Sunday, March 28, 2004

Gotcha !

How long can Beverley Hughes survive as Immigration Minister ? According to her statements Steve Moxon's revelations about the abandonment of immigration controls only applied to one office and nobody senior knew about it. Her claim was upheld by the (internal) Sutton report.

A week ago it was revealed that a senior H.O. official knew all about what was going on at Sheffield, now the Sunday Times reveals that the policy was personally authorised by Ms Hughes.

How do you get out of that ? Well apparently the policy Ms Hughes approved was totally different to the one Mr Moxon was worried about.

Mr Moxon was worried about what appeared to be a deliberate policy of relaxing controls on the entry of people from the new EU 'accession states' in order to prevent the figures from leaping in May and June of this year. Key to this relaxation was a policy called BRACE.

"Under the relaxed guidance, ECAA migrants no longer had to provide bank statements to prove they would be able to afford to run their new 'businesses'. Neither would they need to supply a signed declaration that they would not draw welfare benefits or take ordinary PAYE employment.

Circulated to all staff in Moxon's unit last August, it stated that from then on a special policy called BRACE - a euphemism for rubber stamping - should be applied to these applications. It added: 'As this is NOT a published policy, however, no reference should be made to this either to the app/reps (applicants/representatives) or on the G-CID' (a Home Office computer system). "

Obviously this BRACE is no relation to the BRACE described in today's Sunday Times, which rubber-stamped ALL applications over three months old. Perhaps Ms Hughes is sticking to the literal truth and had no idea that in Sheffield the policy mainly impacted applications from accession states.

"The leaked memo was written by Graham Austin and Moira Bing, two senior immigration officials in the casework directorate at Croydon. It states: 'As there are a large number of applications that are over three months old waiting to be decided, it has been agreed at ministerial level that an enhanced procedure should be undertaken to clear these as quickly as possible.

'This note confirms that the decision in this case has been taken under an enhanced procedure for clearing backlog cases, which commenced on 14 July, 2003. Bill Brandon/Christina Parry (two senior immigration policy managers) have instructed that all applications - as far as possible - over three months old should be granted unless the information available on file is such that it can properly and defensibly support a refusal. Where a case will result in a refusal, the case must be cleared by a senior caseworker. No further inquiries should be made.'

The note adds: 'This exercise has been agreed by the minister of state Beverley Hughes and has Bill Brandon and Christina Parry's complete authority. They will totally support staff on its outcomes.'

It is understood that the memo was shown to Ken Sutton, the Home Office mandarin whom Hughes commissioned to report on the Sheffield fiasco, but no mention of it appears in his report. Nor does Sutton mention that Hughes herself authorised the fast-track policy at Croydon.

The civil servant who passed the memo to The Sunday Times said that the fast-tracking exercise - known as Backlog Reduction Accelerated Clearance Exercise (Brace) - 'resulted in virtually no control on applications'."

Two conclusions - it is pointless believing any figures coming from this Home Office that haven't been independently audited, and that Ms Hughes has only a nodding acquaintance with the truth.

UPDATE - the Sutton Report is typical of reports brought forth by large organisations - surprise surprise, no one is to blame for anything, the mysterious 'processes' are found to be at fault. It does contain the odd interesting item though. How about "over the last year, over half a million cases have been dealt with as general casework", a figure which puts some kind of a scale on the levels of managed immigration into the UK.

But there's a lot of stuff like "in none of the periods I have examined have I found evidence of the practice amounting, literally, to one of granting every case. Sheffield staff continued to refuse cases even during the period covered by the most recent guidance." He's choosing his words carefully, and we can be assured that at least one applicant was refused by Sheffield. So that's all right then.

The conclusions drawn hinge on a meeting on October 13, 2003, between the "Director, General Group", (can we identify her as Paula Higson ?) and the Sheffield managers, in which the Director effectively asked them 'who will rid me of these turbulent backlogs ?'.

"I am clear that there was an element of misunderstanding" says Mr Sutton. Well he would say that, wouldn't he ? I think it likely that Sheffield management understood only too well.

One recommendation seems to have fallen off the report - "Take Steve Moxon out and give him a good kicking. Send the Revenue round and instruct the police to stop his car twice a week like they do with Tony Martin". Must be in the Secret Annexe.

Ken Sutton is the director in charge of ... you guessed it .... Asylum !

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