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Capita bosses defend £30m migrant-poking IT deal with Border Agency

Sending texts from a db sounds like 'money for old rope' to MPs

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Outsourcing giant Capita's CEO has defended his company's £30m migrant-chasing contract with the UK Border Agency - and insisted it is not, as one MP delicately put it, "money for old rope".

Paul Pindar, the London-headquartered plc's top boss, and two of his high-ranking lieutenants were told to justify the new four-year IT deal during a grilling by Parliament's influential Home Affairs Select Committee. A transcript of the hearing was published this week.

Brushing aside suggestions that Capita's work merely involved phoning immigrants and updating a Border Agency database, the MD of Capita's Secure Border Solutions Alistair MacTaggart said the 86 Capita employees working on the project brought something that the public sector couldn't provide:

What we bring to it is process, rule-based systems, and workflow management tools.

Capita's new contract is to contact people in the Migrant Refusal Pool, remind them that they have to leave Blighty and update their agency-held records. The basic deal will cost taxpayers between £2.5m and £4m over the next four years.

If Capita do "a good job" this sum can rise to £30m, said Pindar. The company is paid according to the number of people told to leave.

Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the select committee, asked the Capita's big cheese whether the Border Agency contract was "money for old rope":

This seems to me like a bit of money for old rope. Don’t you sit there and think, "Why couldn’t the UKBA [UK Border Agency] do this themselves?" If it is taking data out of their own computers and ringing people up and sending them texts and making sure they leave the country, is this not core work for the UKBA?

Pindar countered that Capita provided "process management":

I do not think it is money for old rope. If you look at the essence of what Capita endeavours to do, the specialisms that we have are all about process management and trying to run operations in the most efficient way that we can.

It also emerged during the committee session that Capita employees may not be allowed to access the database that forms the core of their work. This suggestion was news to the company's top brass.

Vaz claimed that the Border Agency asks migrants to consent to sharing their data with other government departments, but does not seek permission to pass their personal information to third-party companies.

Pindar responded: "We are not aware of that, if that is the case." MacTaggart added: "I believe the Information Commissioner will be looking at that with UKBA."

(On a separate note, the Information Commissioner is investigating the Border Agency for contacting people with text messages and emails to incorrectly tell them to leave the country, when in at least one case a correspondent had been a UK citizen for ten years.)

Capita took over the contract from Serco and had held it for six weeks by the time of the committee session on 29 January. Capita holds two separate contracts with the Home Office: one for running the Criminal Records Bureau - worth £50m a year - and a second also with the UK Border Agency for £40m a year. ®

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