The Home Office e-Borders programme will cost more than £1bn and end up being delivered eight years late, according to a damning report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The government launched the e-Borders programme in 2003 with a promise to track all passengers in and out of Britain within 10 years. US company Raytheon Systems was chosen in 2007 to design the system, but had its nine-year contract torn up in 2010 on the ground that key milestones had been missed.
Raytheon appealed against the decision and the Home Office was told to pay £224m in compensation. The sum was reduced to £150m in a further appeal, and £35m was spent on legal costs.
Succeeding programmes, including the Borders Systems Programme and Digital Services at the Border, took over where Raytheon left off. The PAC said that by March 2015, the Home Office had spent at least £830m on these initiatives.
The Home Office now expects to spend anotherr £275m by 2019, according to the PAC, by which time the old border systems are expected to have been replaced. This will bring the total cost of e-Borders and its replacements to over £1bn.
The chart below shows how much has been spent on the project over its 10-year-plus lifetime.
The PAC is not just concerned with the escalating costs, and has accused the Home Office of poor management. Former and current government officials have been "worryingly dismissive" about several warnings from the Major Projects Authority that "suggested fundamental problems", the PAC said.
Furthermore, the Home Office did "not have a clear picture of the management information it has, or needs, to manage the UK border". This, along with constant changes in senior management, has hindered the delivery of border programmes.
The PAC said that the Home Office was unable to cope with the challenges, and had underestimated the importance of securing the co-operation of other government agencies and transport carriers.
The report also cited a lack of strong and continued leadership. "There have been eight programme directors in the e-Borders and successor programmes, including five in the critical years before signing the contract with Raytheon. Since 2010 there have been five different senior responsible owners for the programme," it said.
The Home Office told the PAC that this had been solved by filling new senior posts, which the PAC described as encouraging but undermined by the recent departure of one of these leaders.
"While this senior management team provides greater confidence that these programmes would be delivered, problems with staff turnover seem set to continue as the director of the portfolio left in January 2016 after only 16 months in the post," the report noted.
Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the PAC, said that the report revealed a history of poor management and complacency about the impact on taxpayers.
The completion of the project is essential for the security of the UK's international borders, according to Hillier, yet the original target date has long passed and the programme is still at least three years from delivery.
"I am careful to say ‘at least three years from delivery' because we are not convinced that warnings about the progress of this project have been treated with sufficient gravity, or that sufficient action has been taken to prevent a repeat of past problems," said Hillier.
She added that the problems were "depressingly familiar", and pointed to the "damaging effects of disjointed leadership" and "weaknesses in the handling of data" as two key concerns.
The PAC also called for the Home Office to set out, as a matter of urgency, what it expects to deliver in 2016 and who will be responsible for delivering it.
The report also called on the department to clarify the data it needs to manage UK borders effectively, and when it will be available. The PAC will ask the Home Office to report back in January 2017 to lay out what has been achieved.
V3 contacted the Home Office for comment and will update this story if a reply is forthcoming.
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