Source: The Daily Telegraph
Author: David Millward
Passengers have faced huge delays at Heathrow because the Border Force has failed to deliver ministerial promises to man all immigration desks at peak times over the summer, it can be disclosed.
At some of the busiest times, just over half the desks were in operation.
This is despite a promise earlier this year by Damian Green, the immigration minister, that desks at key ports would be fully manned at peak times “over the summer”.
A series of internal BAA documents documents seen by The Daily Telegraph have revealed how the chaotic deployment of staff in recent weeks has heaped more misery on the travelling public.
Even last month’s maximum queuing time of just over two hours recorded by Heathrow’s operator, BAA, is an underestimate after it emerged that the figures do not take into account people waiting in the corridors outside the arrivals hall.
Additional staff are due to be deployed at ports from this weekend to avoid the run up to the Olympics being overshadowed by the chaos which has engulfed Heathrow in particular, with MPs describing some of the queues faced by passengers as “appalling”.
But the hit squads of additional immigration officers already sent in by the Home Office are proving ineffective .
The longest queue at the airport last month was just over two hours at Terminal 4 at 7.30pm on June 18, But only 12 desks were manned.
During quieter times, when the queues for non EU passengers were only 15 minutes, all 20 were covered.
A similar pattern emerged at Terminal 3 on June 29, which handles a large number of long haul international flights during the morning peak between 7 and 8.30am.
On at least one busy day last month more than half the desks were unmanned at this time, but then staffing levels increased later in the morning at the same time as the number of flights dwindled.
This is understood to have been commonplace during the month reflecting, according to the Immigration Service Union, the way in which the mobile teams drafted in to provide reinforcements have been deployed.“Most contingency staff are not sent to the desks until around 10am,” said Lucy Moreton, the union’s deputy general secretary.
The Daily Telegraph has learned that members of these hit squads spend much of their time drinking tea, sitting in offices waiting to be sent to terminals and being transported from arrivals hall to another
On one occasion last month a team was unable to provide reinforcements for more than an hour because of a delay in finding the yellow high visibility jackets they needed. to move across the airport.
Home Office ministers and the Border Force have repeatedly disputed reports that passengers were frequently spending more than two hours to get into the country.
However such reports were given added credibility with BAA saying there were occasions when it was unable to count everybody in the queue.
“We measure from the last person in the queue, even if the queue stretches out of the immigration hall. On some occasions the queue has stretched to the point where non-EEA and EEA passengers become mixed,” a spokesman said.
“On these occasions we measure from the point at which the queues are separated into EEA and non-EEA passengers. We acknowledge that this means there may be occasions on which passengers wait longer than the measured time.”
Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, rounded on the Government. “These latest figures confirm what passengers already know – the immigration minister doesn’t even know what is happening at our airports and the borders fiasco continues,” she said.
Damian Green promised everyone in April he was going to sort the queues and staff all the immigration desks at peak times in the summer.
“Despite the weather summer is here, the Olympics are days away and yet the Home Secretary and Immigration Minister still haven’t sorted this out.
“Theresa May is in danger of turning the Borders Force into a borders farce. First the Home Secretary cut over 900 border officers then the Home Office re-employ them in a panic or put undertrained new recruits onto the front line wasting extra taxpayers money too.”
However this was disputed by a Home Office spokesman.
“This is simply not true. The Immigration Minister said we would provide extra staff for busy periods this summer and ensure all desks are fully manned during the peak Olympic arrival period and during the Games. That’s exactly what we’re doing.”