An influential group of MPs has hit out at the Home Office’s “Complete Failure” to deal with foreign national offenders.
The Committee of Public Accounts said the department will have to act with urgency to improve the way it manages and removes foreign national offenders.
Among a range of recommendations, the group of MP’s said the Home Office and National Offender Management Service should evaluate whether designated foreign national offender prisons result in more early removals and, if so, extend their use.
The committee’s report comes after the Government’s spending watchdog has revealed up to £1 billion of public money was spent in the year to March 2014 on thousands of foreign criminals in the UK.
One in six – or 760 out of 4,200 – foreign national offenders (FNOs) living in the community absconded, including 58 ”high harm” individuals who had been missing since 2010, the National Audit Office (NAO) found.
The NAO also revealed in its report last October that police are failing to conduct overseas criminal record checks on more than two-thirds of arrested foreign nationals.
In a joint statement, Margaret Hodge, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, and committee member Richard Bacon, said: “There has been a complete failure to improve the management and removal of foreign national offenders.
“Despite firm commitments to improve and a massive ten-fold increase in resources, the system still appears to be dysfunctional.”
The statement went on: “There is a worrying combination of a lack of focus on early action at the border and police stations, poor joint working in prisons, inefficient case-working, very poor management information and non-existent cost data.”
The MPs added: “The Home Office will need to act with urgency on the recommendations we make in this report if it is to secure public confidence in its ability to tackle effectively these and the wider immigration system issues on which we have previously reported.”
The number of foreign nationals in prison has remained at around 10,000 with the number of foreign national offenders removed from the UK peaking at 5,613 in 2008/09 and not matching that level since. The figure fell to 4,539 in 2011/12 and it remains below the peak levels.
It was also revealed the Home Office was forced to pay out £6.2 million in compensation payments to 229 foreign national offenders because of delays in dealing with cases since April 2012 – an average of £27,000 each.
The committee recommends that the Home Office sets out how it will improve the management of foreign national offenders with specific measures against which it expects to be held accountable.
The Home Office, working with the police, also needs to make better use of existing information from overseas and at home, to prevent more potential foreign national offenders from entering the UK, the committee said.
The Department, along with the National Offender Management Service, should evaluate whether designated foreign national offender prisons result in more early removals, and if so extend their use, the group of MPs said.
Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “The Home Office must act quickly to address the findings of this damning report or public trust will be seriously damaged.
“The myriad failings are staggering and show a desperate need to tear up the system and start again, as the cost of delays and compensation is truly eye-watering.
“Even by the standards of this often embattled Department, managing to lose one in six foreign criminals is shocking and people must be held accountable for these errors.”
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This is a damning report of failure and incompetence in Theresa May’s Home Office. Previous home secretaries have resigned over this kind of thing. Yet time and again Theresa May just hides and blames everyone else.
“Under Theresa May, the Home Office is deporting fewer foreign criminals, criminal records are not being checked at the borders, basic errors are delaying deportations, her department isn’t sharing information on criminals with the police.”
Ms Cooper added: “This report makes clear that Theresa May has never treated the problem of foreign criminals as a priority. She needs to take responsibility now for four and a half years of growing chaos and incompetence that is not only undermining trust in the immigration system, but putting public safety at risk.”
Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire said: “Foreign nationals who commit crime in Britain should be in no doubt of our determination to deport them. We have removed 22,000 foreign criminals since 2010, despite an almost 30 per cent surge in appeals – while the Immigration Act we brought in last year represents the most radical reform of the deportation process in four decades.
“That Act has helped to rebalance the law in favour of the British public – by slashing the number of appeal routes for foreign criminals from 17 to four, and introducing tough new ‘deport first, appeal later’ powers which have already resulted in more than 400 deportations.
“We are also dealing more robustly than ever before with those who break our laws. Joint work with the police to intercept foreign nationals in custody suites has led to 3,300 removals since 2012, while police checks on the overseas convictions of EU nationals are up almost 600% under this government.
“Alongside tougher crime fighting measures, improved protection at the border and greater collaboration between police and immigration enforcement officers, the Immigration Act will help us to identify, remove and ban more foreign criminals than ever before.”
National Policing Lead for Foreign National Offenders, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse, said: “We welcome the focus that the Public Accounts Committee Report has brought on the subject of tackling crime committed by foreign offenders.
“The report rightly identifies that the police have an important role to play and I am pleased that it praises the innovative work of Operation Nexus, a joint initiative between the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office that has led to over 3,000 foreign national offenders being removed from the UK since 2012.
“The report states that in the past only around 30% of arrested foreign nationals were the subject of a check to understand any previous convictions for offences committed abroad.
“It is pleasing to note that this figure has risen to over 75% across the country, with close to 100% compliance in London in cases where a check can be carried out. These checks have allowed serious offenders to be identified and removed from the country.
“Around 14% of all arrested people in England and Wales are foreign nationals. This rises to 30% in London. It is important that we use all available information in order to keep the public safe.”