In the Windrush Lessons Learned Review (March 2020), independent reviewer Wendy Williams assessed the events leading up to the Windrush scandal. She concluded that “what happened to those affected by the Windrush scandal was foreseeable and avoidable”. She found that “a range of warning signs from inside and outside the Home Office” – including concerns raised by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) – “were simply not heeded by officials and ministers”. She identified “the organisational factors in the Home Office which created the environment” in which the mistakes that led to the scandal were made. And she made “30 recommendations for change and improvement” at the Home Office, several of which focused on the need for the department to “open itself up to greater external scrutiny”.
One such recommendation – the Review’s Recommendation 10 – called for the government to “review the remit and role of the ICIBI, to include consideration of giving the ICIBI more powers with regard to publishing reports”. The recommendation went on to say that “ministers should have a duty to publish clearly articulated and justified reasons when they do not agree to implement ICIBI recommendations”. Finally, Recommendation 10 complemented Recommendation 9, which called for the introduction of a Migrants’ Commissioner, by proposing that “the ICIBI should work closely with the Migrants’ Commissioner to make sure that systemic issues highlighted by the commissioner inform the inspectorate’s programme of work”.
In the Comprehensive Improvement Plan (CIP) issued by the Home Office as its response to the Windrush Lessons Learned Review in September 2020, the then Home Secretary accepted Wendy Williams’ 30 recommendations in full. With respect to Recommendation 10, the CIP stated that it was the department’s intention “to appoint an independent reviewer this year ” and “to carry out a full review of the ICIBI in the first quarter of 2021”. However, no reviewer was ever appointed, and no review has taken place.
Commenting on the decision announced by the Home Secretary today that the Windrush Lessons Learned Review’s Recommendation 10 will now be discontinued without having been implemented, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Neal, said:
I am disappointed the Home Secretary has decided not to progress Recommendation 10, since this presented an ideal opportunity to take stock and examine a number of issues relating to the independence and effectiveness of the ICIBI.
The ICIBI was established in 2009; its budget has been stagnant since then, and staffing levels have actually decreased, even as borders and immigration issues have grown in prominence and complexity. A role and remit review would have provided an opportunity to assess whether the level of resourcing provided to the inspectorate is appropriate.
Moreover, unlike other inspectorates, the ICIBI does not have the power to publish its own reports. The Home Office is responsible for publishing ICIBI’s reports, and it regularly fails to meet its commitment to ensure that reports are published within 8 weeks of submission. In many cases, reports are published considerably beyond this timeframe. So this is a missed opportunity to look at increasing powers regarding the publishing of reports as explicitly recommended by Wendy Williams. Of the 23 ICIBI reports that have been published during my tenure, only one was laid in Parliament within the agreed 8-week window. The inspection report on the initial processing of migrants arriving via small boats that I completed in February 2022 – and that documented security breaches at Tug Haven and Western Jet Foil – was not published until the week before last year’s summer recess, nearly five months after it had been submitted to the Home Secretary and some 13 weeks late. Such delays affect perceptions of the ICIBI’s independence and effectiveness and may hinder timely scrutiny of the Home Office’s performance.
It is disappointing as well that no role and remit review will examine Wendy Williams’s recommendation that a duty be placed on ministers to justify the non-acceptance of ICIBI recommendations and that the Chief Inspector will not be able to work closely with a Migrant’s Commissioner when formulating his inspection programme, as the Home Secretary has also decided not to proceed with Recommendation 9.
A role and remit review would also have provided an opportunity to explore how greater synergies could be established between the ICIBI and other similar inspectorates.
While I regret that the role and remit review called for in the Windrush Lessons Learned Review will not go forward, it is my hope that the ICIBI will nonetheless be able to work with the Home Office to address these issues. Wendy Williams recognised that the ICIBI is ‘a critically important external review mechanism for the department’. I look forward to engaging with ministers and officials to ensure further progress towards meeting Williams’s call for the Home Office to become ‘an organisation that is more confident under the gaze of external scrutiny’.