Concern about how the Home Office stores, uses and shares confidential personal information has been the focus of media attention and comment for some time. Now a new report, published by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, has looked closely at how the Home Office works with other government departments and agencies. The report was researched and compiled between February and October 2018 and was presented to Parliament in January 2019.
The report included an assessment of how the various subdivisions of the Home Office’s Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System (“BICS”) collaborated with a number of other government departments and agencies, namely Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions. The report stated that an assessment of how efficient and effective the Home Office’s collaborations with other government agencies were revealed that there was “no single, universally agreed list of fundamental principles” by which the Home Office operated.
The report highlighted that although “the Home Office’s BICS directorates had been collaborating with other government departments and agencies (OGDs) in various ways over many years”, … “the inspection found no evidence of an overarching BICS strategy for collaborative working with OGDs, and the fact that the Home Office was unable to provide inspectors with a complete list of directory of partnership agreements or specific collaborations was indicative of a generally piecemeal approach”.
The security and integrity of storing and sharing personal information relating to individuals and their families between government departments is clearly a sensitive and serious matter. Despite the potential benefits of effective and efficient data sharing, the report concluded that the Home Office’s working methods gave it “no means of assessing, or even articulating, the overall value BICS derived from the OGD collaborations, or of understanding what more value it could gain from them and how to go about this”. In an environment where budgets and resources are limited and operational and logistical constraints are a fact of life for every government department, such an approach appears counter-intuitive and represents a lost opportunity. One of the report’s key recommendations was that the Home Office should strive to develop a “standard methodology” for managing its collaboration with other government departments.
The availability or lack of reliable information was a feature of the Windrush scandal and this report noted that the Home Office had announced changes to aspects of its data sharing procedures as a result of the plight of Windrush residents during the period over which the report was compiled.
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