Delay in upgrading UK's legacy border management systems to cost extra £173m

2020-12-10

The Home Office's Digital Services at the Border (DSAB) programme has suffered delays and will cost the UK an additional £173m, according to a new report by the National Audit Office (NAO). D-2177NT

says that since 2014, the Home Office has faced pressure to increase the scope of the programme and failed to clearly specify what it sought to deliver.

According to NAO, the proposed DSAB programme will not be rolled out before March 2022. Until then, border officials will continue to rely on the 26-year old 'Warnings Index' system to check whether any suspects or persons of interest are attempting to enter the UK. Border staff will also be compelled to use another ageing (16-year old) system, called Semaphore, to analyse and verify passenger data.

While the delay in updating legacy border systems has added £336m in costs, the net increase is £173m, as the Home Office had underspent on its original plans, the NAO said.

Until now, freedom of movement within the European Union has meant that the UK government did not need to maintain records of people moving between the British Isles and continental mainland. But, all of that will change on the 31st December 2020, with the end of the Brexit transition period.

Starting 1st January 2021, the  will need to track all movement into and out of the UK, except those between the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland.

The Department first launched its e-borders programme in 2003, with a plan to complete it by 2011. However, there were repeated delays, and in 2014, the Department announced the new DSAB programme, as a fresh attempt to achieve its objectives by March 2019.

The new programme was intended to replace the legacy Warnings Index and Semaphore systems, providing UK border officials with better information to make decisions about people and goods .

"Since 2014, the Department has changed its strategic priorities to support its broader ambition for a digitised immigration system (Future Border and Immigration System, FBIS) and provide the border controls required following the UK's decision to leave the EU," NAO says.

Due to these changes, the Department announced in 2019 that it is resetting the programme and pushing its delivery back to the end of March 2022.

With just weeks to go until the end of the post-Brexit transition period, the NAO has warned that the Home Office faces significant risks in integrating its new systems against a challenging timetable.

It recommends that "the Home Office builds on the recent progress the programme board has made in understanding risks, and its tracking of progress, to set up ways of working in line with the scale and pace of implementation now required to deliver the programme".