The Home Office risks undermining the immigration watchdog’s legitimacy by failing to implement its recommendations, an official said.
Independent Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) David Neal told a news conference that Priti Patel had also failed to release a report on small boat crossings in the eight weeks required.
Mr Neal, a former British Army officer and head of the Royal Military Police, said he had yet to meet the Home Secretary, despite having been in the post for 15 months, and that several meetings had been cancelled.
“I still haven’t met the Home Secretary, it’s really disappointing,” Mr Neal told a news conference on Thursday.
“I have met regularly with ministers Tom Pursglove and Kevin Foster and my relationship with both ministers is strong, but I have not met the Home Secretary and that is hugely important.
“I have 26 years of military experience – I think it would be helpful if the Home Secretary asked my opinion on what is going on with what I am reporting.”
Mr Neal said the Home Office accepted some of his recommendations but failed to implement them, risking undermining the legitimacy of the inspection.
“There is clearly a risk to the legitimacy of the inspection activity if I cannot enforce the recommendations,” he added. “If recommendations are accepted but not delivered, that becomes a problem.”
Mr Neal said that in a report on asylum cases submitted to the Home Secretary last July, he called on the Home Office to publish a service standard – to govern the speed and decision of asylum decisions – “as a matter of urgency”.
In November, an official government response accepted the recommendation and said it was “already working to reintroduce a service standard”, but none was created and the number of outstanding cases continued to soar.
At the end of March, more than 89,000 asylum applications concerning nearly 110,000 people were awaiting a first decision – more than double the figure two years earlier – and a record number are taking more than six months.
Mr Neal said the Home Office had yet to implement a recommendation it accepted in a report on emergency accommodation for asylum seekers, which it sent in February .
The watchdog said the government must “develop effective consultation mechanisms with local authorities and their associated complementary services (health, education, etc.) to enable constructive engagement before accommodation is provided. emergency asylum”.
But Mr Neal said the uproar over plans to house hundreds of asylum seekers at a former RAF base in the village of Linton-on-Ouse showed consultation ‘has not been done’ .
He also called on the Home Office to create a model for setting up accommodation for asylum seekers that incorporates lessons learned from Napier Barracks.
The High Court ruled that the government was unlawfully detaining asylum seekers there during the Covid pandemic in unsuitable conditions.
“Given the number of people involved and the amount of money spent, there should be a playbook that captures lessons learned and best practices, tactical experience in the field and recommendations made to improve the service” , said Mr. Neal.
“The Home Office’s lack of engagement with the local community prior to the development of housing in Linton-on-Ouse suggests there is still some way to go.”
An ICIBI stakeholder survey published in November found that 70% felt the Home Office’s responses to its recommendations “were not adequate”, expressing frustration over delays in publishing the reports. and lack of implementation updates.
Mr Neal said he submitted a report on February 24 on the treatment of migrants crossing the English Channel in small craft, which should have been published within eight weeks.
But the report has still not been tabled in parliament and the watchdog has not been given a reason for the delay.
Mr Neal has previously raised concerns about the delay in publishing the reports, his lack of meetings with the Home Secretary and the implementation of the recommendations during a Home Affairs Committee evidence session.
In a letter to the committee, published on Thursday, Ms Patel said she was unable to meet the watchdog because her role ‘requires regular adjustments to my schedule, often at short notice’, and that she was updated by other ministers.
The Home Secretary admitted that an update on the implementation of ICIBI’s recommendations was “overdue” and would be provided as soon as possible.
“I hope that Mr. Neal will be assured that satisfactory progress has been made on the final recommendations,” she added.
“It was disappointing to hear Mr. Neal’s comments and we will work to restore his confidence…I do not agree that ICIBI’s statutory role is compromised, but my senior officials can invite Mr. Neal to raise any issues at their next meetings to allay concerns.”
Ms Patel said she would table her report on small migrant boats in parliament “as soon as possible”, but did not give a date.