Government IT

NAO reveals Home Office spent £347m on failed ICW programme

Caroline Baldwin

The Home Office spent £347m closing its flagship Immigration Case Work (ICW) programme, which was supposed to replace legacy databases.

The department failed to achieve its plans to replace legacy databases and 20 other systems with the ICW, and closed the project in August 2013 at a cost of £347m, a report by the NAO has confirmed.

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Immigration case workers at the Home Office are still using legacy systems and relying on paper for visa and immigration applications, while a new Immigration Platform Technologies programme is being trialled and implemented in place of the ICW programme.

The legacy CID system – the main case-working and operation database used to record people's personal details – is still being used in the Home Office, despite operational problems that include systems freezing; a lack of controls, which mean staff can leave data fields blank or enter incorrect information; and a lack of interface with other systems, resulting in manual data transfer or cross-referencing.

“Partly because of poor IT, the department lacks good-quality management information to run the business,” said the report.

The ICW project was in trouble two years ago, when a previous NAO report discovered that it was running £28m over budget and one year behind schedule.

The NAO said a loss of focus, poor governance and a tendency towards optimism bias in planning, delivery and reporting contributed to the problems.

The Immigration Platform Technologies programme will trial an agile approach, focusing on incremental improvements, and will cost £209m over four years.

But the NAO noted in its most recent report that the new project “still has far to go to have a significant impact” and support for vital legacy systems is due to expire in 2016, before the new programme rolls out fully in 2017. According to the report, the department is reviewing options regarding support contracts.

The NAO report was an investigation into whether the structural changes for immigration functions at the Home Office have improved value for money through better delivery and management.

Transforming our broken immigration system will take time, but our changes are building a system that is fair to British citizens and legitimate migrants, and tough on those who abuse the system and flout the law

James Brokenshire, immigration and security minister

Prior to 2013, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) managed the Home Office’s immigration and asylum work. But it was separated from the UKBA in March 2012, setting up Border Force as a directorate within the Home Office. In March 2013, the home secretary abolished the remaining UKBA and brought its work into the department under two new directorates: UK Visas and Immigration; and Immigration Enforcement.

The home secretary did this because of the UKBA’s troubled history, including its large size and conflicting cultures, inadequate IT systems, the problematic policy and legal framework it worked in, and the resulting lack of transparency and accountability.

Immigration and security minister James Brokenshire commented: "As we said when we took the decision to split up UKBA, transforming our broken immigration system will take time, but our changes are building a system that is fair to British citizens and legitimate migrants, and tough on those who abuse the system and flout the law.”

The NAO report also revealed that staff had concerns around data quality for cases.

The report stated: “This was borne out by our own data analysis where we struggled to access data in a meaningful format or found inconsistencies between datasets. Poor data quality is a factor of poor data capture.

“Poor controls in the Casework Information Database increases the risk that staff fail to input the minimum standard information required.”

The report noted that the manual transfer of data – from paper to IT systems – increases the risk of errors.

The NAO report recommended that the Home Office should develop a robust financial plan for its 2015-16 budgets, while analysing what is achievable and how it might affect performance. 

The report also stated the department should assess whether the new agile approach to IT is a sustainable solution for IT, as well as prioritising the improvement of data management to improve the quality of case data.


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