Re(Dis)Organization of Britain’s Border Agencies

Theresa May, Home Secretary, has announced the dismantling of the UK Borders Agency just a few months before the London Olympics. This is just the latest twist in a saga that goes back years during which Ministers (and senior civil servants) have tinkered with the organization of Britain’s border controls without ever solving the underlying problems.

Back in the early 1990s the organisations charged with controlling our borders were a diverse bunch: immigration and nationality (IND) in the Home Office, Customs, avrious ‘point of entry’ agencies, etc. IND was the main ‘vetting’ agency for people.

But, interestingly, IND was not an ‘Agency’. At the time, central government was busily creating dozens of “Next Steps Agencies”, so-called after the ‘Next Steps’ Repor in 1988 which inaugurated this programme of creating semi-autonomous bodies within Ministries.

In the Home Office Prisons, Forensic Science, Passports and the tiny Fire Service College were all granted “agency” status, but not IND. I was doing work with the HO at the time and asked several peoplewhy IND was not being made into an Agency. the answer was always the same – IND is a basket-case, and a highly politically sensitive one at that. Ministers and mandarins did not trust IND enough to give it Agency status.

A crisis engulfed the Home Office in 2006 after it was revealed over 1,000 foreign prisoners had been released without even having been considered by IND for deportation and many had gone on to re-offend. The scandal embroiled not just IND, but also the Prison Service (then still within the Home Office) and the wider Home Office itself, but the focus was very much on IND.

The then Home Secretary’s solution was to make IND into an “executive agency”, exactly what had been rejectes for more than a decade.

Further reorganisation took place under Reid’s successor, Jacqui Smith, in 2008 with the main change being the incorporation of the uniformed Customs officers at ‘points of entry’ joining the now UKBA.

And now only four years later this merger is being reversed with the ‘Customs’ bit (UK Border Force) being split off again to form yet another new agency.

It has long been recognised that re(dis)organisations are often a substitute for Ministers addressing the reall problems. A high-profile structural change creates an instant impression of “something is being done”, even when that something has little rationale or evidence to support it.

This latest ‘shoot from the hip’ change has all the hall-marks of yet another re(dis)organisation of our border security apparatus.



1988 -2007 – Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) kept as a division within the Home Office and refused Agency status by successive Home Secretaries, including Ken Clarke and Michael Howard.

2007 – Border and Immigration Agency (with ‘Next Steps’ Agency status) created after then Home Secrtary John Reid had declared immigration control organization as “not fit for purpose” in 2006.

2008 – BIA becomes UK Border Agency on merger with UK Visas and port of entry functions from Customs under Jacqui Smith.

2012 – UKBA to be split into UK Border Force and UKBA by Theresa May.


One thought on “Re(Dis)Organization of Britain’s Border Agencies

  1. There is probably a related but less topical question about the (dis)organisation of HMRC – another body which was formed from agencies with differing histories and cultures, has suffered numerous changes of scope over the last few years including the transfer of some customs powers to UKBA, and is at least partly or intermittently dysfunctional. What is clear is that the actual process of re-organisation is hardly ever completely successful unless the new organisation is allowed a fairly long period of stability in which to settle down. A fairly successful example is the creation of Jobcentre Plus from previous benefits and employment agencies – though JCP has now been stripped of its agency status (in the pursuit of efficiency?).

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