The government has formally ended the troubled e-Borders programme, four years after it cancelled a £750m contract for the IT project, although its intended functions have been incorporated into a new, broader project to secure the UK's borders.
Charles Montgomery, director general of the UK’s Border Force, told a meeting of the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday 11 March 2014 that e-Borders had been "terminated".
But Home Office officials were subsequently keen to point out that although the e-Borders name is no longer used, all the intended aims of the programme have been merged into the the Border System Programme (BSP), an initiative launched in January 2013. At the time BSP was put out to tender, the Home Office told Computer Weekly it was separate to e-Borders, but its scope has since been expanded.
The e-Borders programme was first commissioned in 2003 to improve the use of data to track people moving in and out of the UK’s borders. One aim was to conduct checks on travellers at the point of embarkation to the UK, rather than on arrival in the country.
A pilot project called Semaphore was delivered by IBM in 2004, and was due to be replaced by the Raytheon-led Trusted Borders consortium. But that deal was cancelled in July 2010, due to continued delays in delivery of key milestones. Raytheon is suing the government over the cancellation of the contract.
A report into e-Borders last year by John Vine, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, suggested a new supplier was to be chosen by the end of the year, but no public announcements have been made.
As a result, e-Borders is still using two systems – Semaphore and Warnings Index – known to contain “critical system vulnerabilities”, according to Vine’s report. The Warnings Index database itself is understood to be about 15 years’ old, and its supplier, Fujitsu, has been in discussions with the government over its future.
Montgomery told MPs: “The e-Borders programme has been terminated."
Home Affairs Committee chairman Keith Vaz MP expressed surprise at the news and questioned past commitments to deliver the functions intended for e-Borders before the 2015 general election.
But Montgomery said: “We are in the business of replacing Warnings Index and Semaphore, and I am confident we are well on track to delivering that, but not the full e-Borders capability as it was by the general election.”
The Home Office subsequently said that it wrote to Vaz last year explaining the changes.
Vaz, meanwhile, said to the BBC: "This debacle has cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds, taken more than a decade and yet we still do not know if the original objectives will ever be achieved.
"Promises have been made that exit checks will be in place by the general election, but given past failures the government need to urgently clarify the timetable for the completion of the rest of the programme, what components of the original e-Borders programme have been dropped and when arbitration proceedings with Raytheon will finally conclude."
The Border Force chief also told MPs that there was still no resolution to the discussions between the government and Raytheon over the cancelled e-Borders contract.
“Arbitration is being scrutinised independently. The Home Office is as anxious as anybody else for the outcome of that, but it is not within Home Office’s gift to determine timelines,” said Montgomery.
According to the Border System Procurement tender issued last year, the Border Force is seeking support and maintenance for existing security systems, along with their convergence and rationalisation; and the delivery of new capabilities – such as the provision of mobile devices – which will include biometric capabilities.
Home Office officials said that BSP will now provide everything that e-Borders intended to, "and more".