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NAO: UK border bods not up to scratch, despite billion-pound facial recog tech

Agency slammed for cutting back on searches to deal with passport queues

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The UK Border Force's inefficient use of technology is one reason it's failing to carry out enough customs checks or detections of illegal immigrants, according to the National Audit Office.

The NAO said in a report that border staff managed to cut immigration queue times down during the London Olympics, but only at the expense of neglecting their other duties.

Labour MP Margaret Hodge, chair of Parliament's public accounts committee, said the report was "deeply worrying".

"The Border Force did well to reduce queuing times both during and after the Olympics, but it is deeply worrying that this came at the expense of its other responsibilities, particularly customs," she said.

"The Border Force must be able to check both goods and passengers at the same time - border security cannot be an either or choice,” she continued. “The Border Force needs to focus on developing and implementing its workforce plan to ensure it has the right number of staff in the right places, and make better use of intelligence and technology."

In its report, the office said that the Border Force was not making the most of its opportunities to use technology at the border. Tech like e-gates was currently being underused because of "past reliability problems and passengers' reluctance to use them.”

"Also, the Border Force introduced the e-gates without a clear business case setting out how they could contribute to overall staffing levels at the border," the report pointed out.

"Currently, 31 per cent of eligible passengers use such gates; this is an improvement since March 2011, when 22 per cent did so, but still below the Border Force’s own target of 50 per cent."

The NAO said that nearly 100 per cent of passengers were subject to full checks over the last year, within the target times of 25 minutes for European arrivals and 45 minutes for those arriving from outside the EEA. But the number of entry refusals for people, forgery detections and seizures of cigarettes and counterfeit goods all came in below targets. ®

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