huge scale, which meant that as soon as “you put something right, something else will bob up elsewhere”.
Whiteman also said that the constant depiction of UKBA in the media as “a terrible bit of government” was so overwhelming to the agency that its senior management team “couldn’t get on with improving” its performance.
He added: “It was right to break it into smaller pieces because staff and managers can now be getting on with trying to put things right, rather than having to deal with the fact that the agency had gone beyond the last chance saloon in the eyes of the court of the public.”
Asked by committee chair Bernard Jenkin why having its functions absorbed by an even bigger organisation – the Home Office – should work, Whiteman said: “I’m saying it doesn’t work on its own.”
He said the agency required “greater freedom than Treasury rules allow about the way you plan money over the medium term; about the hiring and firing of people”.
Therefore, he added, given that ministers are held accountable for the agency anyway, and because even as a separate body the agency didn’t have the freedoms it required, “you may as well have it in the department”.
However, he noted that there is currently a “bit of a mush” around accountabilities and that there are some “deep-seated cultural issues” which need to be addressed.
For more detailed analysis of Whiteman’s comments, request your free copy of the new CSW monthly magazine, published 15 July.