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The great Home Office jobs trick

The great Home Office jobs trick

As I have previously said, the passports crisis has turned the spotlight again onto the issue of staffing in the Home Office.

So it is worth recalling how two years ago we were the focus of a sustained media and political barrage when we threatened to strike ahead of the London Olympics over jobs.

Journalists had been reporting chaos at the borders for weeks and had picked over the staff cuts and exposed the frantic attempts to plug the holes with untrained people from other government departments. That our industrial response to this came in for so much criticism served as a reminder that the Brits are great at complaining about stuff but crap at doing anything about it.

I’m not going to recount every blow of that dispute but, suffice to say, it was a gloves-off bloody scrap. When you have to complain to the head of Five Live about something Garry Richardson has said on Sportsweek you know you’re not in Kansas any more.

But I will say that I remain proud of the line we took, in a very hostile climate. Ministers and their supporters were pretty wild and, in their fury, spat out a few hostages to fortune – as people who spit in fury are prone to doing. One was their attack on the turnout in our ballot, with which we made hay after the police and crime commissioner elections a few months later.

But most incredible by far was the government’s reaction to us calling off the strike at the eleventh hour.

Just days before the planned action and the opening ceremony, the Home Office started advertising 800 new jobs in the border force and 300 in the passport agency. We couldn’t have asked for more and we didn’t; we called off the strike.

The then immigration minister Damian Green went on the BBC and declared he "didn’t recognise" these jobs, going as far as to suggest we had invented them.

It was stunning and, as he spoke, I emailed pdfs of the job ads to journalists. But that wasn’t all. The Home Office then declared it was an “administrative error” and it should have *only* advertised 400 border force jobs, as well as the 300 in passports. Note, still hundreds of jobs.

We couldn’t see how Green could survive. But he did – for a while before being shuffled on – and one of the reasons he did is perhaps explained in this response I got from correspondents when I pointed out the minister had presided over a shambles at the borders, deliberately stoked a hugely damaging dispute and then lied on national television: well, it’s the Home Office, that’s what they do.

It seems they do. I’ve heard the same again recently, almost word for word.

So the passports storm continues to rage and ministers again deny they have a jobs shortage – while at the same time extending opening hours to midnight, seven days a week, and drafting in undertrained staff from other areas of the organisation. What’s more, they are claiming credit for an increase in staffing in 2012 that we pushed for and risked our necks to secure.

If you were being charitable you would say it has a certain poetic charm that those jobs they denied the existence of then to undermine us, are being relied on now to undermine us.

And if you were being very charitable you would say it doesn’t matter that this is how one of the great departments of state operates, and you would just shrug and accept it.

This post originally appeared on Richard Simcox's blog and is cross-posted here with permission. The post was written at the height of the dispute with the Home Office a month ago. According to Richard Simcox: "The situation is essentially unchanged. The Passport Office finally agreed to meet us after the political and media pressure but are still refusing to commit to long-term solution."