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UK tightens borders with single agency and screening system

But union concerned at 'flawed' pilots

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A single agency and a multi-billion pound passenger screening system will strengthen the UK's entry points, according to the Home Office.

The Home Office has announced that a new UK Border Agency will unite immigration, customs and visa checks, backed by a £1.2bn passenger screening programme.

The screening system programme includes a £650m contract with consortia Trusted Borders for a passenger screening IT system, which will work alongside the rollout of fingerprint visas.

Raytheon Systems, the prime contractor for Trusted Borders, will work with Accenture, Detica, Serco, QinetiQ, Steria, Capgemini, and Daon.

The electronic security system will screen all passengers before they travel to the UK against immigration, customs, and police watch lists. International air, rail, and sea ports will be covered, with all high risk routes into the UK covered by mid-2009.

According to the Home Office, trials of the new system led to more than 1,000 criminals being caught and more than 15,000 "people of concern" being checked out by immigration, customs, or the police.

The changes have been welcomed by John Donlon, the Association of Chief Police Officers' lead on ports policing, and assistant chief constable of Thames Valley Police.

"The [e-borders] contract award follows a highly successful trial, code-named Operation Semaphore, which saw police forces across the UK make 1,300 arrests," he said.

"The high number of arrests linked to Semaphore alerts demonstrates a visible measure of success. In addition, significant contributions have been made in support of investigations and the protection of the vulnerable."

Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, described the changes as the most sweeping to UK border security for decades. "All travellers to Britain will be screened against no fly lists and intercept target lists and, together with biometric visas, this will help keep trouble away from our shores."

"As well as the tougher double check at the border, ID cards for foreign nationals will soon give us a triple check in country. Together this adds up to some of the most advanced security anywhere on the globe."

The civil service PCS union expressed serious concerns about the announcement, however. It warned that the transfer of staff from Revenue and Customs, UK Visas and the Border and Immigration Agency into the new agency was flawed and based on a poor and rushed evaluation of the pilot schemes.

Staff with less than three hours' training are being asked to perform key roles, such as passenger profiling, the union said. At Purfleet in the Thames Gateway, customs staff who have been ordered to carry out vehicle searches previously conducted by immigration officers, have reported checks are down by 50 per cent because of insufficient training.

Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: "We are yet to be convinced that these proposals, based on flawed pilot schemes, will achieve the government's aims of strengthening the UK's borders."

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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