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Home Office e-Borders programme costs to reach £1.1bn by 2019, says NAO report

The failed e-Borders programme has cost £830m to date, with a further £275m projected costs before the Home Office produces new systems in-house, due to go live in 2019

The Home Office will have spent an estimated £1.1bn on its e-Borders programme and its successors by 2019, a National Audit Office (NAO) report has found.

From 2003 to 2015, the programme spend totalled “at least £830m”, with the Home Office planning to spend another £275m on the successor programme, due to be completed in 2019, the report said.

The e-Borders programme aimed to improve the use of information to track people moving across UK borders through conducting checks on travellers at the beginning of their travels to the UK, rather than on arrival.

The NAO report lists “failure to understand the ambition and achievability of the vision” and “the accumulation of unresolved commercial differences between the Home Office and Raytheon” as some of the reasons for the programme failing.

The programme was launched in 2003, and in 2004 IBM delivered a pilot project called Semaphore, which would run until a supplier was selected for the advanced border control and security programme.

In 2007, it awarded a £750m contract to defence and security systems company Raytheon to lead a consortium developing and implementing the programme. However, due to serious concerns about the running of the much-delayed programme, the government sacked Raytheon in 2010.

In 2011, Raytheon began legal proceedings to sue the UK government for £500m. In 2014, the US defence contractor won £224m in damages. The Home Office successfully appealed the decision, which Raytheon subsequently planned to appeal, but in March 2015, the government agreed to pay £150m to settle the dispute.

Between 2006 and 2011, the Home Office spent more than £340m on the e-Borders programme, with a further £150m spent on the Raytheon settlement, as well as £35m in legal costs. Between 2011 and 2012 to 2014 and 2015, the Home Office spent a further £303m on its successor programmes, the report said.

However, there are no figures on the Home Office spend between 2003 and 2006 as “the department does not have data prior to 2006 due to changing accounting systems”, the report added.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said that the ambition of the programme has remained “largely unchanged”.

“It was due to be completed in 2011. Since we are in 2015, with the Home Office still not having delivered the original vision after expenditure of £830m, I cannot view e-Borders as having delivered value for money,” said Morse.

He added that it has delivered “some valuable capabilities”, but said their efficiency was impaired by a failure to replace old IT systems.

Lack of integration and data quality

Due to the scrapped e-Borders programme, and its successor programme not being fully operational until 2019, the Semaphore system and a warning index system are being used to track people coming in and out of the country.

However, the two systems do not integrate with each other. The NAO found that, although the Home Office spent £15m on technical refreshes to the warning index system and £23m migrating the system to a new datacentre, “it suffers from an average of two high-priority incidents a week”.

These high-priority incidents include “a component of the warning index system being unavailable, or 30% or more of border control points being unavailable”, the report said.

However, the programme has failed to build an integrated system and is suffering from inefficient processes, with the Home Office “unable to fully exploit the potential of the data it is receiving”, the report said.

It also criticised the lack of data quality, saying that the programme is based heavily on the data it gathers.

“Data collection and manipulation is at the heart of this entire programme, but the Home Office has been critically weak in this respect,” it said.  

It added that the Home Office only has measures of data quality in place for the information it receives on travellers since 2014, with those measures being fairly limited.

High staff turnover and failure to manage stakeholders

Under the e-Borders contract, Raytheon was responsible for connecting e-Borders to systems from more than 600 air, ferry and rail carriers, which supply data on passengers they are bringing in and out of the country.

However, the Home Office underestimated the importance of managing these stakeholders, expressing concerns about costs relating to revising their own systems to connect with e-borders. The report also found “a lack of clarity on what was legal under European law further exacerbated the difficult relationships with carriers”.

The NAO report found that the delivery plan for the e-Borders programme was too ambitious, and the Home Office “underestimated the scale of business transformation required in government agencies and multiple external stakeholders, which each had diverse information systems”.

The report said the programme experienced a high level of turnover in leadership, which affected the programme’s failure.

“During the e-Borders period there were five programme directors, including three interim postings. Between 2010 and October 2014, there were a further two programme directors, at which stage the role was split into two and new appointments were made,” the report said.

It added there had also been a high turnover at more junior levels and the programme had to rely on contractors to fill technical roles. In May 2015, non-civil servants filled 40% of the posts in the core programme, the report found.

The Home Office has moved the project in-house, but “has a limited track record” in doing so.

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