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Border Force needs its own College of Policing, says official review

The Border Force needs its own College of Policing, an official review has advised.

Competing priorities have left the Border Force with an identity crisis that is limiting effectiveness, an official report has concluded.

A Home Office review has warned challenging priorities and a legacy of previous customs and immigration agencies have left border staff isolated and confused over how they work.

The force, which works closely with local forces and the National Crime Agency, needs to be treated as an enforcement agency with staff trained to meet those demands, it said.

Staff also need the equivalent of a College of Policing.

The report said: “A clear identity for Border Force – a single unified workforce reinforced by a training academy and career path to professionalise the role of a Border Force Officer and make Border Force an attractive employer, similar to the police or army.”

The review of the Border Force by Australian politician Alexander Downer found a disconnected organisation that is trying to carry out criminal investigations and enable people to make international travel journeys.

Mr Downer said: “Border Force’s identity is split between being a law enforcement organisation versus a customer service, administrative organisation. It is also still informed by its precursor organisations with Border Force Officers frequently still referring to themselves as an immigration or customs officer.”

Part of the problem, the review found, was a disconnect. The Home Office sees the force has part of its own administration and systems, rather than a separate organisation.

But officers see themselves as having more of a policing role, independent of political objectives.

“Border Force predominantly have an internal ethos as a law enforcement body and identify less strongly with the wider Home Office. It is the Home Office that views and portrays Border Force as an administrative and customer service body, similar to the way the Home Office sees itself,” the report said.

Mr Downer added: “I fear that a focus on aligning Border Force’s identity too closely with the Home Office risks diluting the Border Force brand and its sense of cohesion, which is important for staff morale.

“Competing responsibilities has confused frontline officers’ understanding of its purpose, as well as the understanding of partner organisations.”

But the problems go deeper than branding and identity.

Staff in frontline roles are not trained to deal with physical confrontations despite the work they do.  

Mr Downer said: “Most troubling to me was Physical Safety Training; level 3 enables staff to intervene to protect a colleague in a confrontation, or to physically apprehend a person.

"But this level of training is not mandated, so colleagues cannot be confident that all colleagues wearing the same uniform as them will necessarily be able to assist them in a situation where that is required. A significant number of staff I met were not trained to this level.”

The report also raised concerns over bullying.

“Officers feel that poor performance is not dealt with effectively and bullying and harassment rates in the organisation are higher than the Home Office average,” it said. “The highest number of reported incidents related to staff being made to feel incompetent, less valued or excluded in some way.”

And two thirds of staff felt that no action would be taken if they reported it.

The force employs 7,500 people and has struggled to recruit staff over the last five years.

The report said it was time for the Border Force to be treated as an enforcement organisation.

“Border Force should have a distinct identity and voice within the Home Office which reflects its role as a uniformed force,” it said.

There were familiar warnings over procurement, planning and variations in training and development.

It said: “Training beyond the foundation programme is inconsistent and staff are not required to be trained to the same standards, with variations, for example, in the required level of personal safety training. There is not a clear training pathway for development that officers could describe.”

But staff say there is a more immediate issue – how they will survive the cost of living crisis.

A critical issue for morale is pay – which is now central in a dispute which is likely to escalate after the Home office offered a 3% deal.

The ISU, which represents Border Force staff, said its staff had responded to a series of major incidents but despite this were under-valued.

Those incidents included implementing COVID-19 controls, illegal migrant arrivals, the Afghanistan evacuation, the Ukraine crisis and post-EU arrangements.

The union said: “We will now consult our members about taking strike action in support of our pay claim. ISU members are moderate and reasonable. We are committed, professional people who care deeply about the vital national security work that we do.

It added: “We must send a clear, unmistakeable message that we are not prepared to accept such awful treatment from a gaslighting, hypocritical employer any longer.”

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